I was doing a cardio kickboxing workout class the other day, when I somehow made a comparison between boxing and building a business. It’s funny how the brain does that.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much sense the analogy actually made. My hope is that this post will help you shift your outlook on building a company, even if just slightly.
Endless Punches to the Face
At this point, I’m sure you’ve already realized how the thought process for this analogy came to mind. The journey is filled with constant ups and downs. One day you’re feeling like you’re on top of the world; the next day, you’re wondering why your stupid ego allowed you to even set out on this mission to begin with. This is normal. Punches to the face are normal; just like boxing, they’re part of the game.
An employee randomly quits. A big customer wants a refund. Your product fails. You can’t afford your burn rate anymore. Your churn % just shot up 3 points. Shit! Somebody just posted negatively about your company on social media. These punches, and many more, will come; sometimes they’ll barely graze your chin, other times you’ll get hit square between the eyes and fall on your ass.
Point is, you should expect these punches. You should be prepared to get hit. Take the punches and roll with them to the best of your ability. It’s a long fight.
What really matters is how you respond to these punches; you’re not superman, you won’t always be able to fix things, but you should always do everything that you can to make things right. This is what separates the great companies from the mediocre. Funnily enough, these moments can often be golden opportunities buried under a ton of crap. Go above and beyond for an aggravated customer, for example, and you’ll almost always have a newly minted customer advocate on your hands— not always but most of the time.
And look, sometimes you’ll get knocked out and lose the fight. There’s nothing you can do to remedy these situations. In business, this is painful, really really painful. It means having to watch from the sidelines with that nauseous feeling in your stomach knowing that you’re helpless. But that’s okay, too. Just make sure you’re doing everything in your power to make sure it doesn’t happen again. These are learning opportunities that will prepare you for the next “fight.”
A Single Fight Can Last for 12 Rounds
Can you imagine fighting someone for 12 rounds? Me neither, but let’s assume it’s impossibly exhausting. I was a wrestler not a boxer — but that’s besides the point.
When fighters prepare, they prepare for all 12 rounds; they never assume that a knockout will end it early. Building a company is the same way. You have to remain focused on the current round, while never forgetting that there are many more rounds, and many more fights that will follow. It’s a constant balance. If you only focus on the future, you’ll never get there. If you only focus on the present situation, you’ll spin your wheels and stay in the same place.
It’s easy to spend your time and energy thinking about how great the future of the company will be. It’s fun to think about where the product can go. I’m guilty of this. Some of it is necessary, but if it holds all of your focus, you’re going to get punched right in the face; you’ll never see it coming.
Time and energy are finite resources; they run out, at some point. Knowing that the fight is long, you need to choose how you spend these resources very carefully. Founders get burnt out all the time; it’s happened to me, and it has probably happened to you. Unlike boxing, there is no “end” to building a company, so you need to figure out a sustainable work ethic that works for you. In other words, you need to pace yourself.
Technique is Developed Over Time
Let me start out by saying that nobody really knows what they’re doing; we’re all just figuring it out as we go. That said, experience does help. A lot. There are no shortcuts to developing great technique or skill; these things take time.
When you start building a business for the first time, you have no experience, no skill, and no technique (other than what came naturally). Take relief in that fact that everybody starts here. We can all become better at what we do by experiencing failures, by practicing, by studying others. Just like a great fighter: you can watch your competitors, you can get mentors, advisors, and coaches, you can read books, but you won’t actually gain experience until you get out there and try.
One way to speed up the development of your technique is by running constant experiments. Every business is different just like every fighter is different. We all have our own unique twists. It’s your job to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Most of the time, thought-leaders and other founders will give advice based on their own experience; this is all fine, and it may be great advice, but it will most likely not play out the same way for you.
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Your Strategy Will Constantly Change
Strategy is your plan of action, and it can be the defining factor between two equally skilled fighters, or business competitors. When a fight starts, you go in 100% with your strategy… that’s all you can do, but some things won’t work. The competitors (or the market) will react positively to some parts and negatively to other parts. You have to constantly update and optimize your strategy, even during the fight.
After each fight, you have the opportunity to review your strategy and make improvements. Think of this like a post-mortem in business. A strategy is essentially a series of hypotheses, a bunch of guesses. Some will be right, some will be wrong. You should double down on what works and not lose sleep over what doesn’t.
Your strategy should always be on your mind because it will constantly affect HOW you’re spending your time. And since we all have the same amount of time in a day, this matters. The things that got you from $0 to $10k MRR won’t always be the things that get you to $100k MRR. Becoming complacent with your strategy can cause your business to get “stuck.” Not only that, but a stagnant strategy can easily be reverse engineered by your competitors. In boxing, if you fight the same way every time, your competitors will know exactly how to beat you.
Speed & Aggressiveness = Hustle
Hustle is an opportunity to beat those who have better technique than you. It’s not developed over time, and it doesn’t take skill — just stamina. This is the factor that you have the most control over as an entrepreneur and as a fighter.
But it’s not black and white. Think of hustle like a multiplier; your results are generated by [hustle x technique x strategy]. And don’t forget, anything multiplied by zero is zero. Therefore, if your strategy sucks, you’re going to waste a lot of energy without great results to show for it.
Still, it’s not so simple. Remember from above, fights are long. If you go all out in the first round and exhaust yourself, you’ll surely lose the fight in the long run. You’ll burn yourself out. Through experience, you’ll learn about yourself; you’ll learn how hard you can push yourself. Unfortunately, this is often learned too late — at the point of burnout. You’ll get a quick knockout occasionally, just like you might run a successful campaign on the first attempt. But there will always be another fight, and that success will only carry you so far. So again, pace yourself.
All 3 Pillars are Important for Success
Great technique and a sound strategy without hustle won’t get you very far. Imagine a great fighter that became lazy, or even worse: cocky.
Hustle, on the other hand, without technique or with a shitty strategy will be a lot of wasted effort. That might very well sum up the beginning of your journey; it will feel like you’re doing a ton of work but not making real progress. That’s perfectly okay, just make sure you’re doing everything you can to learn, improve, optimize, gain experience, and adapt. Don’t forget about the formula: [hustle x technique x strategy] = results.
These pillars feed off of each other. You can learn from the hustle, gain experience, adjust your strategy, and improve your results. It’s a flywheel that will gain momentum and keep spinning as long as you are constantly optimizing it.
Great fighters get punched in the face, just like everybody else. At the end of the day, they’re just winning more fights than they lose.