In the 2008 Beijing Olympics I won Team GB's first ever gold lightweight rowing medal with Zac Purchase. Four years prior in Greece the story had been very different. At Virgin Media Business #VOOM: Pitch to Rich 2015 Winners' Day in London, I discussed my experience achieving Olympic gold, and how my journey compared to the business success of the contest's ten winners. Here I've gathered a selection of our insights into entrepreneurial lessons:
Refocus fast after failure. Every entrepreneur faces failure in pursuit of success. Talking to the UK's Branson-backed entrepreneurs, it's clear to me that they share a quality I see in Olympic champions - resilience. All ten spoke of pushing the limits and failing often before achieving success. I failed too. In 2000, I failed to qualify for Sydney. In 2004, I was trusted by Britain to compete at Athens and I finished last. In sports and in business, it takes courage to accept failure and convert it into a success. Developing toughness and the ability to bounce back after setbacks is what makes a winner.
Will. Leading up to the three Games I competed in, sports psychologists urged me to visualise a crystal clear goal, which helped hone my focus and energy. In business, distraction can also be damaging and costly, and entrepreneurs need to adopt strong will to stay on track.
Coaching and support. During the intense training schedule I leaned on my team nonstop for guidance, support and discipline. Having a trusted ally to share your vision is important, and the same can certainly be said for business coaches of entrepreneurs who offer accountability necessary to push companies to forward.
Facing competition. Both Olympians and small business owners face stiff competition from outside forces and you can't be put off by others out there with the same determination, trying to reach the same goal. I studied, analysed and learned, always knowing how I measured up against them. Competitive analysis from a startup's perspective is similar, meaning entrepreneurs need to look at themselves through the lens of its rivals, asking "what would they say about us?"
Rising to the occasion. Competitive drive should also be focused within. When you have a great business, the competition doesn't matter. Entrepreneurs, like athletes, must always do their utmost to meet their individual potential for excellence.
Peak performance. In sports and business, an essential part of winning is to know what to do and stick to it. In training, the team and I created environments where the formula of what it takes to win was practiced over and over again and done under pressure - to test, practice, review and improve those skills. Success in sports is the repetition of the basics to a world class standard. Business is no different. It's easy to be too close that you lose sight and fail to deliver results. How much time do businesses truly spend practising the tactics that make them great? Entrepreneurs can learn much from athletes about keeping an eye on the ball and concentrating on what's most important in any given moment.
Passion. In anything, the key ingredient to success is passion. I couldn't row for Gold if I didn't love it. We should all do what we're passionate about and the rest will follow.
Following London 2012, I retired from professional rowing and now apply my learnings from three Olympics to helping individuals, teams, and organisations be the best they can possibly be.
Read more about what Mark has to say about pushing forward and staying confident in your abilities, in sports and business, here.