In a bit of a deviation from the classic science approach, this week we’ll be looking at the Olympics. I feel that it is a pretty justified one, though considering it has been distracting me from my work for the last two weeks (plus there is loads of physics behind all that success.)
The stories, the drama and the pure athleticism are truly captivating. Before I know it that quick glance at the gymnastics has turned into a three-hour marathon comprised of five different sports. But who can blame me when there are superstars like Simone Biles – she is the greatest isn’t she?)All those things I should have been doing are suddenly ranked a bit lower on the priority list. I just can’t seem to help myself (but could you either if you were watching some spectacular Simone Biles – she is just the absolute greatest isn’t she?)
The 10-second race
However, at the same time, you can’t help thinking about all those athletes who make it to the Olympics, but fall short. Their Olympic dream can be over in literally 10 seconds (take the 100 m sprint). Be it a bad day, or not quite being good enough, they have spent the last 4 years dedicated to achieving their goals. 4 years of work for only 10 seconds of action. Doesn’t really seem fair, does it?
Is being an entrepreneur any different? Can 10 seconds make or break you? Sure, you may win a big deal, or get funding from a venture capitalist, but ultimately, you cannot pinpoint the 10 seconds that pushes you over the edge, to success or failure.
That’s because every second counts. Every little fraction of time accumulates into something much bigger. And it is the same for athletes. Did you know in four years there are over 12 million lots of 10 seconds? That is 12 million 100 m sprints to get something done. The action you take now, affects everything else that happens. Sure, athletes have bad days, but none of those gold medallists wins by chance. They have made the most of every opportunity in preparation for the Olympics. At home on the couch, we only see a tiny fraction of what makes them winners.
Working on a startup, you need to realise the importance of now. Every 10 seconds is another opportunity to take action, improve, adapt and be ready for whatever comes next.
This message was recently driven home by an assignment. We were given $5 seed funding and told we had two weeks to make as much money as possible. With limited time we could procrastinate, over plan, or try to create the perfect product. We simply had to act. For someone who procrastinates, this was a new and exciting approach. Brainstorming ideas as a team, with the hope of coming across something lucrative, so many had road blocks. But what it ultimately came down to was that we simply did not know what would work. What did customers actually want?
As our team tried to come up with the next million dollar idea there seemed to be so many potential roadblocks. But what our indecision came down to was that we simply did not know what would work. What did customers actually want?
Launch and Learn
Instead of figuring it out on our own, we embraced the every-second-counts mentality. We decided to fail, and fail fast. Colin Raney believes it is important not to wait for perfection, but rather to launch and learn. So straight after our brainstorming session, we tested our first scheme. Coffee deliveries. And it failed miserably. But all we lost was a few hours of our time, yet in the process, we started to understand our customers needed. We learnt to adapt to the conditions and iteratively improve our offerings.
For a procrastinator, this is a pretty exciting mentality. Perfection is hard to achieve, and when we focus on it too much it can be a massive barrier to achieving anything. But unlike at university, where you only get one shot at every assignment, working on a startup you can be dynamic, and respond to the market’s needs. This is truly refreshing and makes those 10 seconds count even more. It really embraces the “hustle” mentality that entrepreneurs love. The commitment to get ahead and take action, no matter what fuels resourcefulness and rapidly builds value. This was essential working on the five dollar challenge, but hustle is important for athletes too.
Even though that 10-second race is all that seems to matter. It does not. It is every other second of preparation and hard work that has gotten them to this point. Take the incredible Olympic swimmer, Katie Ledecky, she is known for her phenomenal work ethic, training relentlessly twice a day.
Although those Olympic races are when it counts, it is taking action early that sets you up for triumph. As Eddie Cantor says, “It takes years to make an overnight success.”