What can startups learn from Olympic athletes?

As the 2016 Rio Olympics and Paralympics come to a close, what learnings can business startups and entrepreneurs take from the world’s top athletes?

The Olympics represent the pinnacle of sporting excellence and achievement after years of dedication and sacrifice. Competitors try to extract that extra ounce of physical or psychological advantage in an environment where the margins between success and failure are miniscule.

When we watched the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games our focus was on the 11,544 and 4,350 athletes who had the opportunity to compete in the respective events.athlete preparing as concept for startups preparing

How many thousands of athletes around the world had dreams of competing in the Olympics or Paralympics but failed to be selected by their countries?

How many entrepreneurs or startups start out with dreams of being the next unicorn? Yet, the reported failure rate for startups is in the region of 95%.

Entrepreneurs spend hours, days, weeks, months and sometimes years working on their business or startup idea.

So how do we manage to make the best use of our time and maximise our performance for the effort put in?

If as entrepreneurs we regarded ourselves as “startup or entrepreneurial athletes”, would we feel more open to exploring and developing our capabilities to their full potential, better utilise our time spent and chances of succeeding?

At ReadyFundGo, Australia’s reward based crowdfunding platform, we have decided to take the theme of inspiring excellence and “performance psychology” to see how it can maximise our own performance.

“Performance psychology” typically involves engaging the power of the mind and mental skills training to enhance individual performance.

We have looked at various success factors identified by Olympic and top sports coaches and considered how they can be used to inspire excellence and raise performance of our team or “Crowd Crew” as we prefer to be known.

1. Narrowing the mental focus

If the “startup or entrepreneurial athlete” can maintain their overall goal in their mind, like a lighthouse in a storm guiding the way, then they can judge whether an action will enhance their performance and direction towards their overall goal. They can control the effort they commit and their fitness. For startups or entrepreneurial athlete this will be their mental fitness.

Michael Cheika the Australian rugby team coach is known for focusing his team on being the best they can be at everything that does not require talent. He narrows his players’ attention to issues within their sole control, being “effort” and “fitness” and asks his players to judge all their actions against the simple mantra “does their action enhance performance”.

In a startup environment there is often a temptation for a team to either rush around doing a little bit of everything or to become completely absorbed in their product development, failing to come up for breadth or look at the bigger picture. Frequently the importance of physical and emotional wellbeing is not considered in relation to performance.business-entrepreneur-climbing-mountain-concept-for-startups

Startups are typically cash and time poor with teams in a race to deliver. By tapping into physical and emotional wellbeing, we may be able to enhance our own performance and output and that of our teams.

In an overstimulated world, excessive multi-tasking creates a major disruption to our ability to focus and our performance. Stress is increased by the difficulty in switching off from access to emails at any time of day or night or at any place in the world.

Many people leave their email open all day feeling the need to reply to emails as soon as they arrive.  This can mistakenly lead them to believe that they are being productive.

As a crowdfunding platform, we are constantly looking at new crowdfunding campaigns and helping our campaign creators with their campaign build strategies and development of their rewards.

Mental effectiveness is about focus and being mindfully aware of what you are choosing to focus on. It is essentially about staying focussed on your object of choice and being in control of choosing your distractions.archery-target-goal-in-focus-concept-for-startups

If a startup or entrepreneurial athlete decides that their brain is most alert first thing in the morning, they may choose to allocate this time to focus on tasks which require their creativity and issues that they select to be their priorities. For example, opening your email first often takes you away from your own priorities to an onslaught of distractions.

It may be more effective to schedule email sessions throughout the day, deciding how long to allocate. Often seemingly small changes in habit can increase feelings of being in control. It allows a determination of where time is focused with a view to enhancing performance.

Jeremy Rowe our National Campaign Manager at ReadyFundGo has started allocating time online from 2-4pm on fortnightly Friday afternoons for crowdfunding campaign creators to fire questions at him and as they design their campaign rewards and get their campaigns live on the platform. You can join in here at this Crowdfunding Campaign Crunch session. This focussed time with Jeremy makes it easier for everyone. Have your questions ready!

2. Choosing what not to do as much as choosing what to do

With limited resources it is unlikely to be possible to be able to do everything you would like to do in your startups or growing business.

Ben Hunt-Davis won an Olympic gold medal in the Sydney Olympics in 2000 in the rowing men’s eight before setting up a successful leadership development business.

rowing team concept for perfomance ideas for startupsFor four years before the 2000 Games Ben and his team assessed everything against the criteria “Will it make the boat go faster?” If they believe something would make the boat go faster they did it. If not they did not.

Those in pursuit of excellence need to focus only on what is relevant and to stay focussed for the duration of the task.

3. Confidence, self-belief and resilience

Unshakeable confidence and self-belief are frequently reported characteristics in high achievers both in sport and business. Henry Ford once said:

“If you think you can, you are right; if you think you can’t, you’re still right”.

Research has shown that self-confidence is one of the most important psychological factors in creating high performance. Higher levels of confidence encourage people to cope with pressure and offer the freedom to demonstrate their talent. They tend to work harder believing that they can achieve their goals and set themselves more challenging goals or targets.

high jump athlete making successful jumpAt a press conference in Rio Michael Phelps, the most honoured US swimmer who has x gold medals to his name, spoke about how:

 “Staying positive and always just believing in yourself goes along way…I think your mind is something that is a very powerful thing … not a lot of people realise how truly powerful it really is.”

