November 3. Fort Wadsworth staging area. Staten Island. 38 degrees. The 2013 NYC Marathon.
A few hours later (the exact number is not that important!) the finish line in Central Park. That was the end of one of the most amazing experiences of my life. That marathon was done, but the marathon of my startup is still going -- with no finish line in sight just yet.
Somewhere around mile 15, it struck my just how similar the two were. In both you have know it's not a sprint, you need a plan, you need support and in each one, when the difficult parts come, you are on your own
Marathon runners do not sprint through their race. It is advised to not start out the race too fast to avoid burning yourself out. To start slow as the howitzer gun at the starting line sounds. Start slow as you move with a sea of runners over the Verrazano Bridge. Start slow because you have a long way to go. The same is true for a startup. If you go too hard you will burn out. If you think you know all the answers the day you start your company, you will run in the wrong direction. Go slow and refine your ideas. Go slow and listen to potential customers. Go slow because when you run out of money, you are out of the race.
Attacking the marathon requires a plan. A hydration plan, a nutrition plan, a pace plan. You have to make sure you don't burn out and you have to make sure you have enough energy to go the distance. You are all the more likely to finish if you have a plan for the use of the scarce resources on the course. In the startup world, the money in your bank account is your fluids, fuel, and ability to keep going. You need a plan, a budget, and an idea of how to allocate that capital...with a series of contingency plans. If you don't have a plan you are more likely to run out of money and be out of the race.
No one runs the marathon on their own. You start the race out with fifty thousand best friends (the energy and magic of the day makes you feel a loyalty and connection to the people running by your side as though they've been next to you your whole life.) Second, your training will involve running with people, since very few people can put in the several hundred miles of training necessary while running solo. The dirty little secret about running is that is gets really, really, really boring. Lastly, friends and experts who have been in your shoes before will offer advice and expertise, helping you pave your way to the race. Startups are the same. Your team will become like family as you go through the excitement and magic of building something new and hopefully world-changing. You will rely on your team, because, while startups are not boring, the dirty little secret in the startup world is that it is really, really really challenging. Most companies fail. Whether you win or lose you will put in 18 hour days, seven days a week, for the first year or two. But you will build a support network of experts and advisors who have run this way before. They will help you stay in the race.
However, despite all the support you will get from friends, advisers, and experts in both races, when it gets really hard and you need to dig deep, you are on your own. On mile 21, when you hit that wall, your whole body hurts and your rational mind is telling you to stop. At this moment you are alone. You are on your own to break through and finish the race. Startups are the same. We are blessed at Work Market to have a world class team. People like Rocio Delgado, one of the leading data engineers in the world, are cracking the code on the algorithms that drive labor decision-making. But as good as people like Rocio are, there are times when the founder needs to put the company on his or her back and make the decision that will determine whether you win the race or have to stop. You are as alone in those decisions as you are at mile 21.
Crossing that finish line was an amazing experience and accomplishment. But it was nothing compared to the emotion experienced when exiting a startup. I have been fortunate enough to go through both, and am fortunately still in the race with miles to go in Work Market, along with a few more races of both types left in me.