Year of the plane part 5: What swimming the English Channel taught me about running a start-up

Last month Ben Hutt, CEO of The Search Party (formerly Talent Party), wrote about the keys to building a successful, international team. In this month’s column, Ben talks about what he learned about endurance, support and dedication during his quest to swim across the English Channel that he has applied to his professional life


Last month Ben Hutt, CEO of The Search Party (formerly Talent Party), wrote about the keys to building a successful, international team. In this month’s column, Ben talks about what he learned about endurance, support and dedication during his quest to swim across the English Channel that he has applied to his professional life

It’s been a year since I completed my solo English Channel swim and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what the experience taught me, whether it was worth all the effort, and more importantly, whether I’d ever do another one. 

In pondering these things, it’s occurred to me that the decision to swim the Channel was very much like my decision to leave a high flying job and build a startup. “I can swim the English Channel” was akin to “I can reshape an industry”. Decision made, we are forced to live with the consequences, and in my case I find it impossible to decide to do anything without giving it my absolute best.

The first time I attempted the swim in 2012 the weather was not supportive and I had to return home without having had a crack. Then I had to decide to try and train again, and endure all the physical, emotional, and financial pain associated.

Thankfully the second time I got my chance and I swam well, though near the French coast I got swept back for 90 mins and had to face nearly not making it again. With the support of friends and family on the boat I faced the demons and the desire to give up, dug deep, and made it to France.  

>See also: The key to building successful global teams

That experience parallels what we’ve been through at The Search Party. Like any business owner trying to get their company off the ground, we’ve survived several failures to deliver to expectations, funding gaps and genuine questions about whether the business would work. But importantly we’ve maintained belief in what we’re doing and always managed to navigate a way through the dark waters.

Here are the things I’ve learned are key to swimming across the English Channel and running a startup:

Have a plan

Just as you wouldn’t show up without any preparation for a swim, you wouldn’t start a business on an idea alone. Luck can only get you so far. Training for the Channel took over a year of consistently harder practice and perseverance.

I knew I had to meet incremental goals to even get a chance at the ultimate swim. Similarly, The Search Party has been years in the making. We had to make the business work in Australia before expanding into the UK and now Canada. It’s been a long journey, but now that we’re at the pointy end, the rush rivals that of finally stepping on French soil.

Learn to endure

Like swimming the Channel or running a marathon, building a business is immensely challenging, stressful, and much of the time it won’t be obvious that you’re going to make it.

>Related: How to to build a culture of productivity through creativity

It’s these times when endurance is really required. Having the determination to not just believe, but to pitch in, work hard, get your act together and help others be better, is what makes the difference.

Create a support system

Both of these journeys depend on teams of people who are there to support you. Without the reassurance of family, friends, teammates, investors, and others none of these mammoth challenges would be possible.

Just as my support system was there to encourage me to get in and swim on really tough, cold, rough, and miserable days where others faltered, they have also been my shining light during dark business times as well.

Will I do another long swim? Probably. Am I glad for the opportunity to have spent the last four years battling to do something amazing with The Search Party? Absolutely. Would I do it again if I knew how hard it would be? I’ll have to think some more about that one!

If you are interested in reading more about Ben’s Channel swim, head over to his website: www.benschannelswims.com.

Further reading: Three promises to make yourself when starting a business

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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