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.