Tough Mudder and 6 Startup Lessons Learned

I finished my first ever Tough Mudder on April 20th with some friends.  It was tough and muddy and very similar to a startup journey.  I know it sounds crazy but I was thinking about my startup the entire time I was racing.  It could have been the cold weather or the electric shocks but I learned several lessons during that race.

1 – Startups are Stupid

I tried to explain Tough Mudder to my parents (apparently my friends had similar experiences) and the response was along the lines of “Why would you do that?” and when you tell them you are actually paying for it, you get “WHAT!!!  You are paying for it?”.  So, to the person outside looking in, it does sound like a stupid idea.  It makes no sense.  You are quitting your job to work harder AND for less money.  You must be crazy.

2 – The team is everything

I wanted to give up after the first obstacle.  I wanted to give up after (or more accurately before) every single obstacle.  Had I been running this race by myself, I probably would have or at least it would have been easier to give up.  There is something psychological about being part of a team that forces you to keep going.  I don’t know if it is peer pressure or ego or competitiveness or not wanting to be the only one (or first one) to give up but having a team helps you reach the finish line.  It goes without saying that you have to have a good team.  None of us was especially super fit, we were all exhausted, we all wanted to give up but we rallied each other and kept going.

3 – It is not as bad as you think

Going into this race, I knew I didn’t want to do the Arctic Enema.
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If you watch this video, you will know why.  The problem is that it looks really hard and scary and $#*#@ cold, and guess what?  It was all of that, but I did it and it sucked but it was not even close to how sucky I thought it was.  This happens in startups all the time.  Just starting is hard, scary, cold and lonely but it is not as bad as YOU THINK it is.  So, don’t psych yourself out.  It’s tough, but you will get through it and you will survive.

4 – Do your homework

None of us really knew long the race was or how many obstacles there were.  Some of us thought it was 3 miles, 6 miles and even 10 miles long.  I thought there are 3 obstacles, others thought there is 1 obstacle every mile and others thought there were 10 obstacle.  The race was actually 12 miles long and had 20 obstacles.  We should have done our homework and prepared accordingly.  On the flip side, had we really known these numbers, we might have not even attempted.  We knew it was hard but didn’t really know the specifics.  Same goes for startups.  We know they are hard but I am wandering do I really want to know EXACTLY how hard or do I just need to know enough to prepare.  Of course this is different for everyone, some people might not even attempt a startup until they have exact information.  I am not one of those people and I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

5 – Find good mentors

Since we didn’t know how long the race was, we kept asking people on the way.  Every single person gave us a different number.  One of the staff members even told us that we have 4 miles left at the 3 mile marker.  She was off by 5 miles.  Same goes for startups, the wrong mentors will point you in the wrong direction and give you bad data.  Even “expert” mentors could be wrong, so make sure you find good and reliable mentors to guide you through your startup journey.

6 – Know when to quit

My friend hurt his knee on the 3rd mile but he wanted to keep going on.  Since we didn’t really know how much we had left, he decided he wanted to finish the race.  Personally, I tried to talk him out of it.  Others motivated him to “man up” and keep going.  Personally, it could have been the fact that I had surgery on my knees years ago and know how painful the physical therapy is and that I didn’t want him to go through that.  I told him, you can finish the race and hurt your knee which could potentially mean surgery and several months of therapy, which means he can’t go to the gym, he can’t play sports, he can’t be active, etc…  So was it worth it to keep going or give up, recover and do it again later.  He impressively limped for 6 more miles.  Impressive?  Stupid?  I don’t know.  This could happen in startups.  If you get hurt or run out of money or run into major issues, do you suffer through it and potentially lose more  (or finish) or do you stop, regroup and try again later?  I don’t know.  I guess it will depend on your individual situation.  I don’t how much pain he was really in so I can’t tell for sure if he was being stubborn or brave!!!