One of the best books I read this past year is David Murray’s “Borrowing Brilliance.” Thinking about Treatings 24/7, it’s easy for me to get caught in the weeds. One of my main takeaways from the book is that “the farther away from your subject you borrow materials from, the more creative your solution.” With this in mind, spin class suddenly seems a good place from which to take inspiration for our professional networking platform.
After my co-founder Paul and I slashed our living expenses by procuring bunk beds and library passes, my one spending splurge was a gym membership. The gym offers fitness classes, so I figured I might as well check some out. One of the classes I’ve taken to is a Tuesday morning spin class. The humbling process of going through that first class resembled some of my first uncertain steps as a rookie entrepreneur.
When I first walked into spin class, I felt like an impostor. The room was adorned with neon lights, and remixed Beyonce tunes reverberated off the mirrored walls. I was surrounded by fast-moving women and men hurriedly setting up their equipment. Many were decked out in aerodynamic spandex, which threw me since I thought the bikes were stationary. Needless to say, I stood out in my Nike Free running shoes, mesh shorts and non-logoed undershirt.
Likewise, when I quit my job and started meeting my entrepreneurial peers, everyone seemed more polished and knowledgable than I. It was, and still is, incredibly daunting. When hearing founders recount their successes and lay out their strategy for the future, it’s impressive and scary how deliberate and well-executed everyone’s plans appear. It’s as if picking a visionary goal and charting a course to travel directly there is second nature. As someone trying to figure out what to do every day, it’s intimidating to think I’m the odd founder out without a map.
Back in spin class, my fears weren’t allayed when I mounted the bike. I had finally figured out how to attach the pedal straps reserved for rookies who don’t own cycling shoes. Upon sliding my pencil thin rubber soles into the straps and trying to stand up, I quickly understood why cycling shoes have carbon fiber soles. My support-less shoes curled around the pedals, effectively forming talons. As class started I quickly fell out of cadence, flapping up and down as the rest of the class hummed along in step.
With Treatings, I sometimes feel like we’re the lone startup that’s out of synch and awkwardly trying to figure everything out. Every day we’re faced with our inadequacies, striving for product and market fit but moving so much slower than we’d like. We’re staring down a laundry list of features our members say they need to more effectively navigate the site, while cringing at the equally long list of bugs that must be resolved. It doesn’t help when we’re inundated with articles showcasing other early-stage startups executing precisely and methodically growing.
In trying to reconcile the fact that our startup seems to be progressing much slower than everyone else’s, a lesson can be learned from spin class. The most challenging part of spin class is the ever-increasing resistance the instructor asks (orders) everyone to add to their bike by turning an ominous red knob. But, there is no way to differentiate those challenging themselves from those miming the turn of the red knob while actually pedaling with no resistance. It’s difficult not to be transfixed by other’s pedals feverishly pumping, but it turns out that the speed of the pedals is meaningless in isolation. All speed and no resistance isn’t going to produce long-term results.
It’s often said that startups are like sausages: You don’t want to see how they’re made. Even knowing that, it’s easy to believe everyone else’s press. Whereas I used to be glued to my Twitter stream, wincing every time a competitor announced another milestone, I’ve come to realize that you can’t draw conclusions of success based on appearances. There are tricks to depict overachievement.
We could focus on the outermost, superficial layer of our site to provide an appearance of activity and success. The more uncomfortable thing to do is to make decisions that may put us in embarrassing short-term positions but have the potential for long-term benefit. For example, do we introduce that new feature which will look incomplete and unsophisticated but could produce meaningful feedback from our members and future growth?
I’ve already chronicled the perils of being hyper-focused on competitors and making reactionary decisions based on what they’re doing. Just as I’m better off not focusing on the speed of my stationary bike neighbor’s pedals, with Treatings we are best served focusing on our own product and getting used to the temporary embarrassment of releasing unpolished prototypes.
I should probably end this post before I make any more comparisons between our startup and an activity in which you’re spinning your wheels but not getting anywhere.
This is the 12th installment of a PandoDaily weekly series that chronicles the experiences of a young entrepreneur as he bootstraps his startup.
Come back next Sunday to read the next installment.
[Image courtesy Kris Krug]