Olympic Lessons for Startup Life

The following guest post is from Courtney Englert, Customer Success Intern at The Resumator, a SaaS applicant tracking system and hiring platform trusted by many of the fastest-growing companies in the world, including: Pinterest, Tumblr, Hootsuite, Klout, Posterous, Bitly, Atari and Mashable. I am a Board Member and an investor in The Resumator via Rincon Venture Partners.

Bleacher Report recently put together a list of the 30 Greatest Athletes in Summer Olympics History. Sitting on top of the list was 14-time Gold Medalist Michael Phelps, who holds the all-time record for the most Olympic gold medals.

It might seem like a stretch to draw a connection between an Olympic swimmer and life at a startup, but bear with me. Being the most successful Olympic athlete in history (and arguably the most successful single athlete) requires a freakish amount of natural talent, backed up by consistent hard work.

Sounds like a startup, right? They’re both pressure cookers; even the slightest flaw can derail success.

In both of these worlds, it’s up to the individual to put in work and propel themselves (and their team) forward. It’s often said that the First Twenty Employees in a startup make the biggest difference and see the greatest success. It’s up to them, just like an Olympian, to dare to achieve greatness.

Here’s what we can learn from Michael Phelps:

“I think sometimes I guess you see records, say you want to get there and use that as motivation. In a way, it’s kind of cool if there is a possibility to rewrite history.”

In the early 80′s, Steve Jobs was the ex-hippy who was building a cute computer from his garage. Thirty years later, the business world is celebrating his life’s work and thanking him for forever changing the way people view technology.

His force of will propelled him to be one of the most famous, impactful, and successful people in the history of the  world. Because he dared to do it.

Michael Phelps is the same way. What kind of audacity does it take to set out to win eight Olympic gold medals? And what kind of willpower does it take to make it happen? How can you change the outcome of something, today, just because you dared to try?

“I learned how fast you can go from being an international hero to being a reference in a joke on a late night talk show.”

No matter how great a person can become, it only takes one screw-up to turn into the butt of jokes. Michael Phelps knows all about this one: he got as much press for partying at U of Michigan as he did for one of the greatest athletic performances of all time. “The bigger they come…” holds true for Olympic legends and entrepreneurs alike. Be prepared to take a fall.

Startup culture isn’t aways glory and hoodies and stock options. It’s about messing up so many times the only choice left is the right one. Survive the mistakes and get up quickly.We’ll see how well Michael takes this advice this fall.

“I have the opportunity to be a part of history. To take the sport to a new level would be an honor for me. There’s no better time to try this than now.”

Startups absolutely lead to personal glory: ever heard of Mark Zuckerberg? But they won’t succeed unless they’re striving for something bigger — an idea, a cause, or a revolutionary product. It can be a great thing to be motivated by money and success, but it needs to be grounded in something else.

Because the success only gets you so far — and it can come and go, if it comes at all. The real perk of startup life is the community. It’s advancing a cause you believe passionately in and are willing to fight for, along with people you feel the same way about.

Follow Courtney on Twitter at http://twitter.com/courtneyenglert.

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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