Does Experience Help You or Hurt You as a Startup CEO?

brett fox
brett fox
Feb 22 · 3 min read

I love watching Roger Federer play tennis. He looks like he’s gliding across the court. And, no matter how hot it is, the guy never sweats. Never.

Image for post
Image for post
Picture: Depositphotos

Then, there’s his polar opposite, Blossom’s favorite player, Rafael Nadal. Before he ever takes the court, Nadal looks like he’s been in a war.

Nadal is dripping with sweat before the match even starts. During a five set match, Nadal might lose eight pounds sweating. Now that’s hard work.

So, here we have the polar opposites, the guy who never sweats, Federer, and the guy who sweats and sweats, Nadal. Yet, when you examine what makes them great, they are very similar:

It’s all the work you don’t see that allows entrepreneurs success.

No one trains harder than Federer and Nadal. No one.

You can read about Federer and Nadal’s training regimens here and here. As much as I love Federer, Nadal’s training routine is insane. Six and a half hours a day, six days per week during the offseason.

It’s what Malcom Gladwell describes, in his excellent book, Outliers, as his 10,000 hour rule. Simply put, the 10,000 hour rule is the amount of practice required before someone can achieve greatness.

It’s the Beatles, circa 1960, in Hamburg, playing three shows a night, every night. In tennis, it’s Nadal (sorry Roger, I’ve got to give it to Rafa on this one) putting in that extra effort in the offseason, so he has the strength to endure a five set marathon match in a major tournament.

That’s why most successful startup CEOs are in their 40’s.

For us entrepreneurs, it’s all the experience we gain before we become a startup CEO that gives us our 10,000 hours. But, and this is very important, it’s not just any experience, it’s focused experience and practice that gives you the edge.

Sorry, but the stories of the 20 year old CEO, coming out of nowhere to be a success, are the exception, not the rule.

For the rest of us, we’ll learn through the work we do paying our dues. Watching, observing, and learning from each job we take along the way.

Harvard Business Review, and several other publications have published research showing that the average age of the most successful startup CEOs is in their 40’s. The reason for their success is experience matters. In other words, they’ve trained more than 10,000 hours.

You still need a plan, no matter how experienced you are.

Successful entrepreneurs use all their experience, that 10,000 hours, to develop their strategy and plan. They know what to do based on experience.

Yet, the best entrepreneurs I’ve ever worked with always had a plan. It might not be long, and it might not be detailed, but they always had a plan.

For example, the company I cut my teeth at, Maxim Integrated Products, had a 2.5 page business plan they used to raise their initial funding. The key founders, all in their 40’s at the time, knew what to do, yet they still took the time to develop a plan.

That plan, followed through the life of the company, led to a $2 billion/year business with net margins of almost 40%.

So, sorry, if you think the route to success is just winging it, then good luck to you. Me? I’ll be with Federer and Nadal, working hard into the night to give myself an edge.

For more, read: https://www.brettjfox.com/why-you-need-fanatical-cofounders

#Strawberry2021

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +773K people. Follow to join our community.

brett fox

Written by

brett fox

I work with startup CEOs to help them grow their businesses . I built several businesses from $0 to >$100M. Learn more at www.brettjfox.com

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +773K people. Follow to join our community.

brett fox

Written by

brett fox

I work with startup CEOs to help them grow their businesses . I built several businesses from $0 to >$100M. Learn more at www.brettjfox.com

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +773K people. Follow to join our community.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store