Life Est. 17 minutes read

7 Similarities Between Entrepreneurs and Athletes

As both an athlete and growth consultant, I see many parallels between the two; this article will discuss the similarities.

It was my love for gymnastics and the art form of athleticism as a whole that propelled me into the space that I am in today. As I’ve moved from one project to another, I’ve seen many commonalities between athletes and entrepreneurs.

I’ve personally noticed a number of similarities between athletes and entrepreneurs. From where I stand, it’s not rare to to see athletes who also become entrepreneurs later on. All their “hard-wiring” is baked in and ready for success.

There’s Oscar de la Hoya who is the top pay-per-view earner in the history of boxing ($600 million). He owns a management company which generates more than $100 million every year. Another athlete turned entrepreneur is Tony Hawk, a skateboarding legend, who owns Birdhouse, one of the largest skateboarding companies in the world.

Need Social Proof?

There are athletes I know who have applied their skillsets to accomplish great feats in their businesses. I took a moment to interview them, one by one.

Interviews With Athletes turned Entrpreneurs

I’d like to share with you three interviews I did with athletes I know whose background lay in sports. Their athletic mindset has helped them in entrepreneurship.

If you ask me, startup culture isn’t dominated by “nerds” alone –Jocks have just as many opportunities as your average book-savvy, Big Bang Theory fan.

Interview with Tobias Schelle

Who are you and what do you do?

I founded 24Slides in 2013 and now doing my best to grow the company. We design presentations at scale, +10.000 slides monthly, for companies globally with a team of very talented designers in Indonesia.

However, my main hobby has been triathlon since 2013. I have completed 4 full-distance IRONMAN races, where the recent one was my fastest time on the distance in 9 hours and 23 minutes.

Describe your background in sports?

Besides playing football at a young age, I began to do strength training at age 16. Later I turned to crossfit and then in 2012 I began to do a bit of running.

Both of my parents, after they turned 45, did 10 marathons each. And although I never thought it was especially interesting, I think subconsciously I was influenced by that.

What drives you, and what initially set you off?

It actually started as a challenge among 3 friends to complete a half marathon in 2012. We had around 8 weeks to train and I was around 90 kg at that time.

I started to run every day, just 2-3km and then a longer run in the weekend. I finished the half marathon in around 1 hour and 55 minutes. At that point my brother was training for his first half Ironman and I was kind of inspired by it, although I never rode a road bike or knew how to swim crawl.

For fun, I learned to swim crawl by checking out videos on YouTube. I was not fast, but after maybe 10-15 times I felt I could swim without drowning.

8 days before my brother was going to do his first half Ironman I decided to buy a road bike and enter the race with him. The goal was just to complete 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run. I completed it, although the finish time wasn’t impressive.

After that, I decided to challenge myself to see if I could complete and full distance IRONMAN 6 weeks later. I finished in 11 hours and 5 minutes. It was an amazing experience to do something that was completely beyond what I thought I was capable of, so I decided to start training for more structured and have enjoyed it ever since.

Are sports still important to you, and why?

Sport is a lot like meditation. It helps me take my mind off work.

The dangerous thing is that it can also consume too many cycles mentally so I am very focused on finding that balance. Physical exercise actually gives me more energy and creativity for work rather than draining those same things.

The reason why I think I have been addicted to training is that a part of my core value is personal development. For me it’s something that needs to be in everything I do, including work

What have you learned as an athlete that you apply as an entrepreneur?

This is a very interesting topic because there are many very interesting similarities. The way you reach goals as an athlete is very similar to building a business; you need to do hard work on a consistent bases to get results.

If you run 3 times a week for a month and then stop running the next month, you lose your fitness and you have to build it up again. The same applies in business, you need to keep doing what you know is important for a long period until you see results.

One other useful thing that I have learned as an athlete is that you constantly redefine the new normal.

Back in 2013 I thought it was insane to be able to run 5km below 20 minutes. Now that “new” threshold is around 16 minutes, because I now run around 18 minutes. The same principle applies in business; goals and ambitions change when you reach them. And goals and ambitions change as you put in the work.

An interesting difference between a sport and a business that I often think about is that there are a lot more unknowns in a business.

If you run 3 times a week for a year, then you are almost guaranteed to become a better runner.

If you work for a year in a new startup you are not.

In most sports, you have a pretty good idea of what is required to become as good as you can. The only factor is whether you put in the work. I actually think this is the main reason why so many people are doing sports as success is guaranteed if you put in the work.

