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-long session, and it’s 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 breath or call time-out — you have to keep your hands up at all times, constantly moving and throwing punches.
In other words, it’s a lot of work — much like running a startup.
But the similarities between boxing and starting a company go far beyond the obvious. Boxing can teach us novice founders a lot about how to run an early-stage company. Here are the main takeaways:
- Don’t overreach (or you might lose your balance). 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” — standing tall, pivoting their back foot, driving their back knee toward the ground, rotating from the core and 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 money too early-on — 90 percent of which is noncritical (hence why 90 percent of startups fail).
- Feel out your customer with a few light jabs. 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 torques your body perfectly to pull it back and counter with a left hook. Similarly, if you’re a founder trying to identify who your customer really is, what you want to do is “jab” at them — make a series of small (low-money) bets on a few marketing channels to verify assumptions about whether or not your customer is also there. This is 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.
- Conserve energy now so you can adapt quickly later. Novice boxers clench their fists the entire time they are in the ring. 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. Closing your fist just milliseconds before impact 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. Doing so extends the runway in which the founder can learn, evaluate previous hypotheses, and adapt accordingly.
- Enjoy the training (and the knockouts) as much as the wins. 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 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’re a startup founder, learn how to box. It’s a great workout. It will help relieve your stress. And who knows? Maybe it will also teach you a thing or two about how to run your company better.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.