3 Lessons an Ironman Taught Me About Starting My Own Business

Work hard, play hard almost destroyed me. Here’s how I turned my life (and career) around.

Written by Zach Servideo
Published on Feb. 09, 2022
3 Lessons an Ironman Taught Me About Starting My Own Business
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A decade ago I was pursuing some bad health habits in Boston — going out most nights, not being physically active, eating poorly and generally embracing the work hard, play hard culture. This lifestyle did me no favors when I moved to Hollywood opening a Silicon Beach office for a PR and marketing agency that helped launch tech startups. If you’ve never lived in Los Angeles, let me tell you that the abundance of incredibly fit people was . . . shocking (and motivating). I woke up and realized I wasn’t entirely happy with my life or my professional career. I decided to do something about it.

3 Things to Remember When You Start Your Own Business

  1. Don’t burn out before the finish line.
  2. Keep a steady pace.
  3. Be consistent.


Gain Momentum and Make a Plan

Since I lived close to Runyon Canyon, I committed to walking four days a week. After about two months, I could jog up the path. Then I joined a soccer club and started biking to practice. Soon, I dropped almost 20 pounds. 

A friend from the soccer club suggested I join a sprint triathlon with him. From the moment we finished our sprint in Catalina, I was hooked. I loved it — the process, the journey and the accountability.

After the sprint, I signed up for an Olympic triathlon in Malibu. I was maturing, but I still needed structure to get there. I planned a sixteen-week training calendar with the ultimate goal of finishing an Ironman. On this journey, I started to get clarity about the life I wanted and how to get there. I decided to leave my job, propose to my girlfriend (now wife!) and start a new career. 

The structure I found in triathlon training gave me the motivation to add more discipline to my professional development. I began project managing myself, while layering in checks and balances to ensure accountability. I decided to start my own business, and then I identified the accomplishments that would help me reach that goal. 

I tapped my braintrust of advisors, communicated my goals to them, and asked them for support and feedback along the way. Then, I set appropriate timelines on achieving the incremental steps to help me start my own consulting business. Like training for a race, you can’t do it all at once. I share my tactical approach to this period of my career in this piece about starting a side hustle

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Starting My Own Business

I always knew I would start my own business. I enjoy pulling different types of people together to produce solutions the business world hasn’t seen before. And while I’ve been forming LLCs since 2012, I consistently looked for the easiest way in. I’d find someone with a pre-existing agency business, pitch myself as a partner and then we’d join forces. 

It wasn’t until I completed an Ironman that I started rethinking my entrepreneurial ceiling. I not only wanted more for myself. I felt confident more was a foregone conclusion so long as I applied the same goal-setting strategy, planning and discipline to creating my own business that I applied to my triathlon training. 

I began making plans to develop my own consulting business, one that would eventually become Value Creation Labs. Much like my Ironman training, I set goals for myself that would move me one step closer to having the confidence to pull the trigger once and for all. Those goals included starting my own podcast and developing my personal brand, as well as aligning with key stakeholders in Boston’s innovation ecosystem such as Silicon Valley Bank and New England Venture Capital Association. The below tips helped me maintain discipline along the way. 

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3 Tips for Success 

1. Don’t Burn Out Before the Finish Line

In business and in competition, I’ve seen too many people burn out well ahead of time, sometimes just before the finish line. Always aim to finish strong. 

A few months back at the local Pete Frates 5K , I passed at least a dozen people in the final stretch of the race and came in first in my age group. I don’t burn out in business either. I’m as energetic and motivated at the end of the work week as I am at the start of it. 

I avoid burning out in business because of a healthy work-life balance. I put just as much emphasis on accomplishing daily work tasks as I do on working out, spending time with my daughter and eating dinner with my family. A balanced lifestyle affords me the ability to show up to internal and external work calls at any time of the day with the same energy – whether it’s Monday morning or Friday afternoon. 


2. Keep a Steady Pace

How do you avoid burnout? Keep a steady pace. Pace is key in endurance training, and it's the same in business whether you’re leading teams or completing tasks. If you’re managing people, in particular, it’s critical you establish a consistent cadence of touch points throughout the week. I make it a point to connect one-on-one with all of the people I collaborate with on a weekly basis, (and sometimes that’s as simple as a text or Slack). 

When you work consistently (much like you train consistently) and establish strong pacing fundamentals, you're destined for success. Find that optimal level of energy you can bring to your work each day without fail. Don’t overwork yourself. Find a balance that fuels you. Then, consistently bring that energy. 

You can use different systems to establish pace benchmarks in business. My product manager pals swear by the fibonacci scale, a points system for managing the level of effort required to complete a task. 


3. Be Consistent

You need to show up and train every day. Honestly, this can be the hardest part. It's the same in business. I've learned to establish a rhythm to my work that's consistent. In a similar way to passing lots of runners in the last mile of a race, my consistency helps me gain on the competition during the year’s troughs. Whether it's summer or the holiday season, I don't downshift. 

You’re not going to hit your best time every day, and that’s okay. If you keep your pace steady to avoid burnout and show up every day, you’re going to win. I recommend readers take notes and create a backlog of activities and goals they have in work and in life. I use the time around the holidays and downtime in the summer to unpack my backlogs and design plans to progress one or a few key initiatives forward. 

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Look to the Future

My advice is to find your version of an Ironman. For me, endurance competitions that require intense training help keep me operating at a high level as a founder, husband and father. For you, it may be a hobby you’ve let slip or never pursued. Maybe you’ve always wanted to be a writer or a painter or create music. Identify something outside of work that you believe would give you joy, but is also challenging. 

Now, go forth and do something awesome. You’re a badass. You’ve got this.

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