(Pictured here training with my boxing coach in Boston)
I started taking boxing training a few months ago, through my company, CoachUp. Every saturday I meet up with my private coach for an hour session, which is definitely the highlight of my week.
For those who don’t know, there is nothing as grueling as boxing. Unlike other sports, if you are in the ring you can’t just put your hands on your knees to catch your breathe, or call time-out — you have to keep your hands up at all time, constantly moving and throwing punches. Its a lot of work, much like running a startup.
But the similarities between boxing and starting a company go far beyond the obvious. There is a deep, profound connection that I believe should be expanded on in so far as boxing can teach us a lot about how to run an early-stage company. Here are the main take-aways:
- People who start boxing for the first time think that throwing a punch is all about winding up, lunging forward, and extending as far as possible with a lead punch. They punch “hard,” and tire quickly. Experienced boxers know that true power comes from driving “down and in” — from standing tall, pivoting their back foot, driving their back knee toward the ground, rotating from the core, wasting no extra motion, and from this core, turning their arm into a whip that stings their opponent effortlessly, without tiring their arm or over-extending their base — therefore preserving their balance. Similarly, novice startup founders tend to “reach” way too far in several ways, most commonly with trying too many customer acquisition channels, building too much functionality, and trying to raise too much $ too early-on — 90% of which is non-critical, hence why 90% of startups fail.
- The best boxers set up their next punch by transforming the energy and torque expanded in throwing the previous punch, into the next punch — i,e., throwing a right (punch #”2”) torques your body perfectly to pull it back and counter with a left hook (punch #”3”). Similarly, if you are running a company successfully, and are trying to identify who your customer really is, what you want to do is “jab” at them — making a series of small (low-money) bets on a few marketing channels to verify assumptions about whether or not your customer is also there — eerily similar to how good boxers throw repeated “light” jabs to see how their opponent weaves and dodges, in order to “feel them out” and line up a stronger hook or upper-cut.
- Novice boxers clench their fists the entire time they are in the ring — expanding energy. The best boxers, know that you must keep your fists relaxed and open, not only while moving around the ring (to be relaxed and conserve energy) but also when throwing a punch.. what you want to do is start your punch with your fist open, then turn your fist mid-punch and close it just milliseconds before impact — this approach generates the most power while conserving the most energy. Similarly, startup founders need to remain “open” to pivots, alternative truths about customer segmentation, marketing channels, pricing sensitivity, etc. — in order to be able to extend a longer runway in which the founder can more quickly learn, evaluate previous hypothesis, and adopt accordingly.
- Good boxers are tough. They put it all on the line, risking health and financial payouts. They train hard, are confident, and don’t underestimate their opponents. They accept regular coaching, listen to the advice, and make it work for them, given their style, improvising on the fly to avoid getting knocked out. When they get beat, they recover quickly and train harder. They enjoy the training process as much as the actual fight. Successful startup founders need to behave the same way.
I could go on and on with other analogies. But take it from me — if you are a startup founder, learn how to box. Its a great workout. It will help relieve your stress. And who knows, maybe it will teach you a thing or two about how to run your company better.