The boxing idioms in business and in life are figuratively everywhere.
Steve Jobs found himself on the ropes after he was fired from Apple by people he thought were in his corner. Instead, his coaches and cornermen hit him below the belt by taking his company from him, but the blow didn’t put him down for the count. Instead of throwing in the towel, he rolled with the punches and landed another knockout, Pixar.
Boxing bobs and weaves its way into our everyday life, even if we never strap on a pair gloves and throw a couple of hooks into a heavy bag. In the flurry of jargon punches, business skills and life lessons can be gleaned and used to avoid taking hits in the ring of life.
1. There’s no substitute for work ethic.
“Success is dependent on the glands – sweat glands” – Zig Zigler
All the greats have it. Undying dedication to productive output. Boxers are notorious for outrageous training regimens. From chugging raw eggs to running stadium stairs with ankle weights, boxers know how to push their limits and prepare themselves for ultimate competition. Entrepreneurs are cut from the same mold. Since startups don’t build themselves, being an entrepreneur and working in startups means early mornings, late nights, and grinding to fight into your chosen market.
2. Preparation is key. Plan the work, work the plan.
“If I had 10 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend 8 sharpening my axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
A boxer doesn’t just show up and fight on event day. She studies her opponent’s style and plans how to evade her foe’s favorite combinations while scoring key counters to come out on top. She spars partners with similar strengths to mimic the eventual fight. Startups require careful market research, planning, experimenting and testing before going to market to fight for the company’s value proposition. Plan the work and work the plan. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
3. Roll with the punches.
“Most startups fail because Founders and teams don’t learn and pivot fast enough from what doesn’t work.” – Andrew Hyde
When a boxer enters the ring, a surge of adrenaline accompanies her. She must rely on her training to act and react according to her fight plan, but no one can account for everything. When an opponent scores a devastating counterpunch or strings together a smooth combination, a boxer must roll with the punches, adapt to the new information and make the best of her situation to survive and thrive. In Entrepreneurship, lightening fast reactions, resilience and learning from past mistakes is vital to the business’ success. You must adapt or die.
4. Protect yourself at all times.
“Boxing is the only sport you can get your brain shook, your money took and your name in the undertaker book.” – Joe Frazier
Working in startups is inherently risky. At any time, bigger companies could come into your company’s space and push your product out. Investors could cut funding, employees could jump ship, and you could get blind-sided by an unexpected uppercut. Knowing about potential pitfalls, protecting yourself and mitigating as much risk as possible will bolster defenses against potential knockouts and set your startup for success.
5. Don’t fight dirty.
“Boxing is a sport. We allow each other to hit each other, but I’m not treating my opponent like my enemy. We’re doing a job to entertain people.” – Manny Pacquiao
In a sport wrought with corruption, headbutts, and ear-bites, it can be difficult to keep your nose clean. Entrepreneurs are known for being scrappy fighters edging their way into a market, whose incumbents want to prohibitively protect. Regardless of the odds or context, boxers and business people should never fight dirty because all of the progress and value could disappear with a wave of the referee’s hand, and cheating of any kind is never worth it. Play by the rules, work hard and win the game the right way.
6. Always get back up.
“A champion gets back up when he can’t.” – Jack Dempsey
It happens to every athlete and entrepreneur… The quitting point. The moment when you question whether it’s all worth it will be the moment you quit or get one step closer to becoming a champion. It doesn’t matter how much adversity you face or how many times you get knocked down. What matters is getting back up to fight another round. Each time you overcome a challenge, you become stronger, more resilient and that much closer to success.
7. Balance, rhythm and breathing is half the battle.
“Rhythm is everything in boxing. Every move you make starts with your heart.” – Sugar Ray Robinson
The best boxers and businesses start with passion. Working from the heart provides more desire, drive and endurance to go the distance. Keeping up the strong start is vital to creating and scaling a business, so find your balance and rhythm in your work. Build a repeatable routine to condition yourself and your business for success. Practice breathing, make progress every day and take breaks to avoid a burnout. Remember that the fight is won or lost in the gym, long before you ever dance under those lights on fight day.
Take these lessons into the ring or the startup battlefield, and enjoy the ride. We look forward to seeing you on top of the world with the belt you earned, champ!
Matt Thomas is founder of Brawl for a Cause, a non-profit that empowers first-time boxers to literally fight for what they believe in. He also gets stuff where it needs to go faster, cheaper and friendlier with the neighbor-to-neighbor shipping startup, Roadie. He can be found boxing at Cut Man’s, swing-dancing at Big Sky, or sweating too much at the Atlanta Tech Village ping pong table.