What traits do you think athletes and successful entrepreneurs share?

I am very convinced that it’s the mental strength.

You can become a good athlete by just putting in work. To become great you need to have really good mental strength which will enable you to stay strong when things become tough.

In business it might be that you lose customers, great employees or try something that doesn’t work. For an athlete, it might be a burning desire to smash your own personal records –even though you feel like lying on the sofa after a hard training session, yesterday.

Interview with Nikolaj Astrup

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m a 31-year old Dane who tries to fill my life with as much travel, sports, and entrepreneurship as possible 🙂

I’m a part of a few different projects ranging from a small travel agency for entrepreneurs called Refuga, to an endurance sports coaching service called OOB life. I’ve been doing different projects for +10 years and to combine the things I’m passionate about.

My background is mainly in online marketing, but I have had many different roles in the projects I’ve been involved in. I live with my girlfriend who runs a 3 person agency. We both work remotely and move locations every 3-6 months or so.

Describe your background in sports?

I initially started out with sports just because I wanted to run a marathon. I thought it looked cool and was a challenge I’d like to try. To be honest, it was a bit of a CV thing (stupid, I know). That’s how I started running.

After a few years of running a bit on/off, I decided to go for an Ironman and did that pretty seriously for 3 years, doing 3 Ironman triathlons. Since then I’ve been doing a lot of trail running and hiking + climbing mountains.

What drives you, and what initially set you off?

Several things. Before it was mostly the idea of completing a goal, going for a marathon or Ironman and really visualizing the finish line.

Now it’s more just like play. I’ve been quite active for 8 years or so and then it just becomes a lifestyle. I don’t have any big sports goal now, but I’m in better shape than ever because I just have a love of being active. What drives me now is discovering new routes for running, pushing myself, and being outside.

Are sports still important to you? – and why?

Yeah, absolutely.

It’s definitely not my priority number one as it more or less was when I did triathlons. Work is much more important now and even more, is of course, family and friends.

But sports, or just being active, is very important and a key element for me to thrive. It’s just a hobby where I disconnect from other things and just focus on that. I think it’s healthy to be passionate about different things and sometimes just focusing 100% on something for a few hours.

Also, more health-wise, I really, really like to be in a good shape. I don’t have to be in an insane shape the whole time, but just feeling strong and capable of doing stuff is a really nice feeling.

What have you learned as an athlete that you apply as an entrepreneur?

Consistency and “compound interest”.

As a young entrepreneur I was always just focusing on doing something big and focusing on the end goal of creating something big, not taking the smaller steps into account. The result was quitting projects and moving on to new things the whole time.

Which is very interesting because I never had the same tendency in sports. Since the beginning, I have had an extremely big respect for doing great sports results and knew that you had to be consistent to just get near really good results. As I have gotten older, I try to implement that more in business.

Compound interest too. It’s more a financial term, but I have always thought as sport as building on top of something where, as mentioned, I just wanted to skip the smaller steps in entrepreneurship. I know that a good shape is built upon a lot of prior work that compounding to be something really good. It’s obvious that “success” work the same way in business, but had to be 30 years old to get it, I guess 😀

What traits do you think athletes and successful entrepreneurs share?

I guess it’s two groups that consist of so many different people, so it will vary. But the ones I look up to have a tendency to be “playing”. Both athletes and entrepreneurs that I look up to have a natural passion.

Their work, be it training or working in front of the computer, is fuelled by having fun and because they can’t not do it. Of course everything is not just fun, there is tons of hard work, but I try to learn from that and build a foundation of “play”.

Another key thing they have in common is the ability to get shit done even when they don’t fell like it or when things are super tough. Still trying to learn that in both sports and entrepreneurship.

Interview with Daniel Johannesen

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Daniel Johannesen, 18, living in Horsens, Denmark, and have three titles. I’m also an entrepreneur with a company called Watery.dk, which sells swimming equipment and swimwear online.

Describe your background in sports?

As a child to a former competitor, I also swim quickly, and I came across this whole world since childbirth. That is, at 3 years old; I had already started my first swimming team with my mother and father. Soon after, I got a flair swimming and at the age of 9, I was sent to the club’s first competition team where I had to practice swimming twice a week.

Unfortunately, it was too soon too much as I went to gymnastics at the same time and was also a Danish champion in a 7-man football with my football team. I was a scout, too. And I chose swimming.

