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9 Business Tools Learned from Mountain Biking

on June 8 | in Business, Issue 20 | by | with No Comments

Hobbies are extremely important to people, especially here in Colorado. Skis, hiking gear, bikes, cars, and much more take up the disposable income of adults. Many people use these hobbies to unwind and forget about the world around them. I, however, use the alone time to think back on the things that are on my mind. It is very rare that I can hold still and watch TV. I use my time alone with my bike to just meditate on the things that are stressing about.

Recently, I got to thinking about what mountain biking has added to my life (beyond fun, fellowship with my buddies, and 55 pounds of weight loss). I then asked myself of all of the lessons that I have learned from mountain biking. I grew up playing plenty of other sports, but mountain biking is the first where you learn the hard way—by getting your knees and elbows scraped up. The penalty for failure is very high.

Mountain Bike cyclist riding single track outdoor

Metaphorically, can’t the same be said about entrepreneurship? The following is my list of entrepreneurship lessons that I learned from mountain biking:

  1. Plan ahead: In every sport that you play, they always tell you to keep your eyes up and your “head on a swivel.” This is especially important when it comes to mountain biking. You should be keeping your eyes as far down the trail as possible so you aren’t surprised by anything. By the time you are rolling over an obstacle, you are already planning 30 feet down the trail. When you are only looking at what is directly in front of your tire, you will be much slower, and will be unpleasantly surprised when obstacles come your way.

The same should be said for being an entrepreneur. You plan ahead so that you are never surprised by something that was entirely preventable. All too often, business owners are unable to look ahead . . . and this causes them to have to react to inevitable obstacles, rather than be proactive.

  1. It’s more fun when you look around a little bit: Mountain bike trails can take you so far into the backcountry that you get breathtaking views that most people will never see. I have had my breath taken away by so many rides; not just by the hard climb that punishes my lungs, but also by the views. Don’t get focused too much on the drudgery that is pedaling up 1,000 feet up a mountain; look around a little bit.

Many business owners get so wrapped up in the drudgery that is the day-to-day operations. They don’t stop to take a look around, or ask themselves if they are having fun. They are entirely clueless when they reach success and are asked, “How did you do it?” Much of the time they are operating as robots and just step in wherever they are needed. This is definitely not a bad thing, but as a mountain biker or entrepreneur, you are doing it to get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. ENJOY THE RIDE!

  1. Sometimes you just need to let go: There are certain sections of trail where your instinct tells you to white-knuckle the heck out of the brakes. I am still getting comfortable on rock gardens and catch myself just hanging brakes and poking through these sections. Sometimes all you need to do is put your butt down just behind the seat, let go of the brakes, and trust that as long as your tires are still rolling, you will still be upright.

Most entrepreneurs are type-A control freaks. We branched off from the traditional 9-5 job because we did not want some middle management dweeb to dictate our day. That being said, we try to white-knuckle our businesses from time to time. We have to understand that sometimes we have to accept that we have created an unstoppable force and sometimes letting the business do its own thing is the best way to be successful; that by white-knuckling our business, we are holding it back instead of just rolling over the small obstacles in our path.

  1. When you don’t know something, take a step back: When you are mountain biking, there is no shame in spotting a feature before you go over it. It could be something like a small drop that you want to jump off of, or a large rock face that has a slicked out line. Oftentimes I find myself getting off of my bike, and walking to the feature to “spot” it. I am looking for where I can safely brake, where I can set up my body position for the feature, the best line or route to take, and what the landing looks like. Then I will go up, get my bike, do a run where I roll up to the feature in order to make sure I am comfortable looking at it from the perspective behind the handle bars. Then I will get off my bike, walk back up to the starting spot, and do the feature. This is one of the best ways to get comfortable with new things.

Sometimes as an entrepreneur, you have to step back from your business. You have to look at your problems from many points of view. I always reference the “Six Thinking Hats”; a concept created by Edward de Bono. This concept says that you should look at each problem from six perspectives: Managing (“what is the subject, what is the goal”), Information (“just the facts”), Emotions (“instinct, or intuition”), Discernment (“reasons to be prudent or conservative”), Optimistic Response (“logic applied to seeing benefits or a harmony”), and Creativity (“statements of provocation or investigation”).

As consultant, I work with many businesses that are fundraising. Every entrepreneur in this stage turns into a middle school boy going to his first coed birthday party. Their inner monologue is “What if they don’t like me?” When a prospective investor rejects them, they either become depressed or angry with each rejection. I often have to remind them that they are too close to their business to accept any criticism and that they need to step back and understand that rejection and failure is part of the process.

Business man making a presentation at office. Business executive delivering a presentation to his colleagues during meeting or in-house business training, explaining business plans to his employees.

  1. You never get better unless you push yourself: There are many ways to push yourself on a mountain bike. Back when I was in the cycling club at University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, we would often have Olympic cyclists stop by for our meeting to talk about training, nutrition, and race strategy. It was something totally unique to UCCS, like “Oh you mean Olympic athletes don’t drop by your club meetings on a Tuesday night?” One of these athletes taught us how to train our muscles on long climbs. Start off in the absolute highest gear you can possibly go and turn the pedals until you are too tired, then shift into a very low gear, and spin until your heartrate spikes, then go back to a normal gear. This teaches your legs to generate both torque and power, even when you are tired.

