How Michael Phelps Can Inspire Your Startup

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“I want to be able to look back and say, ‘I’ve done everything I can, and I was successful.’ I don’t want to look back and say I should have done this or that.” Michael Phelps

Unless you are living on another planet, you could not have missed the incredible medal haul of Phelps.

How does one man achieve so much? Is it because of his 6ft 8in wing span and body shape which helps him conquer the swimming pool? Or is there something more?

And What does this mean for you and your startups?

#1 Start early and focus on what you are best

“If you want to be the best, you have to do things other people aren’t willing to do.”

Michael Phelps started training at the age of 7 and never looked back.

While there is a time and place for early adopters, the startup world rewards the early movers disproportionately. There is research which says that the first one gets 80% of the available value and the next one 14%. The rest fight for the 6%.

Always ask the question “what benefit is my offering giving to the customers?” Once you are clear, and your customer responds to it, focus on it. Keep practicing and improving.

#2 Sharpen your axe every day

Phelps has done swimming from the age of 7 and swam every day. Every Day!

Can you imagine that kind of commitment? Whatever the weather conditions, he would don his swimming cap and goggles and start swimming. This sheer dedication to the craft helped him put the distance between him and others.

Anders Erickson was the first to discover the 10,000-hour rule for expert performance.

The only way to get to that is practice every day.

I was recently in a pitch presentation, and a startup in the VR field said their AI machine had clocked 500k minutes of database, and this is its competitive advantage.

An early start is what will put the distance between your enterprise and others.

#3 Prepare for the worst

2008 Olympics. It’s the 200-metre butterfly finals. Phelps goggles are getting filled with water. He is unable to see clearly. What does he do? He keeps swimming as if nothing has changed. In the final lap, the goggles are completely filled, and he is nearly blind. Outcome: not only does he win the gold he sets a new record.

If there is one thing you can say for sure in business, it is this: Things will go wrong.

And when they do, you should be prepared.

An Ex-Australian Navy officer once told me, which stuck with me all my life: “You can never be shocked twice.”

If you prepare for the worst outcome, you will overcome it when it presents itself. Build the Ownership mindset in your employees so that you have an extra pair of eyes and ears on the ground.

What are the outcomes which you need to prepare for?

Flood of negative reactions from Customers

Cash running dry

Key personnel leaving you

Most large businesses have a written document titled Business Continuity Planning. Prepare for disasters and you will pole vault them when required

#4 You are limited by your beliefs

You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get. – Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder at the age of seven. Imagine if he or his family decided to use that as a label for him. How limiting would that have been?

Ian Thorpe, who was his competitor, at one time famously said that no one could beat Mark Spitz’s seven gold medal haul. Phelps broke it with eight golds in the 2008 Olympics.

What a way to silence the naysayers!

Once you startup, you should focus on the business you have. Keep thinking about the customer and what you can do.

Learn from the mistakes of others.

As long as you are focused on the customer, you will always aim high and every day, you will generate new ideas to satisfy the customer.

Keep testing and churning out ways to delight your customer.

Don’t be limited by what is possible. Dream and aim high. Focus always on delighting the customer.

#5 Start Again

All was not rosy with Michael Phelps two years back. There is the infamous alcohol incident and his subsequent rehab. But he did not let it define him. When everyone had given up on him, and he had “retired”, he came back for one more shot at “immortality.”

There will be times when the going will be tough. You may even find yourself on the knees, down and beaten. It may even look like a dead end.

Hunker down, batten down the hatches.

Find out what makes you great. What do your customers love you for? Seek out the customers who love what you have to offer. Get the reinforcement. Get the team together and your investors in a huddle. Recraft your operations if necessary.

Get the team together and your investors in a huddle. Recraft your operations if necessary.

Start again. Come back with renewed energy.

True champions don’t always have smooth sailing. They also taste the dust sometimes.

What separates them from losers is that they come back, they start again.

Grit your teeth, spit the blood, fight the dust off and rise again. Be a Gladiator.

The podium of success awaits your moment of glory.

 

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