Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer is the co-founder and CEO of AirPR, a technology platform that increases PR performance.
Heavyweight champion George Foreman sold the rights to his grill empire in 1999 for $137 million. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach founded a real estate firm, which he started with only a handful of employees, and sold in 2008 for $613 million. And pro tennis player Maria Sharapova launched her own candy line, partnering with a range of department stores like Bloomingdale's on a series of in-store pop-up shops to help get the word out.
From the ability to stay laser-focused on the task at hand to having diehard dedication for what they do, athletes and entrepreneurs possess a wealth of the same skills, many of which give them an edge over the competition. As a former NCAA hockey player and startup founder myself, I'm fascinated by how often my athletic characteristics translate to the entrepreneurial world.
Here I explore how my experiences playing hockey and founding a company translate to just how much athletes and entrepreneurs have in common, plus why athletes-turned-entrepreneurs have an inherent edge in the business world.
1. We thrive off of adrenaline and have high stamina.
For entrepreneurs and athletes, adrenaline and stamina go hand in hand. I can attest to this firsthand: from late nights cranking with my engineering team to endless afternoons of tough cross training, staying energized while working long hours (some of which can be tumultuous and unrewarding) is just a part of the job. I quickly learned in hockey and startup life that if you're not excited by the work, you won't be fueled by the thrill of it. Athletes and entrepreneurs both feed off adrenaline and the excitement.
2. We're not afraid of failure.
Bouncing back from losses is a part of any gig. As the saying goes, "You win some. You lose some," and the losses can't get you down. I knew at Princeton that we wouldn't win every game, and I also came to know that trying innovative ideas at my company would mean striking out here and there, but that never stopped me. Quite the opposite happened -- losses or setbacks often provided positive fuel for my hockey team and led to new opportunities for my company to explore. As Beth Brooke-Marciniak gracefully says, "It's not the winning that teaches you how to be resilient. It's the setback. It's the loss."
3. Being agile is key.
Being resourceful and moving swiftly comes in handy whether you're playing hockey or running a company. In hockey, it's both mental and physical. When growing a business, it's about making astute observations and deciding quickly, oftentimes with little guidance or feedback on approach. Being able to pivot on a dime is a quality that wins games and evolves business strategies.
4. We show gratitude to our fans.
Fans, customers, teams--winning is rarely a solo effort, so knowing where to give credit when it's due is key. My hockey team loved shouting out our fans for all their ongoing support and I always make it a point to congratulate my hardworking team at AirPR for their extra hours of work during a time of rapid growth. Gratitude goes a long way and showing of appreciation for those cheering you on is necessary for morale.
5. To us, competition is a healthy motivator.
Competition may not motivate everyone, but I've found that the pressure of others' excellence can be the nudge needed to excel even further. My fellow hockey teammates are the perfect example of how a bit of healthy competition can inspire greatness. When they skated harder, so did I. In the office, it's really not all that different. The possibility of being the next big thing in Silicon Valley is as exciting -- and motivating -- as winning a championship game.
6. We're constantly sharpening our skills.
Hours in the weight room, pre-season training and entrepreneurial betterment through mentorship all help to sharpen the skills needed for competition, whether on the field or in the tech space. I have always been passionate about keeping myself sharp on the ice and in the boardroom.We push through obstacles.
7. We push through obstacles.
Whether battling a pesky injury or aggressive growth goals, I've learned to never hesitate when it comes to overcoming obstacles. In sports and business, you must forcibly push right through no matter what. With both athletics and entrepreneurship, there's beauty in the triumph.
To distill it down further, being a successful athlete or entrepreneur is all about persistence. It's about striving to be the best day after day. Said simply by Hall of Fame tennis star Billie Jean King, "Champions keep playing until they get it right." Next time you're leading your team in a work sprint, keep this in mind, share it and shout it from the rooftops.