As a decathlete, it’s probably in my genes to try to do 10 different things at once.
As an entrepreneur, I’m also trying to learn several new disciplines, and master what I need to do to make my business a success.
When you’re building a business, especially a start-up, you need to be good at everything. You need to learn about accounting, sales, marketing, about building a product and being a leader. You lack resources, you lack time, and you lack money. You lack experience, but somehow still need to get it all together for the important moments.
That’s a lot like decathlon, where you lack the time, energy and capacity to do as much work on each discipline as you might want.
But in every competition, you always do your best to get a PB, to try to be perfect in every event and achieve the highest all-round score possible. And in business you always strive to build the perfect product, the perfect website, the perfect marketing campaign to give your company the best chance of success.
In my bachelor’s degree in international business management, we not only study business but we also work with real companies, to solve real problems.
The idea behind my start-up company “Preventio” is to predict water damage in homes, work with insurers and housing companies to manage risk, and help create more sustainable communities. We analyse data from thousands of homes, including metrics such as water flow and temperature, and use a tech-driven approach to model and predict water damage, and ultimately to help prevent it.
The world of insurance wasn’t something with which I was familiar, and I certainly didn’t know how to write an algorithm to prevent water damage. I was missing basically every experience you would need to be a good founder in the insurance or the tech fields!
But that’s where my transferable skills from decathlon came in: being able to prioritise where you spend your time; becoming proficient in multiple areas and having the ability to adapt; and most importantly, understanding the importance of having a good team around you, each member with a key role.
In athletics, my coach is the one with the vision. He has the experience and the overview. As the athlete, I’m the operational guy. I do the training that I’m set and while my coach consults me on how I’m feeling, I’m not the decision-maker.
In business, it’s a little more complicated. I’m responsible for the vision and the strategy, but I also need to understand all the different elements of the business. While I might be the face of the team and the one doing the pitches, I’m not building a company on my own. So, I need advisers with a variety of different perspectives – my teammates, my co-founders, people who have been successful in similar start-ups and, with a little luck, investors.
In decathlon, I might be the one doing 10 disciplines but in addition to my coach there is the medical team, other athletes, and lots of other people whose influence and hard work make it all come together.
I was lucky enough to recently win a business award, the 2021 Sporthilfe Start-up of the Year. Winning is a great intrinsic motivator, in business and in sport – success is why we do what we do. But while I was delighted to receive the award, it’s a very small step on a long journey for a company to get a product to market, to scale up and to establish itself in different fields.
It’s important to think of milestones on the way to achieving your goals.
In athletics it’s easy to do because you have national championships, European championships and so on, all the way up to the Olympic Games. Already I can look back on the early milestones in my career: competing for Germany for the first time at the World U20 Championships in Tampere in 2018, finishing fifth at my first ever senior championships at the European Indoors in Glasgow in 2019, and scoring over 8,000 points in the decathlon for the first time later that year. Those were all important steps towards my goals.
Setting milestones in business is a little more challenging because your business is a living organism that is constantly evolving. But you need these milestones – these “wins” – to stay motivated during phases when things are not easy. When things don’t go the way you expect, adaptability is the most important skill. I’ve rewritten my business plan many, many times over the last year – weekly at some points.
I’ve also had to adapt my training plans in this Olympic year after contracting Covid-19 in Torun and losing several weeks of training. Nobody likes to be ill, but I can’t change that, or change the fact that meetings get cancelled or postponed. In business, I can’t change the occasions when investors pass on my idea.
But that’s how sport, and business, works. We have to adapt to the situation we find ourselves in, and most of the time we can only be successful if we successfully adapt.
As athletes, and for whatever else we do in life, we prepare for years, working away behind the scenes to master each element of our discipline.
Like the classic iceberg analogy, success is only the tip of the iceberg visible above the surface, and that tip represents perhaps just a dozen or so events in your life. It all comes down to performing in those few seconds in a race, those few minutes pitching your idea to a potential investor or – in decathlon – those 10 moments over two days when you have to be the best you can be.
Of course, our careers as athletes are short. By the time you reach 30 or 35 your career may be over, but you still have over half of your life in front of you. Then, you can do anything you want to do – life has so many possibilities.
In athletics, we have already discovered the possibility of doing things that other people can’t. Away from athletics, you are the same person with the same mindset, and the same skillset. You can use those skills to transfer your knowledge and your experiences to different things – like an artist, with the same skills and the same palette but with a blank canvas to draw something different every time.
Athletics prepares you for an amazing and interesting life – where anything is possible.