The similarities between a Founder and an Olympian

If, like me, you’ve been captivated by the Olympics this summer you’ll probably have absorbed some of the key messages around resilience, tenacity and determination which have surrounded every individual athlete and their Olympic story. However, one thing you may not have thought about is how closely the journey of a startup is aligned to that of an athlete, and what, as a founder, you can take from these games.

When working with startups we’ll always ask you what the vision is, where are you trying to get to and then, working backwards, what are the steps you need to get there. The world is full of huge entrepreneur success stories, and yes, the Ubers, Netflix’s and Starlings of this world are impressive and inspiring but for those of you on your startup journey they’re also a long way off.

Every Olympian competing in Tokyo has been on their own personal journey, and these are the stories I find so inspiring, from Tom Pidcocks achieving Gold months after being hit by a car, to the tears of Tom Daley finally achieving his first Gold after well documented personal challenges. It’s not all about the gold medals though, I feel like just getting to the starting line draws comparisons to the completion of the MVP and what happens next for startups.

We’re all fascinated by the backstory of every athlete, don’t lose sight of your own story, your vision, your tech, knowledge and target customers. This is what investors (and your customers) will want to talk to you about. Social media has completely blurred the lines between personal brand and company brand now and essentially people buy from (and invest in) people.

In the same way Olympians run their own race and focus on the job they have to do, as a Founder you have to stay true to your vision and story, yes you want to have an eye on the market and competitors but it’s just an eye, not an obsession. There’s so much energy and effort needed to build a successful startup, don’t waste it focusing on someone else. You can’t run their race so stay in your lane.

At the start of every race sits an athlete with years of hard work, graft and literal blood, sweat and tears. We never really see the graft behind the medals, the 4am starts, freezing runs/swims, endless missed social occasions, family gatherings and more. Family and friends don’t really ‘get it’, think it’s a hobby and are waiting for you to get a proper job? Sound familiar? There’s very little that’s glamorous about early stage startups; weekend meetings, virtual relationships, no one to rant with, or reassure you, and you literally have to do EVERYTHING yourself. It can be a slog but remember, and take comfort from these games, every business has been there, every athlete has been there, and the same goes for the successful entrepreneurs, as a society we’re just not very good at talking about the less Instagram worthy parts.

Investment; the thing in the startup world we’re all talking about, yes it’s important, and yes it’s probably something you think about early on, but success and investment aren’t mutually exclusive. Maybe one of the most inspirational stories to come from Tokyo so far Bethany Shriever taking GB’s first BMX Gold. It wasn’t a plain sailing journey and she had to crowdfund her way to the Olympics. But last week it paid off. If you believe in your vision, your product and your business (and you do or you wouldn’t be in it) then fight for the resources you need to take the next steps, if you wait for things to come to you there’s going to be a Beth taking your opportunities. You only had to look at her on the winners podium last week to know every decision she took, shred of believe she had, and obstacle she overcame was worth it. The same goes for Charlotte Worthington, Declan Brooks, Tom Dean… Need I go on?

So, in short, keeping an eye on the prize, focusing on where you’re going and how you want to get there, and take comfort in knowing that when it feels like a slog we’ve all been there!

If you’re currently on your startup journey and looking for some advice, support or input we’re always happy to chat, drop us a line and arrange to pop in for a coffee, we can’t promise athletes but you will be with a team of people who absolutely get it.

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