The Startup World: Five Lessons Learned From Competing In An Ironman Triathlon
Alex Douzet is CEO of Pumpkin, a pet insurance and wellness care provider founded to help ensure pets live their healthiest lives.
Competing in seven Ironman triathlons may seem unrelated to my role as a founder and CEO of three startups; however, it’s these long-distance races that helped prepare me for the challenges of entrepreneurship. Here are five game-changing strategies I’ve learned from competing in Ironmans that can help startup founders.
Map out your course.
The key to an Ironman race is visualizing the course. You have to map out each checkpoint in advance, as well as how you’ll reach it while maintaining a fast pace. Even before race day, you need to create a road map that allows you to train for each sport and adapt your diet to sustain intense workouts. Gaining real experience is also crucial — you have to compete in several interim races until you’re ready for the main event.
This strategy applies to any startup venture. You must divide the challenge into actionable goals that will keep you on track toward success. You need to plan for months of research into your market, developing your product or service and testing it in beta phases. If you can’t envision the path to your goal from the outset, it will be much harder to get there.
Adopt a no quitting mindset.
An Ironman race is demanding. When your body is in pain, quitting is certainly on your mind. In those moments, you must harness a mental override. You have to listen solely to the voice that’s urging you to persevere. Allow it to dominate and propel you onward.
You also have to accept that in order to achieve any challenging goal, you will face setbacks. These setbacks may slow you down, but the trick is not to let them stop you completely.
At my second startup, Ollie, we had difficulty raising funds early on, and we didn’t have a term sheet on the table to fund the business. Rather than take this as a sign that the idea couldn’t work, my team rallied to restructure our pitch. We clearly articulated the size of our addressable market and how we would grow and scale. Finally seeing our vision, investors were on board. To confidently face hurdles like this, you need resilience, patience and a creative mentality — you will find a way to go around or jump over them.
Run toward stress, not away from it.
Stress has a strong negative connotation, but there is a beneficial side to stress as it creates opportunities for change and pushes you to grow. For example, during Ironman training, you must seek physical stress and push your strength with progressively harder workouts. Doing the same comfortable thing repeatedly won’t produce results.
I launched my third startup, a pet health company called Pumpkin, in April 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. Media outlets were not interested in covering our launch, and there were talks of delaying it. We embraced the stress and pushed ourselves to find ways we could gain earned media. With an increasing number of people adopting and buying pets, we saw an opportunity to help them afford the best veterinary care with pet insurance. We pivoted our messaging strategy and went on to have a successful launch.
If you allow stress to push you into panic mode, it’s over. This is true for an Ironman race just as it is for high-pressure business situations. When faced with extreme stress, you have to cultivate a calm environment to allow for strategic thinking. After all, how a leader handles stress influences how their team responds to it. It’s your responsibility to demonstrate the behavior you want to see from those around you.
Take time to rest and recover.
Before an Ironman race, athletes don’t ramp up their training. Instead, they go through a tapering down process where they gradually reduce their regime so they don’t overexert themselves before race day.
You can get 100% out of your mind and body, but not constantly. Never underestimate the importance of physical rest and mental recovery. If you sacrifice these, you sacrifice your ability to operate at your optimum level.
Realistically, it takes seven to 10 years to build a successful company. You have to sustain progress at a fast pace, and you can’t risk burning out. Startups are roller coasters — you need a team that is passionate about the mission, but even a fiercely motivated team needs rest and recovery.
As a leader, it’s your job to create opportunities for your team to recuperate. For example, at my company, we embraced a flexible PTO policy, and after a rigorous Q1, instituted a mandatory week “unplugged” summer vacation policy so every employee had a chance to recharge after all their hard work.
Celebrate milestones along the way.
Completing my first Ironman was euphoric –– it’s a moment I’ll remember forever. Yet, I couldn’t have achieved it without celebrating smaller wins along the way and passing each mile marker. Achieving small, attainable goals keeps you feeling motivated and excited about how far you’ve come, rather than overwhelmed by how far you have left to go.
It may take years to achieve your final goal, whether it’s training for your first marathon or starting a new business venture. You shouldn’t wait that long to celebrate your achievements. It’s the small wins — not only the big ones — that will give you and your team the drive to stay the course and succeed in the end.
Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?