5 Keys to Success in the Sport of Startup
Entrepreneurship is hard, everyone agrees on this. How often have we heard the saying “If it was easy everyone would do it.” or
“Anything worth having is worth fighting for.” –Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Yet, it seems every other person in the Bay Area is now a self proclaimed “Entrepreneur”. Is “I have a startup.” the new way of declaring one’s independence, defiance, and strength? It seems just as trendy a declaration as “training for the marathon” or “I’m doing an Ironman” have been amongst business professionals in the past couple decades. However, in the “Sport of Startup” instead of just finishing this race like you would your first Ironman, you must compete with the pros and finish in the top ten.
Sports have always been where I felt at home, where I could be my fire and become my peace. Playing tennis I could beat out my frustrations on a fury yellow ball. On a bike I frequently snarl and bark at myself and at the pain. In the mountains, I’m constantly reminded of how small I am, how much there is to learn and how addictive adrenalin is for me. Skiing is where I can dance with that point between being in control and totally out of it and delight facing and conquering fear. There are no cameras to record me when I fumble or when my fangs come out. On my field of play, in my sports is where it is ok and an asset for me to be strong.
"I believe that people take on the forces of nature because that is when you feel the most alive..." - Laird Hamilton
Last year I found myself entering the sport of tech startups. I had started other businesses, produced international events, spoken in front of crowds of several thousand and been a competitive athlete on and off for years. Yet the pressures I faced while developing my business concept from a regional website model into a global platform/app have been unlike any I faced before!
Part of this pressure had to do with the fact I committed to launching the business with my only other income coming from ski coaching in what became one of the worst drought years (2014) for the Sierra Nevadas (2015 winter is now the worse). Without snow there was little skiing to balance my brain, economic despair for my community and a collective fear among the outdoor sports industry.
The worse part of that winter and year was the onslaught of opinions, multiple “meetings” that turned into 3hr ego validation speeches and eager but empty promises of support even from people I’d dated. The most upsetting was the first self proclaimed investor I meet, who whenever we did meet was more interested in taking me to a Vegas or wine country than talking business. This was not a sport I knew how to play. I trusted the people these businessmen looked down at and criticized. I trusted the “dirty skateboarders”, bikers, beach and ski “bums” I’d known throughout my life more than these “business professionals”. These friends understood the simplicity and honesty of sport and in that a truth about life. In sports there is little room for BS, you’re in or you’re out. A timing clock doesn’t lie. The ball is in or it’s out. You want to ski big lines or you don’t. There is no waiting days for someone to show up in sports.
One thing I did know and believe in was my business concept. I knew the way an athlete just knows this is something they must pursue. I didn’t know all the answers to how I was going to get there but what I do know is that big talk doesn’t make champions. Champions come from 1) Belief, 2) Training, 3) Team, 4)Coaching, and5) Competition.
I decided my world was going to get very very small until I found the right training, partners, mentors, and investors; they needed to understand not just tech but also the mindset of an athlete.
Finding your BeastMode
The Mindset of a Champion
As a Green Bay Packer fan and Cal alum, I had been watching the Seahawks with increasing interest since “The Worst Call Ever” There are many elements of the rise of the Pete Carrol’s Seahawk Dream Team that are intriguing to coaches, athletes, and entrepreneurs alike. I watched with keen interest the scrutiny of star defenseman Richard Sherman after brash comments following the Seahawks NFC game win against the San Francisco 49ers. In a later in depth CNN interview, Sherman is asked to explain his comments from for which he was labeled a thug, dumb monkey, and other offensive racial slurs. The Stanford grad explained the difference between his on field and his off field mindset. “It’s a special kind of person who can step into the ring or onto the field and be that incredibly focused…I am everything I need to be to be a winner.”
In many ways Sherman speaks not solely for himself but his teammate Marshawn Lynch aka “BeastMode”.
According to Lynch himself Beast mode is “…just a mindset..”
Athletes are used to being taught the power of mental training. We train to play “In the Zone” but the attitude demonstrated by the Seahawk’s stars is on another level.
Beast mode is a mindset.
Beast mode is “In the Zone” with swagger
Beast mode is “Flow State” with Muscle.
Beast mode is “The Power of Now” with true grit.
Beast mode is the mindset of a champion.
As an entrepreneur one faces cyclically what Ben Horowitz refers to in The Hard Thing About Hard Things as “The Struggle” (p.60-63)
“The Struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place.