Cyclists also teach themselves to push just a little farther between each rest break, pushing yourself to be just a little bit better.

I have found that entrepreneurs that are pushing themselves to get better every day make the best bosses to work for. By holding themselves to a higher standard, taking risks, and pushing themselves and their businesses to the next level, their employees follow suit. Nobody wants to work for a manager or a leader that is okay with status quo. (Okay, maybe some people do, but those people aren’t the ones you want on your team.) Lead from the front by pushing yourself to be the best that you can be.

  1. Trust your equipment: Bicycles are not cheap. I always say, “Teach your kids to mountain bike and they will be too poor to afford drugs.” You can spend anywhere from $350 to $11,000 on a mountain bike. You can get suspension travel from zero inches all the way up to eight inches. Any bike that you can find in a real bicycle shop will be plenty competent in most types of terrain.

Much like buying a bicycle, if you did your homework when hiring people, you will know exactly what they are capable of. If you can find the right employees for your business, you instantly have less to worry about. Like trusting that your six inches of suspension travel on your mountain bike, you can trust that the right people will always do the right thing for your business without micromanagement.

  1. Rhythm is fun: There is something called “flow” in mountain biking. It is almost unexplainable to somebody that has not felt it, but you know when you do feel it. I can really only describe it as focused rhythm, where everything just goes perfectly—whether it is taking perfect lines through high banked turns, pumping at the right times on a pump track, or jumping doubles with precision. Think of those motocross races where they go through the rhythm section, or “whoops” as we call them. They have a definite rhythm as they run through them.

Entrepreneurs know all too well what it is like to get into a rhythm. There are some days, weeks, months that everything just goes right. You know those times where you can just dance through the sales and operations cycles? Rhythm feels good. This is why, even though much of their clientele is not at work early in the morning, entrepreneurs get up at the same time every day, do the same morning routine every day, and come into work at the same time.

Every day I will wake up at 6:00 AM, work out, come home, cook an omelette, get showered and ready, and go to the work. I know down to the minute what time I have to arrive back home from the gym in order to have breakfast and get to work on time.

  1. You never regret paying for the right equipment: As stated before, cycling is not a cheap hobby. You quickly graduate from a $300 starter bike, to a $1,000 intermediate bike, then you throw a lot of money at it, then you graduate to a $3,000 bike and beyond. I bought a bike for $1,800 back in 2009; I saved up all summer at the worst table waiting job you could ever imagine. A few summers after, I upgraded the wheels with some Mavic UST wheels, and some Specialized Purgatory tires. Those upgrades ran me about $600. There are going to be two reader reactions: 1) “Why would you spend that amount of money on a hobby?” and 2) “Wow you got a great deal on some great components.”

Last weekend, I got to demo a few bikes. The bikes that I was demo-ing started at $6,500. Much like driving a Ferrari and a Geo Metro back-to-back, you quickly understand why they are able to charge what they charge. As I tell my friends, “I have never felt more sassy on a bike.” I was hammering through trail sections that I usually walk through. I checked my Strava and was at least 10 seconds faster through every single section.

Let’s apply this to business. So many startup businesses are so averse to any expenses on their balance sheet. They would rather be the book keeper/programmer/marketing/CEO/CFO/CTO/dishwasher than take on another expense on their balance sheet. I know everybody will pitch the idea of the “lean startup” where they cut expenses so much that the startup is all revenue and few expenses. Yes that is great and all, but you have to understand what your time is worth. If you are well versed in the technical side, and can eloquently describe your product or service to an investor; combine the CTO and CEO. But a business owner must understand that all the rest is taking them away from what they do best. Do what you do best, and hire the rest!

  1. Failing is the only way to get better: Failing is frustrating. I have failed at things more than I have succeeded. Back in school, I was a horrible student. There were certain classes that came easy to me, and I would easily get As and Bs. Everything else, I think I was more of a C and D student. I was an average football player, an average lacrosse player, average college student, and average at everything. When it came to mountain biking, which I picked up seriously when I was 19, it was the best way to challenge myself. There are so many ways to push, challenge, and ultimately scrape yourself up in the sport of mountain biking. There are new lines, new features, and new speeds to go. You either get through it with success, or fail miserably. Although I wouldn’t say I am a great mountain biker, I love each chance to challenge myself, and each failure is a chance to figure out what NOT to do.

The same can and should be said of entrepreneurship. Our schooling and our instinct says that there should be shame in failure. Why don’t teachers start teaching our children that it is okay to fail? I was recently at a conference put on by Entrepreneur magazine, and one of the speakers was Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit. He had a quote that really stuck with me: “Sucking is the first step toward actually being sort of good at something.” Wow… Just wow. Suddenly all of the lessons that I learned the hard way were okay!

So often the “Startup failure” is shamed. So often a kid that “Just doesn’t get it” is made to feel as if there is something wrong with them. Those of us that have seen the success of entrepreneurship understand that while some of us will be English minded, others will be mathematics and science minded; some will stick to the rules, while others will bring creativity to every problem that they are tasked to solve. There isn’t any shame in either side. We are all different, and we all make up a different part of this business mosaic.

These are just a few lessons that I have learned. What have I missed? What have your hobbies taught you from a metaphorical or meditative standpoint?

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