Nicole Bush

Startups vs. Athletics

Reading the PMARCA Guide to Startups, parts 1 and 4 and combining it with other things I’ve done, read, listened to or generally absorbed leaves me feeling somewhat at home with the life of a startup.

For context, something I’ve listened to is Alex Blumberg’s podcast Startup. Blumberg is a legitimate radio journalist and a former producer for NPR’s This American Life. The first season of the Startup podcast chronicles Blumberg’s journey starting-up his own podcasting company. Much of his journey touches on most of the points in the PMARCA Guide.

And for context of something I’ve done: I’ve been a professional athlete for 7+ years–causing me to navigate the world of agents, coaches, training groups, competition politics, general sport politics, sponsorships and funding, work/life balance, yadda yadda….the list goes on. This mix of my own life experiences–especially as a professional athlete–renders the readings about startups familiar.

img_6472-editedThe team, the product, the market. The grind, the risk, the sacrifice.

In running, your team is not just who you train with, but the people coaching you, managing you, advising you, sports-medicine-treating you, advocating for you, sponsoring you–getting you on the starting line. Your team extends to family, friends, mentors–anyone you go to for moral support.

In running, as in startups, your team is important. It can be big or small, but it has to be effective. And again, in running, as in startups, you can have a great team and not produce a competitive product into the market.

The product in running is athletic performance. If your product isn’t competitive you’re not going to gain access to the best, most lucrative markets. In running, these markets are national meets, world competitions and Olympic Teams. If your product isn’t competitive in the market you might not be able to keep a your team together, which presents a challenge getting product to market.

So many parallels on the startup track.

Even the aura of startup risk is somethiimg_6474-editedng I feel a connection to. Take your startup idea, product design, your team and stretch it out, ready it. Prepare to sacrifice comfort of the regular and typical, for the uncomfortable potential of greater. Brace for impact. Hit the ground running.

When I look at startup v. running, it looks like:

You pitch that startup idea and start growing your team.


You start running and hire a coach, teammates an agent. You expand your support system.


Your team works on the product, nurturing it, preparing it for its perfect market. Maybe for years. In the face of many NOs and other crushing obstacles. Hoping you’re going to get it out before someone else, well enough, at the right time to relish that sweet startup success. Instead of completely fail and burnout in market.


You train your ass off for years at a time, preparing your body and mind. Hoping that you’re getting it right. Navigating obstacles and injuries. Hoping that you’ll peak at the right time. Working and hoping to earn bigger and bigger opportunities for your shot at the best competitions. Instead of training in multiple four year cycles and never make an Olympic Team.

IMG_4362 - Edited (1).pngWork/life balance? Yeah, that feels the same, too. In part 1, the author says:

“The fact is that startups are incredibly intense experiences and take a lot out of people in the best of circumstances.

And just because you want people to have work/life balance, it’s not so easy when you’re close to running out of cash, your product hasn’t shipped yet, your VC is mad at you, and your Kleiner Perkins-backed competitor in Menlo Park — you know, the one whose employees’ average age seems to be about 19 — is kicking your butt.

Which is what it’s going to be like most of the time.”

In running, it’s much the same. Running professionally is an incredibly intense experience. It takes most of your focus, most of your energy and so, so much of your time and resources. It’s not easy when you’re broke, your body is tired, your workouts haven’t gone well and your coach is mad at you, or your competition is kicking your ass.

Which is what it’s like most of the time…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s