Here to create.
A multidimensional dive into two different worlds - which are much more similar than some might think.
An insight into the most secret, most vulnerable moment during a mixed martial arts fight: I lie on my back, my arms protecting my head, my face. I feel the power with which my opponent fires one punch after another, after a failed and technically poor take-down attempt on my part, ideally sitting on top of me. I feel more and more punches going through my guard.
Silence in my head. I feel my breath. At this moment, I know I must act. I know that I have to choose the right strategy or I will lose this fight now. It is incredibly difficult to keep the focus at this moment. The situation seems hopeless.
Shall I tap off? Quit this time? I hear the breath of my opponent. Firing that many punches is massively exhausting. He tries to finish me. I force myself to focus.
I analyze. And there it is. The one moment. I tighten my knee, push my hip up, and slide my opponent over me. Push my head under his body, grab his wrist, pulling his arm toward his hip.
Automatism, the pattern learned and trained for years, takes hold. Bridge, roll over, and I'm free. The adrenaline kicks in. The bell of the round redeems…
The question of what exactly the daily, life-filling task of transforming an idea into a product, even into a serious company, building up dependencies and responsibilities, addressing a market with real customers, and thus, being economically successful has in common with the moment when two trained fighters standing opposite each other in a cage and measuring who is the better in a physical comparison may be honestly allowed.
But if you look at the skeleton of a fight (I always refer to sportive competition) in detail and abstract that, the daily struggles you go through as a founder don't seem so foreign.
In the following, I will use various examples to show what these two topics have in common and, above all, which approaches you can adapt and apply to get ahead in both situations. As a startup founder and as a mixed martial arts fighter.
To be truly honest: the life as a startup founder in Germany is definitely not the right path for everyone. Most startup founders live their lives pretty far away from what most of us will call a “good life” at the start of their careers.
It is totally normal having to cope with low (sometimes not even existing) salaries and long hours while they work their guts out on ideas that may not work out in the end after years of commitment and mortification.
Moreover, founders always have to handle limited resources and put up with the fog of war (also known as the lack of mature processes and stable systems).
As you can imagine by reading the intro above, the majority of the time, a fighter is in a pretty comparable and (by that pretty fast) uncomfortable situation. Time is running out, one's own forces dwindle, and one feels pulled into one's own vortex of losing, of giving up.
The truth is pretty simple: whether you are a founder or a fighter, by the moment of deciding to pay tribute to dwindling resources and actually giving up, the moment it is clear that you will lose.
A fight or a business.
There are a number of founders who, with the right idea, met the right people at the right place at the right time and were thus able to turn the idea into a success. But that is probably more the minority.
The majority of start-ups have to go through a rough journey that rarely resembles a career in the classic corporate environment (completely free of any judgment as to the complexity and effort that the path from the curb to the skyline entails in both cases).
Talking to founders in the early stages of their start-up, it quickly becomes clear that, on the one hand, diversified teams are often able to act advantageously due to their broad range of skills and, on the other hand, many of the promising teams are able to act advantageously in professional environments due to their educational background or previous experience.
A solid knowledge base and a defined and learned set of methods and tools in the domain at hand often ensure a strategically correct approach. And it is precisely here that, in my view, there is again a large overlap with martial arts.
Do you know fairground boxing? Here, fairground visitors get into the ring with (often) semi-professional boxers. From the point of view of a trained martial artist, this is unacceptable.
Apart from the very high risk of injury, the probability of success of the untrained fighter is almost zero (and yes, I am aware of the thousands of lucky punches on Youtube ;)).
But after 17 years of training (with usual breaks), I know exactly how important automatisms are in mixed martial arts environments. Muscle and movement memory enable the correct choice of strategy for defending against a particular attack technique and the initiation of a direct counterattack to one's own advantage in a fraction of a second.
This leads me to the thesis that both starting a business and going to war into an octagon don't necessarily hinge on fundamental education: but it is certain that it makes both cases easier.
If you know yourself and the enemy, you need not fear the outcome of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, you will suffer defeat for every victory you win. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will be defeated in every battle. (Sun Tzu, Art of War)
As a fighter, I have pulled many successful rounds from the core skill of analysis. The analysis runs on a minimum of two levels. Pre-fight and in-combat analyses. I always put a lot of work to be aware of the competencies, the strengths, the sweet spots, and the behavior of my opponents.
You could call me an information leech. Videos, experiences from other fighters, and even just photos. The more the better. I am always well prepared because, in my experience, preparation is usually less painful than surprise.
