Finweek English Edition - - MONEY -

Start-ups are in­cred­i­bly hard. Paul Gra­ham, the leg­endary in­vestor be­hind Y-Com­bi­na­tor says of start-ups: “Ev­ery­one is sur­prised by how dif­fi­cult it turns out to be, be­cause it ’s not the kind of diff ic ult y peo­ple have ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore… No­body knows what they’re ca­pa­ble of un­til they try it. Start-ups are hard but doable, in the way that run­ning a f ive-minute mile is hard but doable.”

I re­ally like this anal­ogy – the “f iveminute mile”. It speaks of the pace nec­es­sary to achieve top per­for­mance.

As a for­mer in­ter­na­tional rower, I used to spend many hours analysing video footage of the top in­ter­na­tional teams rac­ing.

I al­ways ad­mired how the medal win­ners made ev­ery­thing look absolutely smooth and ef­fort­less, even though I knew that their mus­cles were burn­ing and that they were starved of oxy­gen. You’d see th­ese top teams rac­ing to the line, absolutely ex­pres­sion­less and per­fectly syn­chro­nised, yet go­ing through hell in­side. The f in­ish-hooter would sound and in that in­stant all sem­blance of com­po­sure would van­ish – they’d col­lapse, spent and ex­hausted. The les­son was that th­ese ath­letes won their races be­cause they were able to re­lax at speed.

They were sim­ply bet­ter at be­ing fast than the oth­ers around them. The many years of train­ing it takes on top of natura l t a l ent helps t he body be­come i ncred­i­bly eff icient and t he mind to learn to keep crit­i­cal con­trol when all sys- tems want to stop. It ’s a les­son that ap­plies to busi­ness just as much as it does to sport.

There is a pace and a f low to busi­ness. Many years ago a ven­ture cap­i­tal friend of mine said that there was “a time to walk, and a time to run”. Some­times you had to chase deals ag­gres­sively and run like crazy.

At other times the pace was slow and you couldn’t force it. My friend’s les­son was that there was no point run­ning in a ‘ walk­ing time’ and no point walk­ing when it was time to run. I use this in pri­ori­ti­sa­tion – do­ing chores when it’s slow and chas­ing deals when it’s time to run. Crit­i­cal bugs get fixed im­me­di­ately, and then the pace changes to the more method­olog­i­cal work of adding or im­prov­ing fea­tures. Chores get done be­cause they’re im­por­tant, not ur­gent.

In my daily life work­ing closely with soft­ware de­vel­op­ment teams,

When we started work­ing like this a few years ago it would feel like we were run­ning hard for two weeks, only to run hard for the next two, and so on. We were al­ways sprint­ing, but busi­ness is a marathon, right? Surely we have to be very care­ful of burn­ing out?

The a ns wer l ies i n what it takes to be world class: a world-class marathoner will run the full ging into a deeper men­tal space and bat­tling to stay in con­trol of their form.

The point is t hat i f you want to change the world you’re go­ing to have to work hard, and it will be in­cred­i­bly diff icult. But you have to do it if you want to suc­ceed. You have to learn to be able to re­lax at speed but be able to raise your race pace when oth­ers around you are gasp­ing for breath so that you can put in a spurt and ease away.

I don’t know if there is a fin­ish line in busi­ness, but look­ing back on the last few years I can see how we now sprint for two weeks only to sprint again. It’s not so hard any­more. I can see how easy it’s got­ten for us only when some­one new joins our team and takes a while to slot into the pace. I hope you’re see­ing this too in your own busi­ness:

Your chal­lenge is to f ind ways to make it eas­ier: some­times sys­tems and rou­tines can help; some­times re­mov­ing ob­sta­cles will help.

Some­times, you’re go­ing to have to see whether you can put your hands deeper into the f ire, re­cover overnight and do it again to­mor­row.

You prob­a­bly can. If you can’t, you’ll prob­a­bly fail. Get out there and work on your race pace. Sur­prise your­self. Change the world. Do it again to­mor­row. You prob­a­bly can.

Gareth Ochse is founder of Val­u­a­tionUp. com – a f inan­cial anal­y­sis and strat­egy tool that shows how a busi­ness is be­ing run, what it’s worth, what it could be worth and how to get it there.

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