Starting the Journey: From Excitement to Reality – Startup Lesson #1 from the Bryce Canyon 100
[This article is part of a blog post series in which I’m sharing my Startup Lessons Learned from a 100-mile ultramarathon I completed in Bryce Canyon, UT.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll share my lessons learned in these posts and on The Startup Selling Podcast. In my life as a runner, a sales coach and an entrepreneur, I continuously see parallels and lessons that I feel are important to share with you, the startup CEO, the entrepreneur, the doer of hard things.
Much like running an ultra-marathon, the journey as an entrepreneur building a company is long and difficult. As I’ve heard Tom Bilyeu, co-founder of Quest Nutrition, say – the struggle is guaranteed but success is not. It takes tremendous effort, dedication and fortitude to keep going in the face of obstacles and challenges.
Please share these posts with a friend or colleague whom you think might benefit from my lessons learned on the trail. Thank you for reading.]
Just like with a startup, it takes months and, in many ways, years of preparation just to arrive at the starting line of a 100-mile ultramarathon – the training, the planning, the logistics.
Since December, I’ve been scheduling workouts every week in my calendar – everything from seven-mile mid-afternoon runs and Friday afternoon weight-lifting sessions to 5am trail runs more than an hour’s drive from home. On Sunday mornings, I step into the garage for deadlifts, pull-ups, box jumps and a two-mile time trial run around my neighborhood. No one is making me do these workouts, but I know the I have to do them if I want to be ready to withstand the challenges of a 100-mile race.
I bring my gym bag with me everywhere I go in case the day’s schedule goes haywire and I have to fit in a run while my son is at gymnastics or jiu-jitsu. Every day, I plan what I’m going to eat for the day – counting calories and macronutrients, packing lunch and snacks in my backpack, and stashing protein bars in the car.
Then there’s the travel preparation – renting an RV, planning the family vacation around the trip, reviewing campsites, places to visit and finding places to stop along the way.
All of that work just to get to the starting gate, standing there with a drove of runners just like me who each went through the same challenges – now waiting at the starting gate in sub-freezing temperatures before 5am in the middle of the desert with headlamps wrapped around our heads and running packs strapped to our backs, knowing that we’re about to embark on a journey that will take us through the whole day, then through the night and well past sunrise the next morning.
There’s a nervous excitement knowing that I’ve put in the time and effort to get myself here, ready to start. Sounds a lot like starting a startup, right?
For many of us, it took months, or even years, to go from the kernel of our idea to actually getting started with our company.
With my work here at SalesQualia, I first had an idea to start a sales coaching company more than 20 years ago when I was an outside sales representative for Prentice Hall Higher Education. I devoured every sales and personal improvement book I could find, reading a book a week during my first year in the field, and I finished that first year as the top sales rep in my discipline and the #5 sales rep out of more than 300 in the country.
The next year, the company asked me to run a sales training session at our regional meetings, teaching my peers about best practices and sales techniques I used to become a top performer. From there, the years passed during which I earned my MBA and MA degrees, worked at three startups, and started my own unsuccessful investment consulting company.
Nearly 15 years after leading those first sales training sessions, I wrote my first book – “Startup Selling: How to sell if you really, really have to and don’t know how” – while leading Altos Research as the Chief Operating Officer.
For the next three years, I taught workshops at places like the Lean Startup Conference and startup groups up and down the West Coast in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Las Vegas. Those workshops led to a handful of sales coaching clients, all as a side project while continuing my full-time work at Altos Research, then CoreLogic and finally at Blend.
In between all of that, my wife earned her PhD and her private pilot’s license and our son was born.
It wasn’t until four years ago that I felt confident enough in the foundation I’d built and experience I’d developed to dedicate myself to making SalesQualia my full-time work. Even after making that decision, it took nearly a year to transition from my work at Blend to setting the start date for myself. I secured an adjunct teaching position at Hult International Business School to bridge the income gap and give myself more time to build my client base.
All of those years and all of that work just to get to the starting line.
Then the countdown begins and the race starts. As I crossed the gate, I clicked “start” on my Garmin and the journey began.
There’s a rush of excitement crossing the starting line, knowing that the time has come to finally see if all of the work I’ve put in will be enough and how I’ll perform now that the race has begun.
Then quickly, the reality of the race sets in – climbing up then down then up again from 7500’ to nearly 9000’ in the first nine miles, scrambling on all fours up a wet, sticky trail in mile three, running through snowpack at the highest elevations and negotiating a rocky single-track trail that was so steep that stepping from rock to rock was like climbing an uneven staircase.
I reached the first aid station after more than two hours on the trail, and the excitement from the starting line had long since disappeared. I had turned off my headlamp more than an hour ago and I’d gone through my first bottles of water and nutrition.
That’s when the reality sets in – you realize that the excitement is long gone and what’s ahead. There will be more miles and more climbing. Even though the first nine miles went smoothly, I knew that eventually, I’ll encounter some tough stretches and rough patches. I’ll need to solve problems. I’ll need to push myself to keep going even when I feel like stopping.
This race was a two-loop course – a 50.6-mile course completed twice. The good news with a looped course is that you know what to expect the second time around.
The bad news with a looped course is that you know what to expect the second time around.
At that first aid station, I was already thinking about those same nine miles I’d have to climb again 12-13 hours from now on the second loop, after having covered the first 50 miles. That’s when the hard reality really sets in.
With SalesQualia, the hard reality hit me on the the first morning on my own. I dropped off my son at preschool then cracked open my laptop at the kitchen table. My wife was leaving for work, and I could tell something was on her mind. I asked her,“What’s up?”
She blurted out, “What are we going to do if this doesn’t work out?”
I was stunned. I had spent nearly a year working my transition plan from employee to entrepreneur, building up coaching clients and building the structure and support for the company. She and I had countless conversations about how this would work, and we both knew this day was coming for months.
I said, “I don’t know, but I know we’ll figure it out because we always do. And maybe it won’t work out, but it’s my first day doing this. Just give me some time.”
We laugh about this now, but looking back, that was a seminal moment in our life. That’s reality when you actually get started. For the months leading up to that first day, everything was hypothetical—it was all just an idea. I had been teaching workshops, writing books, and coaching for a few years already, but it was all just a side project. That morning it all became real—mortgage payments, her new post-doc, student loans, day care, college savings and health insurance.
Maybe you had a similar experience as an entrepreneur getting to your starting line – years of preparation just to get to your starting line, and then the reality of your journey ahead set in for you.
This is the journey we chose. Excitement gets you started, but recognizing the reality of the journey requires emotional maturity and perseverance. It’s hard, and we know it’s going to be hard – it’s the only way to discover what we’re really capable of doing, who we really are, and what impact we can make to the people around us.
That’s why I choose to run ultramarathons, and that’s why we choose to be entrepreneurs.
[Look for the next articles in this series in the coming days and weeks. Please share these posts with a friend or colleague whom you think might benefit from my lessons learned on the trail. Thank you for reading.]