The Struggle is when you are surround by people and you are all alone.
The Struggle is the land of broken promises and crushed dreams.
The Struggle is not failure, but it causes failure.
The Struggle is where greatness comes from.” (p.61/62)
The Struggle is what every athlete faces when they decide to be an athlete. It is what every athlete battles everyday. It is the voice of the coach or parent who thinks you don’t have what it takes. It is the voice inside wondering if you actually can. It is a loss. It is the expectations following a victory. It is what causes failure but it is also where greatness comes from. The Struggle is something you battle every day in sports.
The struggle is the only voice I listened to as a teenager. It is the only voice in sports my family understood. There was only every one coach who knew how to push me as a female athlete through it. The struggle beat me before my opponents ever did. But the Struggle was silent when I lost myself in speed. The Struggle was silent when I reconnected with the joy of my sport.
The Struggle is silent when an athlete is “in the zone”.
The Struggle has no power in Beast Mode.
To succeed in the sport of startup, find your BeastMode.
5 Keys to Finding your Beastmode
1) Everything begins with BELIEF!
"To achieve great things you have first to believe it."-- Arsene Wenger
Beliefs are the foundation of Seahawk’s Coach Pete Carroll’s “Win Forever” philosophy. Beliefs are the foundation for a “BeastMode” mindset.
Self belief is the foundation from which you develop yourself, a team and deliver on your goals.
If you don’t believe you can, you won’t. Begin with belief.
2) Train to win.
“To accomplish the grand, you have to focus on the small….” –Pete Carroll
If you want to be an Olympian, train like an Olympian. If you want to be successful in business, do what successful people do. This is nothing new, it is just the excuses we create that change.
“….“Life is Struggle.”(Karl Marx) I believe that within that quote is the most important lesson about Entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle.” –Ben Horowitz, Hard Thing About Hard Things (p.275)
In the sport of startup, you too will get hit.The Struggle will knock you down.
Train yourself to be strong enough to get back up.
3) Team of the same Mindset
In sports the objective of a team is universal and transparent. Whether the fastest time or most points, the goal is shared.
No one player can play every position. No startup founder can be an effective Hacker, Hustler, and Hipster.
Know your strengths and weaknesses, know how to best leverage both. Train to be your best and find others who want the same.
Build your team around a shared mindset.
4) Find the Mentor who can coach the champion in you.
Not every Superbowl winning coach can coach every star player. Not every successful CEO, founder with multiple IPOs, or VC can mentor you to success.
You will outgrow coaches and you will outgrow mentors. Find those who believe in you and want you to be the best you can be. The business will change but you are the same engine driving toward the end zone.
“How do we get them to be better then they think they CAN be?...Inspiration, perhaps. How do we inspire ourselves to greatness when nothing less will do? How do we inspire everyone around us?” (“Invictus”, (2009))
Find the coach who can help you see greatness when all you see is The Struggle. Find the mentor who can coach you to win.
5) Carpe the Moment. Today is always the field of play.
Not every natural born athlete will find their gift at the right time and right place, let alone have the support to succeed. Most entrepreneurs remark how they learned the most from their failures.
"Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal. Prepare yourself in every way you can by increasing your knowledge and adding to your experience, so that you can make the most of opportunity when it occurs."-- Mario Andretti
There is no room for doubt on the field of play. When opportunity knocks, one must be able to pivot on the spot.
The struggle won for most of my life because I didn’t know any better. As a female athlete there are few role models, coaches and fewer opportunities. Often I was the only female in my sport and region. I was a natural at nearly any sport I tried. I had the mindset of an athlete but I didn’t know that I had to cultivate the mindset of a champion. I thought the Struggle was the voice of reason for many years.
No one had taught me it was more than positive thinking and visualization. No one taught me that suffering was part of the journey. No one taught me it is not the fear of failure that fuels a champion but understanding and accepting failure is part of the struggle of sport.
When I committed to my startup, I realized I had to find that competitive athlete focus. I needed to feel that power, presence, and unapologetic confidence I feel when speeding downhill on my bike or skis. I needed to be able to get into the zone that adrenalin takes me to survive in the sport of startup.
If I wanted to succeed, I was going to need more than the mindset of an athlete. I was going to need to learn how to be more than “in the zone”. If I want to win in this sport, I need to have the mindset of a champion, I needed to be BeastMode.