Entrepreneur Beginners Guide
“You Have Unbelievable Endurance”
Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.
—Siddhartha Gautama, Indian philosopher, founder of Buddhism
If you want to know what it’s like to run a business, then run a marathon—seriously. Training for and running a marathon is the closest experience to starting and running a business. Interestingly, it turns out that not only are the two experiences extremely similar, but they also share a statistic that makes their likeness even more compelling.
Recently, my curiosity inspired me to investigate how many people run a marathon (26.2 miles) or a half marathon (13.1 miles) annually and how many people start a business annually. In 2010, for example, approximately 1.9 million people finished marathons or half marathons, according to Running USA. That’s less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. Likewise, in 2010, 340 out of every 100,000 adults started a business, according to the Kauffman Foundation. After adding the no adult population back to the population figure to make the comparison’ more accurate, that’s a rate of less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. Roughly the same percentage of those who put themselves through the challenging experience of running a marathon or a half marathon take the difficult plunge to start a business. One reason: Both are extreme in that they attract individuals who have a high tolerance for pain. Put another way, both require unbelievable endurance.
Inspired by my older brother, an extreme runner who has run around the world once and across the United States twice, I began running half marathons in 2008. Considering how fast my brother was; I had high hopes for my performance. I thought my four-year advantage in age would give me an edge, so I set my goal high from the start. I wanted to finish the half in 1 hour, 45 minutes. Well, let’s just say that I haven’t reached that goal. I didn’t think it would be easy to beat that time, but I sure didn’t think it would be as hard. During my first race, I injured my leg at about mile 9 because I was running too fast, and I didn’t train properly. My time was 2:14:33. After that race, I adjusted my goal to breaking 2 hours. It would take me four races and over three years to reach that goal. In January 2012 I not only broke two hours but 1 also crushed my goal time, finishing the race in l :54:10. 1 beat my next best time by a huge 10 minutes, a long time in long-distance running. Reflecting on my personal best, I could trace the momentous achievement to my increased endurance training.
Since taking up running in 2008, I’ve learned firsthand that running long distances and running a business have many elements in common. Of the similarities, the most compelling is certainly the need to have tremendous endurance in both to be successful. The need for endurance shows up in many different aspects of each endeavor.
When you are finally running the marathon, you have times when you just want to give up. You are overwhelmed by the long distance ahead or by how tired your body is. Sometimes I think to myself, Why on Earth am I doing this? What do I have to prove? Wouldn’t it be great to stop and rest? In the same way, when you are running a business, sometimes you want to throw in the towel. You may be losing money, trying to build a working prototype, or dealing with a legal battle. You may say to yourself, Having a job is so much easier. Despite these roadblocks, you keep the end goal in mind and push through the difficulties, settling in on a good pace.
Also, the more you run, the better you become. After the terrible performance of my first race, my brother told me that I’ll get better the more I run. I thought he said this just to cheer me up, but he was right. The more I ran, the more I understood how my body reacts to different types of environments and training regimens. I learned how to avoid injury, what weather conditions I prefer, and how to maximize my workouts. I also received advice from elite runners on how to train, what to eat, and what brand of clothes, shoes, and socks to wear. It made a huge difference in my performance and endurance. Likewise, the more businesses you start or the longer you arc in business, the better you become. In fact, according to a Harvard University study, first-time entrepreneurs have only an 18 percent chance of succeeding; entrepreneurs who previously failed have a 20 percent chance of succeeding.
Moreover, long-term and consistent training properly prepares you for top performance. Running a marathon is not something that you decide to do on a whim the day or week before. It requires the commitment to train and to withstand the arduous preparation for the big run. Beginners need about eighteen weeks to train for a full marathon and about twelve weeks for a half marathon. If the distance itself doesn’t deter people from running a marathon, than training almost every day of the week for months will do it. Similarly, if you start a business without any training, you will make many mistakes you could have avoided completely. To prepare for business, your training regimen involves attending conferences, reading books and magazines, and finding a mentor.
More than any other characteristic of an entrepreneur, having superhuman endurance is by far the most vital. It’s even more important than being smart, well-funded, or charismatic. Entrepreneurs who have the fortitude to keep going despite being tired, to continue to educate themselves to be top performers, and to work through long-lasting pain are the most likely to find success. Many people say that running a business is like running a marathon. Having done both, I certainly agree.