For the past several years, I've started most weekdays with an hour-long workout at CrossFit. It's an important outlet for me, a way of relaxing and channeling my energy before the daily stresses of running a growing company. But what I've realized is that CrossFit's innovative approach, devoted community and empirical methodology actually offer lessons that can benefit entrepreneurs. Here are a few of my recent revelations for inspiration.
1. Divorce yourself from conventional wisdom: CrossFit doesn't follow conventional wisdom about exercising and losing weight. Traditionally, fitness has been considered a series of activities, like jogging for 20-30 minutes, going to the weight room for four sets of six reps or using a Thighmaster to tone your legs. CrossFit brought constant variety and unexpected movements to fitness, and designed the entire experience to push you to maximum intensity, establishing itself as a revolutionary form of fitness. If you build your business based on conventional wisdom, you'll never build something revolutionary. In fact, it will be impossible to rise above the noise and make a name for yourself, but if you get a little crazy...
2. Go so big others think you're off your rocker: Your idea should be so different and bold that people question your sanity. I'm sure CrossFit--and founder Greg Glassman--seemed crazy to the first people who encountered the unorthodox workouts. Several people told me that my idea for Okta was crazy because not enough companies would move to the cloud. Now we have some of the biggest software companies in the world coming after us because we got it right, so I would say being a little crazy paid off.
3. Quantify, quantify, quantify: CrossFit makes it simple to compare yourself to others and track your success, since your performance on each WOD (or "workout of the day") is scored and ranked. That empirical methodology helps increase the intensity of the workout, as you're always looking to beat a personal record. Businesses can take a similar approach to goal setting--you should track metrics for everything you do, so you can easily see successes and celebrate surpassing those intermediate goals as you march towards long-term victory.
4. Focus on your weaknesses (and improve upon them): Being empirical also allows you to pinpoint your weaknesses and improve in those specific areas. Glassman once wrote, "The three most important and interdependent facets of any fitness program, can be supported only by measurable, observable, repeatable facts; i.e., data." That data helps you identify where you can get stronger. Data is also what helps businesses progress--knowing if a team is missing its goals or where sales is falling behind allows you to focus on those areas. Your success depends on your ability to find those weaknesses and improve upon them.
5. Make everything scalable: In CrossFit, every exercise is scalable so anyone can get involved. An Olympic athlete and elderly woman can do variations of the same workout. There's an important lesson for entrepreneurs here: The most successful companies may start out focusing on something very specific, but they have the ability to scale into something truly foundational. Amazon.com may have started out as an online marketplace for books, but Jeff Bezos designed the site to scale, envisioning the world's largest online store. When we started Okta, we sold web single sign-on, but we built our platform so it could connect people to any technology.
6. Engage and empower your community: CrossFit takes a "power to the community" approach with its thousands of affiliate "boxes" (that's CrossFit lingo for gyms). Affiliates pay a $1500 fee, and owners have to take a training course (which comes with another fee), but then they're free to operate as they please--as long as they don't misuse the brand or logo. At the same time, CrossFit advocates for group training, strives for uniformity with its WODs and rankings, and adds daily content to its simple, straightforward website to engage CrossFitters. As a result, the organization has created a solid, consistent brand and a massive community religiously attached to it. All growing companies should strive to create an avid community of users and customers. After all, it's your customers that will make you successful.