Do you have the scrappiness of an athlete or the creative vision of an artist?
By Cheryl Yeoh (Co-Founder & CEO, Reclip.It)
I’ve come to observe that there are usually two kinds of founders – athletes or artists. Ideally, you’re some composition of the two. And even if you’re not a real life athlete or artist, there are interesting comparisons to be drawn from these groups that will make you a better entrepreneur.
Athletes have to go through long, brutal hours of training. They have to be so focused when competing and mentally strong. They usually do only one thing but do them really really well. They are dedicated in their profession and always striving for perfection. They’re one of the most disciplined people on earth and they never give up.
This keeps me motivated every time I’m spinning at the gym. As a former athlete, I usually try to cycle harder than everyone else, even when I’m exhausted. Even when the instructor never showed up and half the class has gone home, the few of us who stay back will put on our own music and spin harder than when our instructor was around, and even when no one is looking.
Athletes are doing it for themselves, not others. They do it to better their timing, jump higher, swim faster, push harder, or be more accurate… to set a personal record. They push their bodies to the limits and understand that it’s a state of mind. They understand that they are in control of their minds and that is one of the most important factors that separates the good athlete from the great athlete.
Sometimes I look back to my high school college years and see those qualities that I carry in the sparring ring come out in my startup. When you get kicked or fall down, you get up immediately, no matter how painful it feels. You almost have to ignore the blood and bruises, and keep going even when you’re injured (this explains why I have a high tolerance for pain and it’s easier for me to block out setbacks in my startup and march forward).
Being an athlete trains you to some extent to be bullish and immune to big blows, because you know they’re inevitable. You just have to be on guard and try to minimize them. And attack when the opportunity is right. You also have to stay so focused on the target because your opponent may beat you to death if you’re caught off guard (well, maybe just a lose a match). People around will keep cheering on you, which is motivating but usually a blur. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But you train harder so you don’t get your ass kicked and you train until you win more matches than you lose them.
In short, athletes have persistence, grit and focus. They are usually motivated by personal achievement. Are you an “athlete” entrepreneur?
Artists tend to be more creative visionaries. And by artists, I mean painters, musicians, actors, singers, or any profession that produces an art form to inspire an audience. They start with a blank canvas, and have to decide what to paint, what colors to use, what size a painting, what perspective. Do you copy another painting? Do you originate it? Or do you copy AND improvise it?
Artists tend to set out with an idea of the end goal, although they’re not bound by it. They often let the brushes and colors take a life of its own and the ultimate result is a mastery that is influenced by the journey. I think it’s quite brilliant and artist-type founders tend to breed innovation and allow room for positive changes to happen.
From another perspective, I also think that artists make really good engineers. Like an architect, an engineer has to know what the end goal is and create logical foundations that will support the desired returns. They have the freedom to use different technologies that will support their getting there.
As a painter myself, I notice myself often “borrowing” from my favorite paintings. I like the challenge of reproducing something seemingly difficult to reproduce and showing that I too, can be a great master artist. I’m more of an artist that gets my inspiration from other paintings and add my personal flavors to it. At the moment, I am not originating because I want to learn from the best first. And then one day, when I’ve finally found my signature painting style, I will originate.
In short, artists are resourceful, inventive and visionaries. They are usually motivated by the creation of something for the enjoyment and benefit of others. They want to inspire others with their work and hopefully leave a legacy in doing so. Are you an “artist” entrepreneur?
What Am I?
Given that I’ve been both an athlete and artist in real life, I think I’m 60% an athlete entrepreneur and 40% an artist founder. I personally think both traits are important, since you can be the most creative and innovative person on earth, but if you don’t have the persistence to see it through, you may never realize your vision. On the other hand, you can’t blindly run too hard in one direction if it’s the wrong direction in the first place.
An ideal entrepreneur should have the vision to paint what would make their painting gain the most recognition or admiration (which usually translates to more money and fame) but also have the athlete’s determination and patience to practice until you’ve found the right composition for the final masterpiece.
What Type Of Entrepreneur Are You?
Are there other types of comparative founder traits that you’ve been able to observe? Please comment.
This post was originally posted at Startup War Stories from Cheryl Yeoh.
About the guest blogger: Cheryl Yeoh is the Co-Founder & CEO of Reclip.It (formerly CityPockets), a daily deal voucher organizer and secondary marketplace. Cheryl transitioned from management consulting to being a first-time tech entrepreneur in 2010, has since raised a seed round from prominent angel investors and is building a thriving startup in New York City. She hopes to inspire other women to follow their passions and is eager to share her experiences and lessons learned as an entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter at @cherylyeoh.