Startups Are A Marathon, Not A Sprint: Run At Your Own Pace

By Kyle Wong,
Kyle Wong“Startups are a marathon, not a sprint.”
The analogy has been repeated so often it’s already cliché, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. As a self-proclaimed distance runner and a startup founder, I have to admit there’s a lot of parallels.
Like many Silicon Valley stories, when I started working full-time on my company Pixlee,
we sprinted every single day: 7 days a week, 15 hours a day—even sleeping at the office. In an effort to find more balance in life, I recently decided to start running and have ran a few half marathons since. And while I agree that startups are marathons, there are a few important lessons that are often left out.
Running at your own pace
Building a great long-lasting company takes time. One of the most important startup lessons I’ve learned is that you have to go at your own pace.   Just like there are a few elite runners in every race, there will be some companies that grow at a meteoric rates. Trying to keep up with them can be a disaster and sets yourself up for failure.
This doesn’t mean that you have to take it slow, but rather that you need to dictate the pace that works best for you and your company. For instance, you might want to average a 10 minute mile, but there should be different places you choose to speed up or slow down. Each startup has sprints during their lifespan–feature releases, fundraising meetings, big client meetings, etc.—but they all come at different times that are unique to each company and market. Just because other companies have started hiring, fundraising, or had a press release doesn’t mean you have to be doing the same thing. Look to them for reference, but nothing more.
Refueling along the way
The same way that you can’t (or shouldn’t) run a marathon without refueling, you need to force yourself to refuel along your startup journey. When I first started running long distances, I needed to learn when and how to refuel. I figured if I wasn’t tired, thirsty, or feeling weak, I shouldn’t stop for water or food because those 10-15 seconds would hurt my time.
After my first race there were two things that I learned:
1)      While refueling might slow you down in the short-term, it has a serious long-term benefit. It allows you to maintain your pace and finish stronger.
2)      You need to refuel before you have nothing in your tank.
For startup founders the same hold true. You don’t want to wait until you’re burned out before you start finding a better balance. While a founder’s schedule won’t be as balanced as an average employee, it also won’t kill the company if they take a day off or don’t check email for a night. In fact, I’d argue that in the long run, down time is crucial to their psychological and physical wellbeing.


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