Just Keep Swimming: 5 Tips for Startups
As I swam the last kilometer of my epic 29-mile swim around Manhattan on a sunny Thursday in August this year, miraculously, I wasn’t feeling the tiredness or the burn. Instead, all I could think about was how incredible it was to hear the roar of my loyal crowd of supporters who, from the edge of Pier A in New York City, were cheering me on. This smaller cohort was part of a much larger group of people who had encouraged and supported and believed in me as I worked to achieve my lifelong ambition to complete the 20 Bridges swim (Circumnavigation swim around Manhattan Island in New York organized by New York Open Water). I couldn’t believe they were making this effort and I felt elated. Exhaustion could come later!
Completing this swim, one of the toughest in the world, was an exhilarating experience. I have swum competitively for nearly 35 years – through clubs, high school, college, open-water, and at masters level. So this felt like conquering my own Everest. In fact, I was joining an even more exclusive club: only around 1,200 people have completed the swim around Manhattan, compared to just over 10,000 that have scaled Everest. I couldn’t be happier to have done it.
In the lead up to my swim, it dawned on me that in my personal life I was experiencing something very similar to what I do daily in my role as chief marketing officer at Team8 and chief revenue office of our portfolio company Noogata. Sure, the environment is different – on the surface, 2 hours of swim training daily doesn’t look the same as back-to-back Zoom calls and a to-do list as long as my arm. But just like training for and completing this swim, building a company is a marathon, not a sprint. And just like running (or swimming) a marathon, several factors need to be in place to ensure success.
1) The right team
It is easy to underestimate the importance of teamwork in individual sports. Similarly, it’s easy to assume that an entrepreneur with a good idea and the right skills is the sole reason for a company’s success. But behind every individual athlete lies a team of people to help motivate, train, and hone the skills needed to prosper. The same is true when building start ups.
In my case, I was able to count on the AGUA Masters team at Asphalt Green – where I had swum since I was a teenager in the 90s. They inspired me to turn up to training every morning at 5:30 am, and on some days, to come back to the pool at 7:30pm. Like with the teams we create to support our start-ups at Team8, my team is comprised of individuals with different skills and experiences – I loved swimming alongside an Olympic hopeful or speaking to team members who’d already done it. I also had an amazing support network, including my physical therapists, acupuncturists, trainers, and coaches, who each provided vital tools to get me through the swim.
Building a company is no different – you have to have the right team in place. That is a key part of how Team8 helps our portfolio companies succeed. Just like I needed specialist skills to help me thrive, entrepreneurs need specialist skills across a range of domains, from finance and legal to marketing and operations. The requirements for each startup might vary, but our portfolio companies all need a team to fill in the gaps. And each company needs to balance the right mix of skill sets to develop a supportive culture. Teamwork is always necessary to achieve goals – whether that means meeting a product deadline, responding to client requests, or hitting that big milestone.
2) A close community
As I prepared for my swim, I was humbled and proud of the incredible community of friends, colleagues, family and team members who supported me. It really does take a village. Leveraging a WhatsApp group and other social media platforms helped me to combat my fears. The reality is that without this community, I wouldn’t have made it. Those who turned up at the finish line were just the tip of the iceberg. I was grateful for the hundreds of messages of support, the people who popped out of work for an hour to support me along the way and, of course, to those who sent flowers and champagne. Combined, these all gave me the vital boost I needed to keep going forward.
Companies also need communities to thrive and drive growth. They support your product roadmap and endorsement platforms, drive new business and create a flywheel effect to accelerate growth. At Team8, we understand the importance of that concept and support our entrepreneurs with our unique village of C-level executives, who each offer vital support in their respective fields.
3) Expert advice
In preparing for 20 Bridges, I was lucky enough to call on a friend who has swum round Manhattan more than any other woman in history (29 times). Jaime Monahan eased my nerves when my application to swim was approved, guided me on how to train, and helped me understand the tides, winds, and course. Knowing that someone with that level of experience believed in me, gave me the confidence to get through those 29 miles.
At Team8, we are not a typical VC. We are all experienced operators who have created successful businesses and navigated the path our company-founders are now on. We help our entrepreneurs through hands-on practice, providing both strategic guidance and operational support.
4) Charting a clear course
For any undertaking, it is vital to know your course, identify challenges, set realistic milestones, and have a plan in place. During my swim, I knew the Harlem River would be tough. But I also knew it gave me a chance to see my favourite place in New York – Yankee Stadium – from a completely different perspective. Stopping in the water to sing “New York, New York” and chant “Let’s go, Yankees!,” gave me a shot of adrenaline as I charged my way to the Hudson.
Building a company requires equally clear vision and preparation – setting goals, reaching those goals, and mapping out what is next. But you can never be too fixed in your approach. Being ready to change your plan, while surrounding yourself with the best advisors and team, should help you to persevere in any circumstance. And don’t forget to have fun while you’re doing it!
Thankfully, on the day of my swim everything went according to plan. But things could have been different. Just eight days later, New York was struck by the remnants of hurricane Ida to devastating effect.
5) Executing your plan
Having the right team, a supportive community, expert advice, and a clear plan of action – are cornerstones for success. But to achieve your goals you still need to execute. Thankfully, everything came into place on August 25 and I was able to reach the finish line. In my day job, we create and support startups throughout their entire journey. Since I joined Team8 last year, 10 of our portfolio companies have come out of stealth and/or achieved their first funding round. We’ve also seen exciting developments for both Curv and VisibleRisk.
With that accomplished, I am already planning my next endeavour – to swim the English Channel – and continue to relish every day, working with amazing founders and a great platform team to help our portfolio companies succeed.
Fleur Sohtz is the CMO of Team8 and serves as CRO of portfolio company Noogata, where she is responsible for marketing, business development, and sales. She brings 20 years of deep data and technology expertise to her role, with senior marketing roles most recently as CMO at Collibra where she oversaw the planning, development, and execution of the tech unicorn’s market strategy. She has also served as Global Head of Marketing at Markit during its IPO and held leadership roles at Cordium, Chain, Thomson Reuters, and BT Radianz, helping to guide these companies through milestones, including IPO, double-digit revenue growth, and brand leadership. Fleur holds a BA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.