Running your own race
November 11, 2016
The City of Raleigh and New York City marathons were both held last weekend, and I had friends and colleagues running both races. While I wasn’t running in either race, I’ve participated in 7 marathons including Raleigh and Boston.
The best advice I’ve ever received around running a marathon — or frankly any endurance event — is to run your own race. It’s incredibly easy when you start a race to get caught up in the moment and go out really hard. Adrenaline is pumping and many of us are coming off of a taper, so we feel awesome and ready. We look around us, see people that kind of look like us, and decide that we should be able to keep up or stay ahead of those folks.
Of course, the challenge is that looks are deceiving and everyone’s situation is quite different. Everyone prepares differently, has different experiences, and different genetics. You prepare for an endurance race for months (hopefully) only to show up on race day and pick a strategy/plan based on randomly who you see at the start. Sadly, I’ve been there and it hasn’t gone well.
Turns out this is good advice in business. When I started Pendo, I got lots of advice around funding strategy. “ABC company raised X dollars at a Y pre-money valuation. You should be able to get that” was a common narrative. Many of us read Techcrunch and are confused when we see funding announcements for companies that seem so similar or even less mature than we are, and it’s stressful. Or maybe you hear or read an article about a company that achieves a certain level of revenue or customer traction that’s way more than yours. It is so easy to compare yourself to these stories and create pressure to match or even compete with them.
Yet, we know nothing of the real circumstances. We don’t know their story: who they know and why, what their plans are, and how they have arrived at this point. There are countless stories of well-funded companies that go out of business. I know of several examples where companies achieved revenue based on an unfair advantage that then went away and took the revenue with it.
As a product person, competition is always so tantalizing. “Our competitor just released Z feature, so we need to match it” is oft cited for items on roadmaps. This, of course, is dangerous. Honestly, when I see competitors matching me in the market, I know I’m winning. Being mindful and knowledgeable about competitors is different than copying them. Focus on your vision/strategy, listen to customers and prioritize accordingly — run your own race.
My personal best race was a brisk morning outside of Baltimore, MD that was held 2 days after Thanksgiving. It was a smaller race, and I had trained very well. I resisted the early temptation to begin at a faster pace than my goal despite feeling great. Right after the 1/2 way point, I was quickly passed by. I was concerned, so I sped up a bit only to realize that the person was part of a relay and just began! I also distinctly recall the feeling I had while passing someone at mile 23 that had passed me earlier in the race. This feeling helped carry me to a personal best.
Creating a great product and/or company is much like running a marathon. While it’s tempting to compare yourself to others, run your own race and you will be rewarded.