11 Things Mountain Biking Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

2015-03-26-1427404868-1753615-RyanWilson.pngAuthor Ryan Wilson is the founder of FiveFifty, a digital marketing trade desk focusing on programmatic media buying. FiveFifty brings its clients a decade of media buying experience and a commitment to marketing performance across nearly every website on the Internet.

People say that cycling is the new golf. Living in Colorado, that certainly seems to be the case. On a nice day, teams of cyclists head out for rides together on the more than 850 miles of paved bike trails and routes in and around the city. Last summer, I decided to at long last try to take my pursuits off road and learn to mountain bike in the foothills just to the west of Denver.

During the experience, I learned some things about myself and about being an entrepreneur that can benefit any business owner.

  1. Remember that there is nothing that will prepare you for riding trails like riding trails. Using a stationary bike and road biking will increase endurance and muscles specific to cycling, but nothing prepared me for riding trails like getting out there and riding trails. Likewise, when I graduated with my MBA, I thought I was ready to go. But it wasn't until I complemented that training with real word experience that I understood how to successfully run a business.
  2. Pay special attention when you are in a 'no fall zone.' The trails in this area are littered with peril, from rocks and sand to sheer drop-offs. Make the wrong move at the wrong time and you may be in big trouble. In the early stages of my business, paying close attention to the environment kept me moving forward.
  3. Get the right equipment. It's not uncommon in Colorado to see a $10,000 bike on top of a $2,000 car. While those bikes are highly engineered masterpieces, they won't make an average cyclist a significantly more competitive rider, in the same way a $100 bike with no suspension will not adequately equip you for the requirements of the trail. Having the right equipment for the job is often better than having the best equipment.
  4. Clip in to become better. Clipping my shoes into the pedals was one of the more humbling athletic experiences I can recall. Aside from the physical benefits, it creates a psychological bond to the bike and increases focus on the activity at hand. I started my first business as a side project while I worked a corporate job. That business never fully got off the ground because I was only partially in the game -- you have to clip in.
  5. Ride with people you like. Taking a ride with someone you like can be an incredible shared experience, even if the road gets bumpy. The same holds true in business.
  6. Pay attention to how much fuel you have. Nothing is worse than running out of energy. You could find yourself miles from food or water if you haven't planned ahead. Paying attention to how quickly you are utilizing resources can pay big dividends in your ability to finish. Businesses need to constantly monitor their burn rate, cash flow, customer acquisition costs, retention, etc.
  7. Keep going. There are many things that can slow you down on the trail: equipment failure, weather, fatigue, etc. For the most part all of these can be planned for and overcome. The only thing that can definitively stop you from finishing is lack of perseverance.
  8. Acknowledge the rocky parts of the trail. One day, I approached a technical section of the trail when I saw a man riding uphill. I had to get off and "hike-a-bike" through this same section on my way up earlier, so I stopped and watched as he worked his way through. At the end, he got off his line and pulled out of his clips to catch himself just before he fell. But instead of hiking up the rest of the section and continuing on like I had earlier, he turned around and went back to the beginning of the technical portion of the trail to try again. For him, the challenge was part of the fun. It definitely changed the way I look at challenges.
  9. Accept risk in favor of momentum. If you are riding towards a technical section, sometimes you have less chance of falling if you get some speed first. It seems counterintuitive. You will fall harder if you fall going fast, but the momentum can make maneuvering easier, thereby actually lowering your chance of falling.
  10. Hold on loosely. Things can get pretty quick and bouncy from time to time. It seems like holding on tightly would make you more secure, but it's not the case. If you want to stay on the bike the best thing to do is hold the handlebar loosely. As a business grows in complexity, there are certain aspects that an entrepreneur needs to loosen their grip on in order to scale. It's incredibly hard at times, but necessary.
  11. Remember to have fun. I've found mountain biking in Colorado to be intensely difficult, humbling and stressful at times, but with so many amazing highs and such a great community of athletes. The more I ride the more I am able to actively find joy and excitement in those challenges. I ride because I choose to. As entrepreneurs, we choose our path. Our ride is in large part what we design it to be.