Formula 1, marathon mentality and startups
Last weekend was highlighted by a great race in Bahrain, where Lewis Hamilton got a remarkable victory. The most exciting part of the race was the last 10 or so races, when Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were fighting for the lead. Over the practises and qualifiers it was clear that Max’s car was faster, and he started the race from the 1st position. However, during the race, Lewis’s team did a risky move — they went for a change of tires more than 20 laps before the end of the race. This essentially meant they lost some time in the short term, but then having a chance to get ahead of Max when he will decide to change the tires as well. And this is exactly what happened — a dozen laps later Max goes for a pit stop, Lewis goes ahead of him and gets a 10-second lead. Now, the rest of the race was the most entertaining — Max was chasing Lewis, having both faster car and fresher tires (which also allowed him to move faster). Lewis had to do one thing — drive all the remaining laps perfectly, without giving his opponent any chance to take him over. 15 corners, more than 10 laps, over and over — and every move has to be perfect. The pressure was rising as Max was getting closer, he even managed to get ahead once but through a rule violation, so had to let Lewis go back ahead. And in the end, Lewis Hamilton did what he does best — he won the race, even though on paper he had to lose it.
A couple of days ago I was speaking with a friend of mine about marathons, and he told me about one of the rules he learned when was preparing to run a marathon for the first time. The rule was simple — keep your pace, whatever happens. Opponents overtake you? Stay calm, keep your pace. People from the sidewalk are cheering you up? Stay calm, keep your pace. Keeping your pace, not rushing too early in the race, and staying calm are a recipe for success. You don’t have to be first every part of the track — you just need to be the first to cross the line to win. And vice versa, if you overtake everyone early on, but then can’t keep up because you get tired too soon — you lose.
I find both examples to be a perfect analogy for any other work that one may be doing, and especially for building a startup. You need to stay calm, focus, and do the right things each day, after day, after day. This consistency of doing right things every day, for a long period of time, is what allows you to build a successful product. It is not about crazy long nights, working over weekends and “hero theatre” when you do something in the last moment to win a deal or ship a feature. Stress, “heroism” and working overtime make you tired, when in reality every stage of scaling a startup is harder than the previous one. And as you scale, and the pressure starts mounting — you need to continue doing the same. Focus, stay calm, do the right thing, every day, every sprint, and keep your pace.