Startups Anonymous: A Motivational Speech From The Greatest Entrepreneur, Muhammad Ali
[This is a weekly series that brings you raw, first-hand experiences from founders and investors in the trenches. Their story submissions are anonymous, allowing them to share openly without fear of retribution. Every Wednesday, we'll run one new story chosen by Dana Severson, who operates StartupsAnonymous, a place for startups to share, ask questions, and answer them in story-length posts, all anonymously. You can share your own story here.]
“I am the greatest!”
Muhammad Ali called himself the greatest. In all of boxing and all the history of boxing, among all the famous older, stronger, better boxers of his time, Ali had the audacity to stand on a podium and call himself the greatest.
Alright, so he’s not exactly an entrepreneur. He did sell something though. He sold us the belief that he could beat Sonny Liston in the 1964 Heavyweight Boxing World Championships. He actually wasn’t even a great salesman, as he was the underdog and most people placed bets against him.
The difference between Ali and Liston was that Ali convinced himself he was the best, and Liston’s fans convinced him he was the best. In the end, someone who truly believed he was the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time fullfilled his own destiny and became the 1964 World Champion.
On the startup spectrum, I’m not on the cocky side, and honestly, I still think that’s a wonderful personality trait to have, but there’s another extreme. Being humble to a fault can also kill your confidence, not to mention your startup. Whenever I feel like I’m thinking too small, like I’ll be eaten alive, or that what I’m doing isn’t disruptive at all, I think about Ali, and his famous quote before his defining fight, the “big break” that launched his career and distrupted the whole world.
“I have wrestled with an alligator. I done tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail! That’s bad! Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick! I’m so mean I make medicine sick! Bad, bad, fast. Last night I cut the lights out in my bedroom, hit the switch, was in the bed before the room was dark, fast. And you George Foreman, all you chumps are gonna bow when I whup him, all of ya! I know you got ‘em, I know you got ‘em picked, but the man is in trouble. I’m gonna show you how great I am!”
I wrote his quote from memory and I say it to myself (with conviction) in the mirror almost every day (full disclosure, I’m a 5’2 24 year old woman). I’m sure everyone has their own way of getting pumped up, but if you don’t, I’d recommend studying the words, the stature, the movements of the man who “floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.”
And if you don’t come from Harvard or Stanford, this post is really for you. The other great thing about Ali was that he was from Kentucky of all places, and he wasn’t the smartest, or most experienced, or even the best.
But he will be known forever in history as the greatest. I don’t care if you are too jaded to believe this, but I’m still naive and perhaps optimistic enough to know in my heart that every single startup, entrepreneur, and individual has at least an inkling of the same destiny of Ali. I will not give up, even if my startup fails. I will not give up until I’m the greatest.