Building A Startup? Think Marathon!

Pankaj Thakar
January 18, 2021

I am aware that Startup is always compared with Marathon and since I experienced both first hand, it is worth sharing it.

Last year I wanted to run half marathon, 21k! I couldn't and hence I did 6K. No I did not run out of breath but I ruptured muscle around the knee during training & bowed out!

I am 53 and I was training on my own for it for four months and was very confident that I can make it. Post couple of months of training (taking instruction form internet and some Gym friends), I was running 5K almost every day and on weekend a 10K. As the date of Delhi marathon was coming near, I was increasing my speed and the distance almost everyday and then one day I felt that I have some stiffness in my muscles surrounding the knee. So I stretched little more than average, which gave me some relief. However as the D-day approached, I was feeling more & higher discomfort as I kept running despite of pain. So I gave it a full one week rest just before the event and obliviously felt better. I was feeling great on the race day and started running. At about 2K, I could feel the discomfort and I slowed down. It was long way to go! I sprayed the pain killer and kept running. At 4K I knew it was impossible to go all the way as the pain became unbearable. I barely managed to finish 6K. I was very disappointed with myself and was sulking on my way back. My right leg was in terrible shape and I could barely walk. However somewhere I was also happy that I had run a race after 35 years!

Yes, I used to run 1500 meters and 5000 meters in School! In 1978/79/80. After that, sparingly some jogging and nothing much for 36 years. So running in a race was quite a thing, except that I could have been better prepared for this “Ad-venture”. Now if you got the hint as to why am I telling this story? Yes I made the same mistakes that most startup make in their “Venture”. Got an idea, din't prepare for it, took no formal training in running or help from a coach, ‘I know it all approach’ and running it like a middle distance race that I used to run 36 years ago! Yes, I made all those mistakes that could have been avoided, like a startup and failed. So let me elaborate and analyze my mistake at the same time:

  1. Validate it! Startup Idea is like “I want to run the big race”: Before running a marathon, one needs to go to a Doctor, a physio and a coach to know one’s physical condition just like your idea need to validated by a domain knowledge expert, a professional and a biz mentor. Easily, all the three could have examined me, qualified me, train me to run marathon, story could have been different,  much like all the three I mentioned could help a startup validate the idea form ‘execution and moetisation’ point of view, the chances of success could be better. If I would have had a proper advise, I would have run the race to finish or they could have told me that I am not ready, do it next year after complete preparation. By going to right people, a startup will get the right advise on the worthiness of idea and the founders readiness. It could literally mean “fail Early- on the drawing board itself”.
  2. Right Diagnostics! Your Hamstring muscles are week and they need strengthen thru specific exercises- my physio said: This is exactly what a startup needs to hear about their idea and its execution! The idea is worthy only if it can be executed and its SWOT analyses by an expert can tell you where are the weak links and how to strengthen them! Like a wanna be runner needs a complete body & mind check up,a A startup needs a thorough examination, identification of week-links, an honest input with specific recommendations.
  3. Step-By-Step! You need 5 days a week, step by step muscle building and then may be you will run next year- said the coach: I sat down with the coach and he created a complete 40 weeks program and said, we will monitor weekly and we may need to tweak it quarterly based on your performance. Wow, that’s really the thing for startup! A step by step program to build the product, test it with the real customers, monitor the feedback and then tweak it. That is how one build’s a lean startup! One needs a coach to run marathon and a startup needs a mentor to build a startup.
  4. Listen To Your Mentor! Do as I say or you will hurt yourself- my coach told me one day: I started my training under the watchful eye of the coach and as I have been a runner 36 years ago, I realized I know many things he is telling me. So I started over doing it. Coach came to me and said, 'don't overdo it as your ankle may get hurt too!' I almost disbelieved him but for a fellow runner, who told me that she did the same thing 3 years ago and it has taken her that much time to run again. Just by overdoing it and not listening to the coach and your body, you may be never be able to run again. Doesn't it sounds very familiar to a startup who is trying to either premature scaling! Or just not learning from other startups suves or failure in similar business. Even though each startups tries to be unique, there are  some similarities with others who have succeeded or failed. One needs to learn form their mistakes and try to stick to something that is not so obvious. There is no guarantee that I will end up on finishing on the line, but by lisenting to my body & coach, who has seen many failures, I can learn & shall not end up where I was last year.
  5. Mistakes are OK! I tripped- I may not able to run this year again: In July this year, I tripped as I was careless and my ankle suffered a hairline fractured. There goes my 2017 marathon race as doctors told me that it would take at-least 6 months to even think about running. Now this time it was my fault completely, I should have been more careful and could have avoided the fall. But sometime you become careless and make a fatal mistake. My coach couldnt do much as it was time to bring in doctors who said, a cask for 40 days, a binder(kind of bandage) for 6 months and only walking, first slow and then brisk after 3 months. So I have decided to walk 21K this year and not run. Moral of the story, like any other startup that becomes complacent or careless, loose their sight and makes mistakes. But that is very temporary! Mistakes are part of life. Get your learning form them and get ready for the race. After all there will be race every week, month, year, somehwere. So prepare for the next one. Pivot, don't run, WALK with the help of your coach to stay in the race and once completely recovered, run to finish what you started!  

See You At A Marathon Called Startup!