In this article, I am going to explore how my current challenge of boxing is the perfect metaphor for a startup venture. I and many others have written before about how endurance training is like being in business, having a clear vision, and milestones and activities to get there. But as Steve Blank says, a startup is a temporary business model, its only purpose is to find the scalable, repeatable business model. So now I’ve parked my endurance activity in favour of boxing, here are my observations.

The Challenge

I decided to do something completely different with my fitness this Autumn. To test my body in a different way and have a clear goal pre-Christmas once my endurance events ended. My choice was to enter the Tower Fitness Corporate Boxing Tournament.

Jackson Williams, a good friend of mine, is the man behind the above, as well as a super endurance athlete (He’s run across America, and is planning on cycling across Australia then running back!), he also used to be Pro Boxer. So when it comes to boxing, he knows his stuff. He’s a demanding coach.

Our Corporate Challenge (there’s around 50 of us), is to go through 12 weeks of intensive training and then jump in the ring and have a real boxing match with one of the other 50. So Coach Jackson needs to take me, as the client, from not being able to box to managing to complete, and hopefully win, a 3 x 2 minute round boxing match. On the 5th of November, I need to be a minimal viable boxer. Coach Jackson has helped me start to acquire the BASIC skills to box.

Clearly whilst there is varying ability in our group, none of us will box like a pro. The fights won’t be pretty, but we will get through them. By the very nature of the process, 50% of us will fail and 50% will succeed. We will incur a great deal of pain along the way. A few blows to the head bruised ribs and few black eyes. Those who win or lose could go on to fight in the next challenge, learning from what they could improve on to either win instead of losing, or win better.

Comparing it to Startup coaching

Let’s compare that to the way, at Bite The Cherry, we help coach a startup to find their scalable repeatable business model. We’ve encouraged the startup to do some high-quality customer research on their business idea. We then encourage them to build a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) or prototype. This will test their hypothesis further with their early adopter clients.

  • Like the fight, the startup needs to put just enough into the MVP to make it perform the basic function research suggests clients want.
  • Like the fight and the training, at times it will be painful, we will suffer some hits along the way and the client feedback on the MVP could be very painful to hear if they tear our precious idea apart. Without that feedback, our product is likely doomed to failure.
  • Most MVP’s aren’t that pretty, just like the fight.
  • They have had nowhere near enough hours put into them compared to a final product, just like the fight.
  • They will be a success or failure, just like the fight.
  • But more importantly, just like the fight, win or lose, the startup will have learnt something valuable in the process. They have learnt what did work, even in the failure, and what didn’t.

The measure of success or failure is, of course, rich customer feedback we encourage the startup to get from testing the MVP. Just like boxing, they can then plan to get back in the ring with a better, more likely to win, MVP. One that might, after several iterations and pivots, be the industry’s equivalent of the Heavyweight Champion of the World!

Back to the boxing

We are currently just over half way in, and it’s now starting to heat up a bit. Our client feedback, as measured by the number of times we get hit compared to how many hits we make, is helping inform our MVP for fight night. Will my Minimal Viable Boxing be enough for success on the 5th? I hope so, but I know, whatever happens, I will have learnt a great deal about the art of boxing and my own limits of ability.

Ian Hacon, Founder, Yellow Brick Road and Co-founder, Bite the Cherry Venture Coaching