I’ll never forget my second day in Afghanistan at Bagram Airbase when I hit the gym with Sergeant Price, one of my squad leaders.
It was 110 degrees outside and we hadn’t intended to work out that day; we were simply doing a “re-con” of the facilities. As we walked into the large aircraft hanger and passed by the bench press area, we noticed a huge sign on the wall that screamed:
“SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO KILL YOU WORKED OUT TODAY”
What was originally a recon session turned into a workout session.
The sign was right, people who wanted to kill us were training and getting better as we stood there, and every minute we weren’t was crazy and stupid. Sergeant Price and I started getting up every morning at 5am to hit the gym before the day’s activities.
This lesson we took from that sign in the gym extended beyond our workout sessions. We obsessively rehearsed, planned and studied, primarily because we knew our enemy was doing the same. We infused the meaning behind that sign into how we approached every day. This was a war and everything we could do to improve our team’s chances of coming out the other side we were going to do.
Startup (The business) world is a war too and you need to train your team to survive and win.
Try putting this sign up in your office and see if people act differently: “Someone who wants to beat you made their product better today.”
Don’t be afraid to let fear be a motivator (more on this in another post, it’s a delicate thing to control). You have competitors who are watching you build your product and attack your market and thinking about ways to do what you are doing better. If you’re leaning back in your chair, you’ll get beaten and passed. You and your team need a sense of urgency. Every day, every second, every customer and every feature matter.
Manage your team like your lives depend on it. Tian and I do this by bringing our prior experiences in finance and the Army into daily life at Gojee. In my last post, I talked about how Gojee was conceived (you can read it here). You’ll notice the creative spark flashed because at Morgan Stanley our banking team obsessed every day about the technology landscape. Understanding what was happening in the tech world was both a job requirement and a natural outgrowth of our individual enthusiasms for the sector we covered.
Every member of the Gojee team lives and breathes food, data and social media. This helps give us the context to understand the avalanche of change that’s sweeping across society in all three areas and keeps us close to our vision and our users. If you want to join our team, you better love talking about food, you better love analysing human behaviour, and you better obsessively critique and try out every app pitched at the New York Tech Meetup.
At Morgan Stanley, we also wanted to win and beat the other banks. We knew they were as competitive as we were and wanted to kill us at every deal we pitched. If Goldman Sachs or Citigroup or JP Morgan or any one of the other banks beat us at a deal, we took it personally and it ruined our day. We didn’t spend 72 hours straight on a pitch book to watch our team lose.
Losing simply wasn’t in our vocabulary in Afghanistan. It couldn’t be. If you lost you died. Sometimes I do miss being forced into that heightened level of performance, where there was no option but to succeed. The next best thing I can do is build my team now so they understand what’s possible when we all perform at 120% and with no option but to come out the other side a success.
At Gojee, we are all-in. All five of us quit our jobs to join this team and break open one of the biggest data layers in the world. It’s a huge task. The only way to play this game and do what everyone else thinks is impossible is to play to win.
At your company, do everything in your power to make sure your team is playing to win and isn’t working their asses off just to lose in the end.
Work out every time you pass the gym, and inspire your team to do the same.
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