The Reality of the Distance: The Long F&cking Road Ahead – Startup Lesson #3 from the Bryce Canyon 100
[This article is part of a series in which I’m sharing my Startup Lessons Learned from a 100-mile ultramarathon I completed in Bryce Canyon, UT.
Please share these posts with a friend whom you think might benefit from the lessons learned on the trail. Thank you for reading.]
After the third aid station at mile 25, I wanted to think that I was cruising along and everything was fine – I mean, I was “only” 25 miles into the race. I’d just covered nearly a marathon with thousands of feet of climbing at 8000’ of elevation, but those first miles were really just warm-up for the next 75 ahead. The reality was that there was a long road ahead.
I was tired. My quads started to ache. Worse, the course only got tougher from there. The next 25 miles to the midpoint included a section with endless switchbacks – up and down and around the hoodoos. Then the five-mile Red Canyon loop from mile 33-38, where we had to climb out of a canyon, over the top of ridge, back down the other side, then back up and over the same ridge again to complete the loop. From there, there was a long, consistent uphill section followed by two big, steep climbs back up to 8500’ before heading down to the end of the first loop.
It’s like that with a startup.
When you started the company, it might have been a warm, sunny summer day. Now the kids have been back to school for a couple of months and the holidays hit you. You work through the January blues and conference season kicks in, so you’re hopping on planes and lining up investor meeting. Then it’s Spring Break and before you blink again, you find yourself panicking because you forgot to sign up the kids for summer camps.
Weeks speed by. Months fade into the rear view mirror. Soon, the company’s one-year anniversary passes, and while you’ve made a ton of progress – launched the product, locked down some funding, and even have a couple of early users and customers – it doesn’t seem like things are going the nearly the way you planned a year ago. All the progress you make just got you here, and every day is just another starting line with even more tough miles ahead.
The reality of the distance hits you – there’s a very long f&cking road ahead.
Leaving the Red Canyon Aid station at mile 38 to start my way back to the start/finish turnaround, the voices started –
“Why exactly are you doing this?”
“Why are you here?”
“Instead of spending the night slogging on the trail in the freezing cold, I can drop at the midpoint, climb into the RV for a nice dinner and a sold sleep.”
You have to find a reason to keep going even when you don’t want to.
That’s life running a startup. You have to want to go on.
On the trail, the truth was that I didn’t have a good reason to stop.
I wasn’t hurt or physically incapable. I wasn’t sick or in danger. I just, in that moment with the voices in my head, did not want to to keep going.
I told myself – This is my choice. I chose this. I signed up for this race because I wanted to test my limits. I put myself in these races is to see how much I can take, to see how far I can push myself, to test how strong is my will to go just one more mile, to reach the top of the next climb, to find a way to the next aid station.
At least with an ultramarathon, there is a finish line. With a startup, there is no finish line. There’s just the next milestone ahead.
Got the MVP launched? Great, now go find some customers.
Got your first customer? Great, now go find ten more.
Got some customers and revenue? Great, now figure out how to break through $1mm ARR.
Got to $1mm ARR? Great, now go secure the Series A.
Got your Series A? Great, now 10x revenue.
Got to $10mm ARR? Great, now scale to $100mm.
There’s just more long f&cking road ahead.
So just keep going, because you can.