Pre-fight is ideal for finding a strategy on how to conduct a fight. BUT the strategy is based only on assumptions. In a competition, there are always situations in which a fighter must react highly individually and quickly. For this, the in-combat analysis is essential.
How does my opponent react to my actions? How does he move? Which of his actions is recurring? Are patterns recognizable and thus predictable?
And this approach can be applied 1:1 to the world of founders. In the primary instance, it is a matter of validating assumptions.
Essential questions such as "How good is the problem-solution fit?" or "Which strategy can be used to monetize the idea? "and later perhaps "Is the right customer segment being addressed?" or "Is our onboarding process optimally aligned for the target group?" must be answered by constant, repeated, and validating feedback from the startup's stakeholder mass.
First and foremost, it's about knowing your stakeholder group ideally. Because this knowledge minimizes risks, ensures the right choice of measures in every situation, and is thus, a fundamental starting point for doing the right things.
It would be presumptuous to say that customer interviews, crowd testing, or any other validating method to back up an entrepreneurial hypothesis is a guarantee of success.
But conversely, it is safe to say that the absence of this behavior is tantamount to taking Conor McGregor's famous "left-hand shot" without a cover.
I have never met anyone in my professional career who has always made the right decision from the start. There are a ton of fantastic minds out there, but what they all have in common is that they have evolved over time.
Mistakes are made and, in my experience, are essential to why people, products, or services get better. The key is to incorporate a continuous improvement process into your DNA. This is called a build-measure-learn-cycle.
vision without execution is delution. (T. Edision)
It is essential to try things out in a startup. Based on the above insights, things always need to be validated in the best possible way. Startups need to do the right things and do things right.
But whenever something is not working, it needs to be identified (as early as possible), adapted, or stopped.
At this point, it is very easy for me to draw a comparison to Mixed Martial Arts. Because I am very aware of where I have weaknesses in my "tools of war” even after such a long time of practice.
Ground fighting is not my strength. And what you can't do well, you usually don't like to do. Whenever I face my opponent, I can perform with confidence. I know which actions I have to trigger to prepare well-hitting combinations.
If exactly this opponent is on top of me and is probably (in the worst case) also a capable bearer of the "faixa roxa" (and above), I run the risk of being quickly finished by submission.
Well, in both startup business and octagon, the solution is simple. Sit down on your ass, analyze your deficits, learn and train, and take yourself to a new level! Yes, often easier said than done. But at the end of the day, that's exactly what it is.
I could draw countless comparisons: both the founding of a startup and the associated entry into the free market economy as well as the sporting competition always creates a competitive situation in which it is necessary to prevail.
And thus, for articles like these, the material is manifold (Go for it. I will appreciate! it).
But one of the most essential reasons why martial arts and especially mixed martial arts have accompanied me in my life for so long is the fact that I was taught to keep the focus on something.
Researchers once found out that mental acuity and focus are so pronounced in martial arts and discovered that a stronger punching force occurred as a result of better muscle control in the brain than an actual increase in muscular strength when they conducted a study on karate experts.
This doesn't mean that gaining muscle won't automatically make you a hard hitter. Rather, it means that focusing mental strength on a specific goal, directing training efforts toward that very goal, and then concentrating on achieving that goal can unleash unimagined power.
Why this is like that is easy to explain. In a world in which we are bombarded with an incredible flood of information, the selection and prioritization of what we take in are essential. So if you really want to drive something to perfection, to success, it is essential to focus.
Scattering losses are the declared enemy of all players in a game that are already equipped with finite resources.
Both as a startup founder and as a mixed martial arts fighter, I've always been able to turn a profit exactly when I've been focused.
Founding a startup is an adventurous journey, a challenge that brings an incredible amount of newness regardless of the outcome. The view on resources, values, (corporate) cultures, and on respectful interaction with the other person experiences a development that I can only attribute to a few other experiences in life.
And whenever I have embarked on this journey, martial arts have always been an ideal balance for me. I have met many people who share the same set of values, both in my sport and in my work life.
Regardless of the fact that any kind of sport has a positive added value on our mind, body, and soul, maybe it is also this very experience that taught me that startup business and mixed martial arts are not so different.
An often-used adage is: hard work beats talent. And I would even go so far as to add: Anytime! In business as well as in sports.
An essay from Mario Beiser, ex-startup founder, and CEO with over 10 years of experience in mixed martial arts.
Also published here