In 2012, Sally Pearson won an Olympic gold for Australia in the 400 metres. Afterwards she was quoted as saying:

“I’ve wanted this ever since I saw Cathy Freeman win gold at the Sydney Olympics….. I thought “how do I do that? How do I become the best athlete in the world?” Winning a gold medal is not easy but I believed in myself… “.

When Sally won the silver medal 4 years earlier in Beijing, she said:

“After I won the silver in Beijing, I knew I had the talent and self-belief to be the best in the world.”

Many successful entrepreneurs have often had their ideas ridiculed and been told they were wasting their time and they would never succeed. They have had to have the self belief and confidence to continue. The tennis player Venus Williams who has won 7 grand slams was quoted as saying:

 “Some people say that I have an attitude – maybe I do. But I think that you have to. You have to believe in yourself when no one else does – that makes you a winner ..”.


Self-confidence can be developed by entrepreneurs in several ways. One simple way is can be by learning more and increasing your knowledge.

For example at ReadyFundGo, we’ve started a weekly “Brain Boost’ session where we all are responsible for bringing a piece of crowdfunding news to share. It is an exercise for our team to analyse and continue learning on a regular basis.

4. Optimal management of energy

Olympic and elite athletes have long relied upon routines around sleep, nutrition, mental and physical preparatory rituals alongside recovery periods to maximize performance.

brainwaves as performance conceptThe Australian Institute of Sport has produced a Competition Routine Brainwaves Fact Sheet.  It focuses on the basis that a competition routine helps you to be consistent in your physical and mental preparation. They believe that this will give athletes and aspiring athletes a good chance of giving their best performance.

It is becoming recognised that optimal management of energy is key to the optimal conditioning of the mind, body and spirit. This is a key understanding for maximum business performance over the longer term. Whilst this may be recognised, many working in startups allow themselves to become run down and deprived of quality sleep.

What is highlighted here is the need for the startup athlete to develop and schedule a robust and powerful performance strategy just like the Olympians.

One element of the strategy for startups is the need to incorporate performance breaks.

Scheduling performance breaks constitutes a simple way to manage mental energy more effectively throughout the day. Often many of us do not take a break. Instead we rush from one thing to the next with lunch at our desk still reading through emails. Some days in the office are for our minds a lot like running a marathon without water for our bodies.startups-concept-performance-break

Performance breaks can be as short as a minute or two taking our minds away from the constant state of doing and undertaking tasks to a state of being. Those who practice meditation will know how to give their minds a break. It can be as simple as letting go of your activities and switching your attention to your breath for a few minutes if you do not feel there is time for a short walk outside.

5. Curiosity, constant learning and self-reflection

This component of excellence relies on the willingness of individuals to learn from every experience developing a culture of self-reflection. As the future is unknown and pace of change in business increasing, the ability to learn and adapt is likely to be an important factor in the success or failure of your venture. A core trait of the successful “entrepreneurial athlete” is one of continual renewal and reinvention.

Entrepreneurs and startups should be continually looking to see what is happening in the market place.

For example at ReadyFundGo we have watched Stripe, our payment processing technology, innovate ‘Stripe Connect’ as a means for facilitating secure streamline crowdfunding online. We recently decided to add this to our platform. The benefit of using Stripe Connect for our campaign creators is that if they choose to run a flexible “take what you make” crowdfunding campaign, they immediately receive their share of the funds as soon as their pledge is received.

6. Failure being part of the journey to success

Along side the permanent curiosity to learn and improve is the preparedness for failure.

John Wooden is a the basketball coach who won an unprecedented number of championships at UCLA. One of the most renowned sports coaches globally. One of his mottos is:

 “If you are not making mistakes, then you are not doing anything. I am positive that a doer makes mistakes.”

In his view is if you are not trying new things you are not pushing yourself and are just playing safe.

For startups or athletes to succeed they often need to be pushing boundaries, embracing failure and learning from the result.

This is re-iterated by Michael Jordan, the NBA superstar’s famous lines in his 1997 Nike ad campaign:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career; I’ve lost over 300 games. Twenty-sixtimes I have been trusted to take the game-winning shot… and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life….. And that is why I succeed”.

Sir James Dyson, the inventor and founder of Dyson company, sees failure as an essential part of his success and journey towards a truly innovative solution. When Dyson invented his first Dual Cyclone vacuum which arrived on sale in 1993 he had by then spent 15 years creating 5,126 versions that failed. The ultimate result was a multi-billion dollar company known for creativity and futuristic designs.

Both successful athletes and entrepreneurs accept that mistakes are part of improving their performance.athletes jumping hurdles as concept of startups avoiding hurdles

Inspiring the entrepreneurial or startup athlete

It is hoped these insights from the sporting world will resonate with the “entrepreneurial or startup athlete” and inspire and motivate them to be the best that they can be in their chosen field.

If you’d like to learn about starting your own crowdfunding project, or are ready to start your draft, simply get started here and our crew will be in touch.  You can also signup for upcoming crowdfunding workshops or join an online Crowdfunding Campaign Crunch session with Jeremy Rowe fortnightly friday afternoons from 2-4pm AEST with our National Campaign Manager to ask questions and get advice as you draft your campaign. 

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If you'd like to see more of our essential tips for managing and promoting your crowdfunding project, you can grab our Guide To Crowdfunding here.

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About ReadyFundGo

ReadyFundGo is a crowdfunding platform and community of social entrepreneurs, business owners, change makers and innovators who have a great idea they want to get off the ground or grow. If you are interested in the world of innovation and ideas, or want to find strategies for raising funds for your own project or expansion, ReadyFundGo can help. To begin your own crowdfunding campaign, start your draft here.