A business is not a marathon, it's a trek.

Today, startups are moving at breakneck speed. They all seem to be in a race to become the next Decacorn – a company valued over $10 billion. But many of them burn out along the way.

The proof is in the numbers. More than 90 percent of startups shut down within the first two years. But we only hear about the ones that succeeded i.e. the ones that got funded, even if they shut shop a few months later.

A startup or a business is not a race where you bolt like Usain; it’s a marathon. Rather, it’s a trek. And I enjoy trekking.

Before the lockdown, I would sometimes go on treks with my friend Mitesh, an avid trekker and a successful entrepreneur. One day, while trekking up Lohagad on the outskirts of Lonavla, we began talking about how business is similar to trekking.

Here are five similarities we discovered.

1. You need to have faith in actions.

It’s impossible to complete a trek if we keep changing direction every few minutes. To scale the peak, one must identify a direction and stick to it.

Likewise, in business, you cannot progress if you try to move a meter in ten different directions. It’s important to identify a path, commit to it, and direct all your actions towards the goal.

This doesn’t just mean having faith in your own actions. It also means having faith in your people’s actions, even if you disagree with them. Jeff Bezos explained the “disagree and commit” philosophy in a letter to shareholders:

This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.

“Disagree and commit” doesn’t mean thinking your people are wrong. It means expressing an opinion your people can weigh while showing a “genuine, quick, sincere commitment to go their way.”

Takeaway: Progress occurs when you channel all your resources in a specific direction. Identify the actions that could help you achieve your goals and stick to them.


2. You may have to turn back sometimes.

You can lose your way on a trek. You could take a wrong turn, or the path you chose might not be the correct one. What would you do in such a case? Would you continue? Or would you turn around and look for the right path?

In business, everyone takes more wrong turns than right ones. But how leaders respond decides what happens next. Arrogant leaders live in denial and make matters worse. Eventually, they lead their organizations off a cliff. Prudent leaders admit their mistakes, learn from them, and set their business on the path to success.

Every business that failed was a result of leaders compounding poor decisions by taking further poor decisions. They misallocated resources to a dead-end, ignored cash flow, and instead resorted to uncontrolled borrowing, and so on. And every business that succeeded despite setbacks did so because leaders were quick to correct their errors.

Takeaway: You don’t need to know all the answers. Build a culture where people can raise red flags when things don’t go right. And be open to accepting it and taking corrective action.


3. Keep an eye on the peak

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” – Lewis Carroll

It’s heartbreaking to see many entrepreneurs and leaders do things just for the heck of it instead of asking, “Will doing this help us reach our goal?” Often, this happens when people lose sight of their goal, or no longer know what the goal is.

Every trekker will tell you that while climbing, they always have an eye on the peak. This allows them to gauge whether they’re moving in the right direction and lets them course-correct if needed. Likewise, you need to keep your eye on the goal in business.

Set up periodic reviews to check the effectiveness of your systems and processes, to check whether they’re helping you move on the right path. This will ensure that you and your people do things not because that’s how they’re always done, but because they get you closer to your goal.

Takeaway: Your customers’ and employees’ expectations are evolving. So don’t carve your processes in stone. Instead, keep an eye on your goals and ask, “Are these processes helping us get there?”


4. Appreciate how far you’ve come

Every once in a while during our trek, Mitesh and I take a break and scan the landscape. It’s just something else to be cocooned in Mother Nature’s lap, away from the bustle of mankind.

The view from the top is mesmerizing. It fills us with joy to see how far we’ve come and gives us a burst of energy to move ahead.

The level you’re at right now is no mean feat. You’ve built an office and a team, added value to customers, and created a wonderful business. Take a moment to appreciate what you’ve achieved. Soak it in. Remind yourself of the grit you showed to emerge stronger from trying times.

This gratitude will improve your mindset. It’ll make you feel proud of what you’ve achieved. And it’ll give you the strength to address the problems you currently face which, you may realize, are not as huge as the ones you overcame earlier.

Takeaway: What you’ve achieved so far is no mean feat. Pat yourself on the back. Not just because you deserve it, but also because it will give you the strength to move ahead.


5. Overcome your fear.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something is more important than fear.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

It’s normal to feel afraid on a trek, especially when you’re walking perilously close to the edge, beyond which is a deep, frightening valley. But the only way to get to the peak is to move in spite of that fear.

In business too, it’s natural to feel afraid. In fact, some fear is good because it keeps you grounded and makes you care. And when you work despite it, you realize that there are things more important than fear. Without it, you would make rash decisions and sink the business.

So don’t suppress your fear. Acknowledge it. But don’t let it hold you back either. Keep moving. In the end, you’ll either have a positive result or a useful lesson.

Takeaway: Don’t let fear stop you from what you should do. Step outside your comfort zone and face it. You’ll find victory on the other side of fear.


Summing Up

A business is an integral part of an entrepreneur’s life. He probably spends more time thinking about it than thinking about his children. And like his children, he wants the business to become a successful entity.

Here are five principles to embrace in order to make your business what you dreamed of:

  1. Identify the actions that could help you achieve your goals, and stick to them.
  2. Be open to admit when you don’t get things right, and take corrective action quickly
  3. Rather than doing things with your head down, raise your head and ask, “Is this helping us achieve our goal?”
  4. Take a moment to reflect on what you’ve achieved so far. Soak it in. And let it give you the strength to face your future challenges.
  5. Don’t let fear stop you from what you should do. Step outside your comfort zone and face it. You’ll find victory on the other side of fear.

Do you agree with these principles? I would love to hear your thoughts.

By Manish Bansal

Manish is the Managing Director of SME Value Advisors, a platform that connects businesses with curated professionals who can deliver solutions. You can connect with him on manish@smevalueadvisors.com.

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