I was still sloppy but over two years, I ended up being the club’s third best member with weekly swim trainings 4 times a week. I had to stop doing the other sports to focus on this. Since age 13, I have been swimming exclusively for competitions. I also looked up to the club’s second team and finally at the first team where I ended up training up to 9 times in the last year.

What drives you? – And what initially set you off?

What drives me is the journey along the way.

To set a goal and achieve it after years of hard work.

It’s really just the coolest in the world. It gives me some kind of kick.

And that was what made me both competitive and later on start Watery.dk. The fact that it required several years hardly before a successful POSSIBILITY came to one. I like that.

Also, I just love to see something grow and see myself getting better. That’s probably what’s going on, which makes me not just lose motivation after a few bad workouts or a few days with less turnover. Before that, I still know that it’s the long, hard effort that determines if you’re going to be successful, and that’s cool and makes it all incredibly exciting and fun.

Are sports still important to you, and why?

Yes, sport is still really important to me.

In virtually all things I do or participate in, this instinct is in me that I will win for everything. I have probably taken this from swimming through the 10 years. So that way, sport is almost everything I do today. Whether it’s just an indifferent test at school or whether it’s winning over my competitors in Watery.dk. Then I just have to win and be the best.

But I still do sports; just on a somewhat smaller level. After I stop joining competitions, I plan to swim here in the summer of 2017.

I still swim one or two times a week with a couple of old friends, just like I have started playing soccer in the local football club. This is not very much about the competition element, but more because I thought it was a shame. So I can also figure out how I want to put my strength and where I want to be the best, because I know you can not be the best for everything.

What have you learned as an athlete that you apply as an entrepreneur?

1. Behind every victory and success there is really hard work.

I swam for almost 10 years on competitions, and I never got much better than the top 20 in Denmark in my vintage. With this in mind, I also have the idea that Watery.dk will first be a real success in 5-7-10 years, and it is important to join, as many of my competitors will likely burn out and lose their courage. I do not, because I’m aware it’s the long, slow move that counts.

2. That it’s the journey on the way to the target, that’s cool. I forgot to swim at times to enjoy traveling on my way to the goal. It could be the Danish championships or another important event. It was just a shame. That’s why I also make sure that at least once a week in Watery.dk you stop for half an hour and think about what I’ve done last week, what was cool and what could be done better. At the same time, I enjoy much more traveling along the way than I have previously done, even though it is often very hard for both the body and the head.

3. The one who works best and hardest is the one who eventually wins. “I remember this very much today in Watery.dk when we, for example, have had a less good day. Then I simply work just an extra hour in the evening, so I’m sure to have given it more gas than its competitors. It was the same for swimming. The one who did it extra was also the one who eventually came first. That’s probably what I’ve taken the most from my time as the elite and moved on to Watery.dk

What traits do you think athletes and successful entrepreneurs share?

An indecent belief in oneself and their own abilities that nothing can stop them from reaching the goal. Being aware that it requires hard work for many years and a lot of social casualties in order to achieve the goal. A form of selfish attitude towards oneself if you put yourself and your own project above all else in a few years.

7 similarities Between Entrepreneurs and Athletes

1. Athletes and Entrepreneurs Know that to Win Means to Put in a Lot of Hard Work

Athletes and entrepreneurs know that in order to achieve a goal, one needs to put in the hard work; whether it’s to make a new personal record or meet a higher quota for the month. There is no such thing as natural talent.

You simply cannot expect to be good at what you do and get what you want overnight. You need to work hard for a goal for weeks, months, even years. Some might get impatient because they’re not getting the results that they want right away, so they give up hoping to avoid wasting any more time on a fruitless endeavour.

For both the professional athlete and entrepreneur, they know that winning means working hard to get it right –no matter how long it may take. All professional athletes start out as amateurs before they were awarded their first milestone, award, sponsorship, and so on.

This is quite similar to the journey that successful entrepreneurs take as they start out as a small business owner. No entrepreneur starts off with large profits, and a small business usually takes a lot of time and effort before it becomes cash positive.

2. Athletes and Entrepreneurs Both Have a Strong Work Ethic

Professional athletes are used to waking up really early every single morning to train. And that’s why most of us don’t want to be a professional athlete. And yet so many want to be entrepreneurs without fully realising they’re the same thing.

Professional athletes are also quite meticulous with their diet; especially if competition day is near. Missing one workout or even eating the wrong kind of food just days before a competition can be detrimental to their performance.

