Baking fitness into your culture

San Francisco Hill Runners conquer the Dipsea Trail in the Marin Headlands.

This is a post first published in March 2013 from my long lost WordPress blog and reposted here for posterity.

Startups are hard work. Long hours for low pay, high stress and a lot of uncertainty.

They’re also associated with late nights in dark rooms, junk food and beer.

Smart people often say that a startup is a marathon, not a sprint — it’s something that might take 3, 5 or 10 years to build into a successful business. And for this reason you need to bake fitness into your startup, no matter what you’re doing.

Living for three years on little sleep, poor food and no exercise is a recipe for disaster.

At Tweaky we’ve baked fitness into our culture from day zero. We knew we were in for the long haul so we needed to get our acts together.

We make time to exercise:

We have a work in progress meeting every morning at 9am where everyone details what they’ve been working on and what they’ll be working on that day.

We also all announce what exercise we did the previous day and what we’re doing that day. It’s not a forced activity, it’s more a chance to share things we’re struggling with (my shins) or what we’re excited about doing (squash) just as we do with our work.

This also works for our remote team, with Robb in Canada regularly signing off early for ice hockey training in winter and volleyball in summer.

We never discourage exercise:

We’re a fast growing startup and sometimes it gets busy and stressful. There is a lot to do. But no matter what we don’t discourage anyone for taking time out for themselves to exercise.

Occasionally we might ask someone to reschedule their gym session or run to accommodate meetings or a push, but if someone has a gym session scheduled in for the afternoon we can plan around it rather than pushing this out to “work hours”.

The reality is that for our small team we’re often working all kinds of hours, so why shouldn’t we exercise at any hour?

We exercise together;

We’ve all got different abilities but we try to find time regularly to exercise together. It might be a game of squash or a run around the botanical gardens and usually happens a couple of times a month.

It’s fairly ad-hoc but is a good chance for us to get out of the office, stretch our legs and talk about things other than work.

Over the course of a year we’ll have exercised together between 12 and 24 times — it’s an awesome way to build the team.

PJ and I have been working together on Tweaky now for 18 months with the rest of the team joining in the last 9 months. I’ve personally lost about 6kg in weight, dropped a pant size and had to tighten my belt. I’m also a lot fitter and healthier than I was prior to starting Tweaky, it’s amazing how much more motivated you are to eat well when you’re exercising a lot.

PJ on the other hand has gone through the most dramatic change, going from a chubby lad to a fairly buff guy who has had to add three extra holes to his belt. Not bad at all.

How to bake fitness into your startup:

  • Actively encourage your employees to take time to exercise regularly;
  • Announce your own fitness activities;
  • Incorporate company-wide activity into your schedule.

I’m keen to hear about other peoples experiences in fostering healthy lifestyles in an early stage startup and keeping your team fighting fit.

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