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Going Ironman <> Scaling Up

Since the beginning of 2019, I’ve been working at Greenfield Partners as Head of Marketing. I’ve been in daily contact with brilliant companies and amazing CEOs, who visit us in our office in Tel Aviv in search of financial funding as well as professional advice. Greenfield Partners invests in pre-Growth stage businesses, so we mostly meet companies that are ready to go big, mature enough to raise money to go global.

In my free time, besides being a mother of three, I am also an Ironlady (Ironman is a long-distance triathlon competition that consists of 3.8km of swimming in open waters, followed by a 180km bike ride, and a 42.2km run as dessert). I’ve participated in two of these competitions so far (Ironman Austria in 2017 and Israman Eilat in 2019), and even though I still call it a “hobby,” training is part of my daily routine and sports are a main character in my life.

People ask me what made me decide to sign up for my first Ironman. My answer is always the same: it was a process. I felt ready to take the big step. I ran my first marathon in 2014, which was followed by two more Marathons. I felt running was steady, I felt what we call “depth” in my legs and realized I could move forward and buy my first road bicycle. I added swimming lessons and signed up for my first Sprint competition. Then I went for the Olympic Triathlon, followed by my first Half Ironman. There was a lot of learning involved in the process: learning how to manage competitions and to balance the pressures of life and training. I also made my share of mistakes and learned from them. And only after falling down a couple of times and picking myself up again did I feel strong enough, mature enough, to go for the whole nine yards. I was ready to go big. Ready to shift from a triathlete to an Ironman.

Something very similar happens to the companies that visit us at Greenfield. They are ready to leave behind their “Start-Up” status to become a “Growth Stage” company. They are ready to take that huge step. To go big. Here are some interesting similarities I found between companies scaling up and triathletes becoming an Ironman:

It’s less about the dream, and more about the numbers

In my early years, while training for my first marathon, the goal was to finish. I didn’t care how long it would take me, how fast I was running, how well I was resting, how well I was eating. I knew I had to run “X” kilometers per day, per week and per month to be ready for the 42.2km run, and that was all that mattered. Becoming an Ironman was a totally different ball game. Details matter big time and you have to take it very seriously. You speak a new language: FTP, IF, TSS. It’s all about the numbers and less about the feeling. Same goes for the CEOs who want to take their companies to the next stage. While in the beginning, it was all about ideas, predictions and assumptions, now they need to speak with numbers and use a completely different terminology. ARR, KPIs, growth charts, GTM strategy. Things get more technical, and to be able to scale up their companies, they need to become much more realistic.

Swim, bike, run, sleep, repeat

Once you start training for an Ironman you realize life is more “monotonous” than before. There are fewer surprises, you are more experienced, it’s part of your routine and the days of your week look kind of the same (you either swim, ride, run or all of them combined). The only difference is the load of training hours which increases week after week.  If you think about it, companies scaling up become more stable, less hectic and the life of their employees and CEOs is more monotonous as well. There is a clear shift in the way employees feel: more secure, but at the same time there is less excitement than working for a Start-Up in the beginning of its journey.

“The Coach-Fund Choice

If you want to run a marathon, it’s easy to download from the Internet a pretty fair training program. But when you decide to go for the full Ironman, choosing your coach is a big deal. His knowledge and experience in the field will be critical for the athlete and the competition’s outcome will certainly be influenced by his choice. Sometimes the athlete will meet several trainers – check their records, their experience training athletes. He will choose according to recommendations, to the trainer’s years in the field, and most importantly, the added value the coach can bring to the training regimen. A similar process happens to the Start-Up looking for funds to scale up. They need money, lots of it. But not just any money. While in the beginning they were willing to take it from Angels or private investors, now they will most likely need to turn to Funds. Choosing the Fund that will finance the shift to Growth is a critical decision. They will often meet several Funds, check each Fund’s experience in the field and most importantly, what added value the Fund can bring them. Before taking any decision, they will check if the Fund can open doors for them outside Israel, which Portfolio companies the Fund has previously invested in and how these companies are doing. Who is managing the Fund and how experienced its’ team is. Like the Athlete choosing the right coach for his training, these are extremely important questions the company will ask itself before choosing the right Fund to help it go big.

In both cases, the Athlete and the Start-Up company are ready to make the jump, to move forward into a more mature phase. The experience earned from the beginning of their journey and their knowledge in the field will be critical to make the shift. But most important, picking up the right coach, like choosing the best Fund to help them move to the new stage, will certainly affect their ability to succeed in this new phase of their journey.”