Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint

Interview with Mette Lykke

Mette Lykke is co-founder of Endomondo — a social fitness network with more than 30 million users — acquired by athletic apparel maker Under Armour for $85 million in 2015. She currently works as CEO of Too Good To Go — the World’s largest consumer platform for surplus food.

September 3rd, 2020   |    By: Jonathan Low

When entrepreneurs are successful, we are enormously interested in what made them become entrepreneurs. It’s as if their main achievement is the decision to say goodbye to the secure and safe life — the sure job, the safe pay, and the good CV. While the choice of taking the plunge is definitely a precondition for success, it is quite far from being the primary achievement. The difficult part is not becoming an entrepreneur but remaining one when things look hopeless and everyone around you has lost faith.

We love stories about how two 15-year-old kids in a basement have a good idea, get a breakthrough on the first day, and become a global success a year later. In reality, however, building a business and generating real value takes time. It is in no way abnormal for a startup to use 5–10 years to make a serious breakthrough. Along the way, you will undoubtedly experience a lot of adversity, and sometimes, the hard times will turn into negative spirals that it takes time to come out of again.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve had my fair share of these periods, and based on my experience, I have listed seven pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs, which I hope can give them the inspiration to move ahead.

Believe in your concept, your team, and yourself.

“But there’s no GPS in mobile phones.”

“Who in their right mind would run around with their mobile phone?”

We heard those two objections time and again when we established Endomondo. There will always be people who don’t believe in your idea and who are not afraid to tell you so. Console yourself with the thought that if your idea was so obvious that everyone understood it, then someone would have launched it already. If the idea feels right to you, then it doesn’t really matter whether other people believe in it or not. As long as you believe in it, in your team, and not least in yourself, it has a chance of being successful in the end. Get energy from the rejections — and look forward to the day when the doubters must eat their own words.

Remind yourself and the team why you’re here.

There will be days when only your passion for the concept and the product will keep you and the team going. You should always remember what a difference your product makes and why your vision is worth fighting for—and vocalize it again and again. Hang the vision, the mission, and the values up on the office walls, so everyone is reminded about them every day. And if they haven’t been written down, have a team-building day with the whole team, so you can define them once and for all, and where everyone can take ownership of them. Involve your customers as well; ask for feedback on the product and share success stories with the team. Every day we receive hundreds of emails from our users at Endomondo, and some of them go straight to the heart. When a user has lost 70 kilos by using our app and is now able to play with his children again, it’s hard not to feel that our product is worth fighting for.

Hire only people who share your vision.

Simon Sinek, who also contributes to this book, had this piece of advice in his fantastic TED Talk, and it really is something important to comply with. Nobody is successful in business without the backing of a team of really good people; entrepreneurship is a team sport. In adversity, in particular, you need a team that is focused, and if your employees don’t believe in the vision and the difference you can make, motivating them becomes much more difficult. So, avoid applicants who only want a job and a paycheck at the end of the month; they can find that elsewhere.

Focus on the positive news.

In times of adversity, the ratio of good to bad news is very unequal. You’ll get perhaps 10 bad news reports for every good news report, and holding on to the positive aspects is very important for morale. Share the positive stories internally, so the whole team can get a boost every time something goes well. Have a little celebration when something succeeds; it doesn’t have to be a large, expensive party every time. Consider also not talking solely about the challenges at your meetings. At our management meetings, we decided that every participant had to start by talking about the three most positive developments since the last meeting. Only then would we discuss the challenges.

It’s also important to be positive away from the job. Inspired by these meetings, my husband and I introduced the same idea at home; we would mention the three most positive things from the past day during dinner. In fact, it’s a very sound habit that can be recommended generally.

Be present at the office.

When your startup has problems, you as a leader must fight alongside your team. This means that you must be present physically and mentally and that you don’t succumb to the temptation to accept invitations to meetings and speeches around the world unless those arrangements really benefit your business. Minimize your traveling to the absolutely necessary and help keep the team’s spirit high.

Sleep on it.

Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. Unlike a traditional marathon, you don’t know the distance from the start, and that makes distributing your energy correctly along the way vital. If you start off by working all the time and not getting enough sleep, there’s a significant risk that you’ll run out of steam within a year or two. There’s a reason why deprivation of sleep is a well-known torture instrument.

Have something else in your life.

During the first years as an entrepreneur, I was so fired up that I was never pleased with our results or able to take things easy. I was always en route toward the next milestone and the next target. It wasn’t until I had a baby that I learned to love the journey we were on—at least sometimes. Having something else and more important in my life has helped me put the professional challenges into perspective. When things go badly with the business, coming home to a little one, who’s mostly interested in whether you’re singing children’s songs correctly and remember all the verses is totally therapeutic.

Generally, a difficult aspect of adverse times is being uncertain of when developments will turn positive again. “One day at a time” is the only theorem that works, and so it is a paradox that it requires just as much patience as impatience. Every day the impatience contributes to the plans being executed, but at the same time, a certain degree of patience is necessary since coming out on top can easily take many months. On the other hand, it feels so fantastic when you’re on top of things again that it’s worth the wait and the hard work.

I’VE LEARNED THAT FINISHING A MARATHON ISN’T JUST AN ATHLETIC ACHIEVEMENT. IT’S A STATE OF MIND; A STATE OF MIND THAT SAYS ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

John Hanc

About the Author

Jonathan Low

This article was done by the Danish serial entrepreneur Jonathan Low. Low is based in Scandinavia but has traveled the world interviewing and talking to some of the leading entrepreneurs and innovators on the planet. The article is part of this journey.

Jonathan Low is the founder of 5 tech-companies and the author of two #1 bestsellers about entrepreneurship and marketing. He is also a public speaker at events in both Europe and the US.

Currently, he is the co-founder and CEO of JumpStory transforming the image industry online. JumpStory has experienced massive growth during the last year and has expanded from nothing to customers in more than 135 countries. Major media like Forbes, Entrepreneur.com, The Next Web, etc. have named JumpStory Netflix of images.

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