Growing a business is not easy. I know, as I’ve started more than I can remember: I’ve sold fireworks, cleaned pools, been a contractor, built a firm on Wall Street, and founded the world’s largest endurance running series. Each time, I started at zero.
When I’ve been successful — I’ve certainly had failures — what were the keys to that success? They’re fairly straightforward to understand, but not always easy to implement. Here are my secrets on how to succeed in business.
How to Succeed in Business 101
1. Know Your Destination
If you don’t know where you want to go, you’ll never get there. I suggest treating your business like a race, with your target being the finish line and a clear plan to get there. I think of this as finding my True North. You then program this into you and your company’s “GPS,” which helps you stay on a productive path as you travel the road toward success. Ask yourself the tough questions early on, and set your destination.
2. Suit Up and Show Up
Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” This is a principle I live by, and it’s as true with business as it is with ultra running. If I don’t get out there and get started, nothing is going to happen.
On days when reaching my True North seems especially daunting — and believe me, it happens a lot — I simply focus on the next step. Dealing with the next task gets me one step closer to my goal and gives me a sense of accomplishment that reenergizes me and recharges my enthusiasm. Eventually, step-by-step becomes mile-by-mile, and before I know it, I’m there.
3. Embrace Your Mistakes
Nobody does life perfectly, and nobody does business perfectly. We all make mistakes all of the time. The difference between the people who reach their goals and those who don’t? Recognizing, accepting, and learning from their mistakes.
My first business was selling fireworks at a 90% markup when I was 8 years old. It was highly profitable, but illegal, and it got me kicked out of school. And trust me, I’ve made plenty of mistakes since then. But every time I screwed up, I learned from my error and corrected my course.
4. Love the Process
The real joy isn’t finishing the race, or even winning the race. It’s in all the hard work that gets you there. Business is the same way. Yes, I want to reach my goals, but loving the process is just as important, because reaching the goal is only about 1% of the entire experience. The other 99% will grind me down if I’m not enjoying myself.
I learned that from my Wall Street days, when it was really hard to stay motivated. I’ve learned a different lesson with Spartan, where loving the process keeps me more engaged and helps me keep going when I’m faced with setbacks, annoyances, and even outright failures.
My last bit of advice: No matter what happens, stay hopeful. This is an ultra running lesson that translates to business. Running 100 miles in sub-zero temperatures or the blazing heat of the desert is kind of insane, but so is running your own company. Sometimes, it seems like everything is stacked against you, and you get really tired, and you’re worried that your entire world might collapse at any moment. It’s actually a very primal sensation. You either persevere or you perish.
Trust me when I say this: If you stay optimistic, you’ll persevere and eventually succeed.