Pavol Sikula, Founder and CEO of AskBrian
I bought my first pair of shoes at the age of 26 when I was preparing for a team run with my fellow consultants at Stern Stewart & Co.
A few days ago, I finished my 3rd Ironman race. Ironman is a quite demanding sport discipline blending endurance, perseverance, and physical stamina. If you are unfamiliar with this long-distance triathlon format, it is basically about mastering 3.8 km of swimming, 180 km of cycling, and then finishing with a marathon… for most people probably quite unimaginable.
Over the past five years, I have been also working on my startup, AskBrian, developing an AI Assistant for consultants to help them save time and increase efficiency, so they can focus on what truly matters.
And so, reflecting on my experience in all these areas, I have summarised six intriguing similarities between being a consultant, an Ironman, and a startup founder.
1. Mastering multiple disciplines
As a consultant, Ironman, or a startup founder, you need to excel in many disciplines! It is not about having one talent, you need to have more to ‘get the job done’!
In consulting, analytical thinking and creativity are crucial, but it’s equally important to have excellent people skills. Understanding and effectively communicating with people in complex setups is essential.
In Ironman, to conquer the swim, bike, and marathon within a given time, you must master not only physical endurance but also aspects like nutrition and sleep to maintain a balanced lifestyle.
As a startup founder, I was surprised by the broad range of disciplines I needed to handle compared to consulting, where you very much focus on the one problem you aim to solve. In my startup, I needed to learn from product management, website development, social media to branding, communication, partnerships, compliance, and business development. I had to deal with all of it, and in the initial years, it was quite overwhelming. However, with the right team, you can manage it all.
2. Striving for the extraordinary
Consultants usually deal with exceptional business challenges, Ironman needs to go the ‘extra mile’ to succeed, and as a startup, you’ll probably not win if you are not striving for something extraordinary – in all cases shooting for something most people find unimaginable or super difficult.
Consultants are often tasked with projects that demand exceptional time, focus, and analytical and creative skills – dealing with challenges regular organizations can not deal with because of a lack of sufficient capacity and specific experience.
In Ironman, the challenge is evident. Running a marathon after a 4 km swim and 180 k bike ride pushes participants to achieve extraordinary physical feats.
Like startups, having a unique vision is essential, but successful implementation is what truly matters. It’s about converting ideas into actions and taking them to the market.
3. Embracing the suffering
Maybe this is not a very positive thing to say, but going the extra mile usually hurts – you need to love the challenge, and you need to feel a certain kind of joy when this extra effort leads to success.
As a consultant, you sometimes need to work longer hours – especially when it comes to preparing proposals or finalizing presentations for crucial meetings such as steering committees and so on.
During the second half of the Ironman race, the intensity and physical strain are becoming more than evident. It’s the mental fortitude and the ability to embrace the pain and overcome obstacles. As Haruki Murakami says, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
Startup founders face some of the most frustrating experiences. As a startup founder myself, I believe setbacks often accompany progress, but resilience is necessary to keep fighting and pushing through the multitude of challenges. One step after another, always forward, never giving up.
4. Vision and a ‘long breath’
Consulting projects, finishing an Ironman as well as building your own startup usually require many months and usually years to accomplish. You must have your vision and a ‘long breath’ to make it happen.
Consulting projects typically span months or even years, requiring sustained effort to make a substantial difference.
You might be surprised to know that preparing for my Ironman race took 2.5 years. At the start, I didn’t know how to swim with the right techniques, and it required extensive time investment to develop the necessary stamina.
While some people think that startups are bound to have quick success, the reality is that it takes years of hard work to build something truly valuable and profitable.
5. The sweet payoff
Taking extraordinary paths in life often yields extraordinary rewards.
In consulting, many think especially of the quite attractive financial compensation, but from my perspective, the experience and network-building aspect is an even more precious reward.
If you ever decide to become an Ironman, you will experience an emotional rollercoaster, and the hormones will play funny games with you shooting a lot of dopamine into your brain. But more importantly, the training will make you healthier, and also, successfully completing the race will instill a sense of confidence to achieve great goals in other areas of your life as well. Without my Ironman experience, I would probably not believe I can build a unique and successful startup.
Startups may not provide immediate financial rewards, but the learning experience and personal growth that come with it are incredibly rewarding. Regardless of the eventual outcome and if you will be able to sell your company or not, the network you build and the knowledge you accumulate are invaluable.
6. Average vs. Excellence
There is a certain mystery around these roles, which can vanish when you break them down into their fundamental components. Interestingly enough, in all three domains: consulting, Ironman, and startups- it’s quite easy to come to average outcomes – but doing an excellent job in those is super difficult.
If you aim to excel and reach the pinnacle of success, you must determine your top priority in life and be willing to go “all in.”
After reading this blog, I hope you are at least a bit more inspired and convinced that you can achieve more than you think. I truly believe that if you have a clear vision and a willingness to pursue it relentlessly, you can accomplish the unimaginable.