Making The Boat Go Faster

AlisterIt has not infrequently been reported – across multiple industries, from business to competitive sports – that it is not just the best or most talented individuals who rise to the top. It is those individuals who have the right attitude and are willing to work extremely hard for something in which they believe. Having  courage in one’s convictions and the ability to see the task at hand through, is a key characteristic that all successful entrepreneurs must have.

However, fortitude alone is no guarantee of success. Alister Esam, CEO and founder of two businesses – technology company BoardPacks and social polling network Peepoc – argues that being able to communicate your vision and instil the principles of effort and devotion in peers and colleagues is equally as important and is the real key to business success.

The courage of your convictions

Following Mo Farah’s spectacular achievement in completing the long distance ‘triple-double’ at this year’s athletics World Championships, headlines internationally are placing him amongst the all-time greats of the sport. He almost undoubtedly is, but what is particularly interesting to me is the coverage being given to the amount of hard work he puts into his training and pre-race preparations and the shared dedication with those around him.

The 5,000 and 10,000m fields included athletes arguably as skilled as Farah, so what is it that sets him – and other sporting legends before him – apart? What is it that makes the difference between a successful entrepreneur and a failed start-up?

In my opinion, it’s not just the strongest muscles or the best business idea. It’s being willing to risk failing but at the same time having the conviction that you can make it work even if others say otherwise; it’s having the endurance to put up with doubts, fears and extreme lows when the path to success doesn’t go according to plan. And it’s about building a strong team around you who will share devotion to your idea, your vision and help with the determination to succeed.

Knowing where you fit in

Of course, most believe that it’s unrealistic and unfair to expect everyone in your business to be as devoted as you as founder. I assumed it was something inevitably associated with ownership, or lack thereof. However, a recent management away day we ran at BoardPacks demonstrated to me that this assumption was a misconception. Whereas I know exactly where the business is going, that same clarity of vision isn’t always shared. The day also showed very clearly that most people absolutely want to be a part of something, but don’t always understand where they fit in. This dynamic can lead to frustrations on both sides. It’s not about ownership; it’s about a clear shared vision which relies on the clear communication of that vision.

One outcome of the day is that, as a team, we established six key objectives taken from a book called ‘What will make the boat go faster’. It’s about an Olympic rowing team and their journey to Gold. Their ethos was: “if what we’re doing isn’t making the boat faster, then why do it?” And this applies to the management team, as well as every single department, every single person in your business.

Everyone in your business should have defined team or departmental objectives, which are aligned to the key business questions: What are we doing to expand profitably? What are we doing to increase sales?  What are we doing to ensure the business is run efficiently? What are we doing to ensure customer satisfaction?  In one page, any individual’s objectives can be located in the overall business plan.

Armed with shared objectives and a shared vision, everyone in the team knows exactly what they’re doing and where they fit in the bigger picture.  And that leads to shared motivation, shared determination and ultimately shared success, when it happens – which it will.


My advice to any aspiring entrepreneur is this: Establish your vision and write it down; once you have taken the leap, do so with the courage of your convictions, but expect moments of despair and recognise them as temporary setbacks. But more than anything else, share your vision and involve those around you who want to be part of the ride.

I’m sure all the top athletes would agree: the risk would be thinking you might be able to achieve something, but then not having the guts to do it yourself.

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