Successful entrepreneurs are quite similar in this respect. Entrepreneurs do more than just stick to a schedule; they come in early and they work late to ensure they are performing stronger than their competitors.

Completing projects efficiently, on time, and maybe even a little early is a common goal that both distinct archetypes share.

Resisting comfort and making sacrifices are all part of having a strong work ethic. Without it, the road to success might be even longer.

3. Athletes and Entrepreneurs are Passionate about What They Do

Successful athletes and entrepreneurs are passionate about what they do, and are always working hard at doing all that’s necessary to achieve their goals.

Their passion is the fuel to their hard work. Ever wonder how some people can manage to work on something for decades and still not feel sick of it? It’s because they have passion for what they do –it isn’t work for the sake of work, and it sets them apart.

Professional athletes and entrepreneurs devoutly enjoy doing their work and get excited at the thought of it. Those who burn out quickly trying to build something are usually not that passionate about what they do. This is why it’s important to choose the challenges you’d like to solve for a living very wisely.

4. Athletes and Entrepreneurs Know that Attitude is Everything

“Attitude determines your altitude”. Self-confidence is one key to succeeding as an entrepreneur and as an athlete.

If you don’t believe that you are good at what you do then, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.

Your actions and decisions subconsciously follow your thoughts and if you think “Oh, I’m never going to be that great”, then guess what? You probably won’t! Having the right mindset is key to succeeding.

5. Athletes and Entrepreneurs Both have a Clear Focus

Having a clear focus helps you get to your goals faster. Sure, you can put in a lot of hard work but if you spread yourself too thin doing things that are irrelevant to your vision, it’ll take you longer to achieve success. “Work smart, or work hard” they say.

Athletes don’t just train everyday without a clear vision in mind. A professional sprinter who wishes to beat his top competitor may adjust his diet so he’s leaner, lighter, and faster. He may also make it a habit to meditate regularly since sprinting does require a high level of mental focus.

Successful entrepreneurs will typically do the same, too.

Big goals are often vague and overwhelming. As a result, successful entrepreneurs break down every task into small, actionable steps which lead them down their path to clearly defined success.

Any task that gets in the way of that focus is delegated to someone else who can do it better than they do. This last statement is often overlooked; when confronted with a task that’s holding them back, successful entrepreneurs realize there is an opportunity cost associated to it. Even a small business can afford a virtual assistant –they often pay their own salaries, right out of the gate.

6. Athletes and Entrepreneurs Learn their Strengths and Weaknesses

To be proficient at what they do, athletes and entrepreneurs are constantly reviewing their performance identifying what their strengths and weaknesses are. They are as self aware as they can possibly be.

How they deal with their weaknesses and inefficiencies will depend on what their goals are. An entrepreneur who’s bad at accounting may delegate this task to a professional accountant so he or she can better focus at what they do best –often designing and marketing their products.

It’s also the same way when an elite swimmer who knows he has better arm power than leg power may choose to specialize in the butterfly stroke over a breaststroke.

This is important for gaining advantage over your competitors. A weakness doesn’t always have to be minimized; typically, weakness can offer direction on the next steps that need to be taken.

In many cases, weaknesses are embraced and worked around in a stealthy way, on the fly. This requires an adaptive mindset.

Dealing with weaknesses in a head-on way instead of avoiding or ignoring them will allow both a professional athlete and an entrepreneur to unlock their true potential, and find success in a range of aspects of their lives.

They accept the things they cannot change and either pivot their offering or delegate them to others.

7. Athletes and Entrepreneurs Never Stop Learning

Despite being great at what they do, both professional athletes and entrepreneurs understand the importance of constant learning. And that doesn’t always mean learning in a formal academic setting.

The world is always changing and the only way to adapt to it is by learning, developing, and growing oneself.

Professional athletes never settle for their current performance; they are always seeking ways to improve and optimize themselves and their performance.

They condition and train themselves everyday with the goal of being better than they were yesterday.

Successful entrepreneurs also know that what they know is not enough so they network with more successful people, listen to podcasts, acquire education credits, pour over online forums, and attend industry-relevant conventions.

It won’t always automatically translate into profit but it’s beneficial for their business and in maintaining a competitive edge over others.

What Did You Think?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments, have your say.


Written by Simon Elkjær
I work as a consultant and I have a passion for for e-commerce, optimisation, growth, SEO, and entrepreneurship.

 

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