A few months ago, Media Piston founder Joe Heitzeberg and I had the crazy idea to assemble a team to run in last Saturday’s Tough Mudder race, an 11+ mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces. It is billed as “probably the toughest event on the planet.” You scale walls and ropes, slog around in pungent mud, and jump into ice-filled ponds — 25 obstacles in all. Along the way, you get water, bananas, and electrical shocks.
We extended an open invitation to GeekWire readers, and dubbed our motley crew “The GeekWire Mudders.” We embraced the startup philosophy: “It’s only interesting if it’s hard to pull off.”
Or, as team member Bob Thordarson, the CEO and founder of BluCapp, put it:
“It’s not the things in life that come easy that I remember,” he says. “It’s the things that scare the shit out of me, keep me up at night and make me feel unsure of my ability to succeed that push me to play and work at my highest level.”
Tough Mudder does that.
We wouldn’t be geeks without thinking through a challenge like a startup, so here are some of the dirty little startup secrets we used to make it through the mud and across the finish line:
Be clear about your mission and goals
We wanted to have a great time as a team and make sure everyone finished. The goal was not time or speed. We targeted a team size of 15 and ended up with 23 people as we got closer to the race. This led to discussions about dividing into smaller groups. We referenced our first principles and nixed the break-up.
“This turned out to be a good move because every obstacle appealed to different strengths and weakness, and everyone relied on the support and encouragement of teammates to complete the course,” says Heitzeberg.
Take a hand
The course was no joke, most everyone that participates is in good shape and yet still 22 percent of people do not finish the race.
EveryMove CEO Russell Benaroya explains: “Everest was a half-pipe. It was extremely hard to do on your own but there were loads of hands reaching down to grab someone. It is not only okay to grab a hand, it was expected. Start-ups are like that. Many are often outstretched and want to help. Don’t have so much pride that you won’t grab a hand.”
There’s more than one way to climb a wall, notes public relations and political consultant Charla Neuman. “Know your strengths and weaknesses, and have a strategy to work with, around, or without them,” said Neuman. ” I have no arm strength. However, my core strength dramatically improved during training. As others pulled themselves over walls, I used my core to swing my lower body over the top. My business and my clients are the same: I figure out how I’m going to use my strengths, compensate for my weaknesses and work with amazingly talented people to fill in the rest.”
Prepare and train
To prepare, we read the blogs and studied YouTube videos. Big Fish General Manager Will O’Brien, Joe Heitzeberg, and I ran a Spartan sprint in June.
This experience helped us model our training.
Tiny HR founder David Niu notes: “Just as soldiers train and retrain, we invested and trained individually, and as a team. Every wall became a wall to scale. Every bar became a chance to work on pullups. Every piece of dirt became burpee breeding ground. Just like a product or marketing launch – luck favors the prepared.”
Embrace your community
Mudder camaraderie was bigger than us geeks. “There are other teams who have similar goals, more than willing to help out if you’re willing to accept it,” said Northbynine CEO Chris Lynch. “The team had gone over a wall and I was stuck behind unable to get over by myself. All of a sudden from behind a guy in a mask yelled out….Can I push you up there? You’re probably not going to be the first or last startup to face similar obstacles.”
Celebrate your success along the way
Allow your startup to recognize that it’s improving, pushing and starting to see results.
“We did this in little ways — high-fives, atta boys and fun post-training breakfasts,” says design advisor at BigDoor Matt Shobe. “Too many startups stay in crisis mode, even when things are going swimmingly, because that’s become their default success response to adversity. Not getting above that self-inflicted fray from time-to-time leads to burnout and, well, living a bummer life.”
One step at a time
“Mudder is a great reminder of doing one thing at a time…the difficult task that is right in front of you,” says David Wickwire, an attorney at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and a member of the GeekWire Mudders. “We all knew the dangling wires would be there at the end, but we had to approach each obstacle as the next thing to overcome…we could only focus on the obstacle in front of us.”
Spiral of Life owner and fitness expert Kyle Davis added: “You will adapt to the cold by jumping into that icy water, not by over-thinking it. Spending time in advance worrying about what it’s going to feel like doesn’t make it easier in the moment.”
Choose your ‘tude
Many start-ups are fueled by the tension of fear and confidence and having the right attitude helps you move those opposing forces in the right direction. “Having a positive attitude is infectious and makes for more fun getting through tasks and challenges,” says Chrisann Raushenbach, owner of Madison Valley Massage. “We all create a “ripple effect” with our actions and attitude. Being mindful of the impact we make on each other.”
Blood, sweat, & tears
Like any startup, it is really about hard work and never giving up. On game day, Will O’Brien posted on Facebook, “Today is the Tough Mudder! Over the last 4 months, I’ve done over 80 hours of exercise including 3000 burpees and 800 pull-ups, and ran over 150 miles, along with my 23 teammates. Today we will tackle 11+ muddy miles and 25 obstacles. Let’s do this!”
All of us made it with no major injury and crossed the final electric shock obstacle together.
“We came, we saw, we conquered….and we supported the Wounded Warrior Project,” says AT&T Wireless manager and Army veteran Michael Curry.
Friendships and bonds are formed
Just like a startup, words fall short of conveying the Tough Mudder experience. The only way to know is to just go out and ‘effin do it.