When I think back to when I first started doing taekwondo at the age of 13 and reflect on how I trained, I am truly amazed at the similarities between running a startup and being a competitive athlete (I was on the Canadian National Taekwondo team from 2003-2007).
There are a lot of transferable skills that I took from my athletic career to my business career. I will list a few and give some specific examples on how they effected me. Before I do, I want to make a sport/business words translation legend:
Business or Product
You Got Funded
$1 M in revenues
$10 M in revenues
$100 M+ in revenues
Forget The Critics
When I was first competing I wore goggles when I was sparring in competition. I was skinny, looked awkward and did not look very threatening at all. My training partner at the time was in the stands and he told me (later on) that the other parents and competitors were saying that I should not be competing. The people that were saying negative things, I did not know – so I did not care what they said. I just listened to my coaches and training partners. This brings up a my favorite quote which my coach to this day still teaches everyone:
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat”
Every athlete sets goals, they have to as part of their development (i.e. win this tournament, get this score, get this time). This was drilled in to me for 16 years before I started viafoura (my current company of which I am a founder and CTO). I do not know how to do things any differently, so I always set goals for myself in my business as well (get this many clients, this many developers, this much traffic). Setting goals became like breathing to me.
Get Along With Others
When we were competing our coach told us to always be respectful to the referees and judges, even if they messed up your match. The referee turnover is very low so you will be guaranteed to see them again and again. You have to suck it up and make sure in your next match you make it even more convincing that you won. This applies to business as well. It is easy to get pissed off at customers for unreasonable requests, or other people in the industry who said they would send you an email or call you back but don’t . Or investors who turn down your business. But just like the referees who always come back so do the people who are your clients, industry partners/competitors and investors. Always, always be nice to them.
It happens to EVERYONE. When you are with your girlfriend, wife, boyfriend, children, family or at the movies. You think about work when you should be relaxing.
I find this happens a lot with business owners or work-a-holics. This is very unhealthy because you are not really taking a break and you are not really working. This transient work/break balance is the worst place to be. You are not enjoying your break, and you are not being as productive as you could be if you were in your office or talking with your team so you get frustrated.
When I was competing, we had training camps where we trained 3 times a day and 6 times a week, we would take mental breaks by playing other sports. But when we trained we HAD to focus and train (or you could get seriously hurt). And when we took a break, we did as much as we could to relax because we knew we had a long day of training coming up.
Being able to turn work and play on and off mentally is a very handy tool to remain productive at work and enjoy your personal time.
So investors, the next time you look at a portfolio and are considering investing – see if the founders were Athletes in the past, you can be almost be certain that they will have the right attitude when it comes to running a business.