running a marathon

Posted by in Investing, Opinions

The catalyst for this post was a comment from a good friend over the weekend who was talking about his (sub 3hr) marathon strategy.

His comment was that when he realised “the way to run a marathon is to consider the halfway point to be 22 miles” that it really step shifted his abilities. The rationale being that effort expended isn’t straight line and you don’t get tired in a linear fashion. More that the fatigue and really hard work steps in much nearer the finish line. Mentally he now recognises this which helps him to optimise his time over the first 22 miles and then grit his teeth for the last 5 miles. Until he realised this, he was running as if 13.5 miles was the halfway point with the resulting effect on speed/emotion/tactics.

I loved this idea as I saw direct parallels with the start-up/early stage world and it neatly summarised something I had totally underestimated.

With hindsight I had naively thought that the process of business creation would be pretty linear. It isn’t. We are now nearing four years into working with start-ups and the truth is that complexity increases, challenges change and the halfway line has moved. The miles we are looking at ahead of us are easily a hard, if not harder, than the miles we have already run.

When I started (and I should have known better) I perceived we would run to an average of three years involvement in each company. Three has become Five and in truth will probably become Seven.

Whilst the early stages of working with each business wasn’t at all ‘easy’ what is now apparent is that the later stages are as complex, if not more so. Shifting from great idea to ‘scaling business’ with all the associated operational challenges is hard work.

In other words I had underestimated the halfway line and had thought that effort would be evenly expended.

I liked the idea of thinking that halfway in a marathon is 22 miles and now realise that that is most likely the best way to think when starting up a company. Consider that the last five miles are going to be as hard as the first 22 miles. Prepare yourself for the fact that it’s not going to be effort spread equally over a defined period, rather it’s going to be a different level of challenge at different times and each mile will not require the same effort.

The good news is that the companies we are working with are growing, learning and developing well. Most have been through a series of fundraises at increasing valuations.

We have journeyed longer and harder with teams but it has been worth every effort. And we are still there, four years on. We now have a growing shared office environment, a productive way of businesses sharing knowledge and a much clearer understanding of the stages companies and entrepreneurs go through.

We started out with the premise of ‘risk sharing’ with the entrepreneur and we have held to this. We now much more clearly understand the deep effort it takes to run that marathon and we are getting better.