5 Powerful Lessons Startup Founders Can Learn From The Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Written by
Zachary Pestana
Last Modified on
December 19, 2023

Now that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has officially come to a close, it is a good opportunity to reflect on what it takes to go for the gold and how it could inspire us to be better entrepreneurs.

While we cannot compare the journey of an entrepreneur to an Olympic champion, there are some similarities that founders could apply in building a business. Both paths are paved with highs and lows. And yet, startup founders and athletes are living proof that if you have the determination to keep pushing boundaries and become the best in the world 一 you should never be afraid to dream big.

Here, we take a cue from the inspiring athletes that showcased amazing strength at their sport and apply these powerful lessons to our own journeys as entrepreneurs looking to build our dreams 一 come what may.

Lesson #1: Dream big

It is no surprise that each and every Olympic athlete dreams of winning a medal. Success stories of those who came from humble beginnings to competing on the world’s largest sporting stage is nothing short of inspirational. It is also a poignant reminder that the sky’s the limit if you dare to dream big.

For founders, this is especially important. Before you start fundraising and pitching to investors, spend some time thinking of your billion-dollar exit. For a company to be worth a billion dollars, it needs to solve a big enough problem. While the titular figure can be daunting, this is where dreaming big pays off. After all, the heavyweights we know of today (think Grab and Bytedance) got its start with nothing but a dream.

Lesson #2: Work with the best

In the Olympics, it is easy to celebrate the individuals who have made it to the podium. But behind every single athlete is a team of dedicated individuals that played a key role in their success.

The same goes for fast-growing startups that set out to be a future unicorn. To be the world’s best, don’t underestimate the value of attracting the best talent. Building an all-star team is instrumental to business success. As the iconic Steve Jobs saying goes, “Go after the cream of the cream. A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.” Your winning team depends on it.

Lesson #3: Keep cool under pressure

When you’re vying for Olympic glory, especially in an event that’s being watched by millions of people around the world, a certain amount of pressure is to be expected. On top of that, these athletes must also bear the weight of their nation’s hopes and dreams when they compete so as not to risk letting nerves affect their performance.

Entrepreneurship is also inherently stressful. When you reach a certain point of success, you may start to feel the brunt of investor expectations as well. While it can feel overwhelming to meet these expectations, it’s important to look at things objectively so you can start making smart decisions. Managing these expectations well can mean the difference between night and day when self-doubt starts to creep in.

Lesson #4: Don’t give up

On top of training to be the best, athletes must persevere through numerous hardships for a shot at a medal. Look no further than Hidilyn Diaz, who made history as the first gold medallist from the Philippines in the women’s 55kg weightlifting event. From the get go, her team faced insufficient financial support and lack of proper training facilities. Leading up to the Olympics, she resorted to training in her trainer’s open-air garage and used borrowed equipment. None of these obstacles got in the way of her historic gold medal.

The same goes for navigating the highs and lows that comes with being an entrepreneur. When the going gets tough, founders must have the willingness to go the extra mile without giving up 一 even when the odds are stacked against you. While failure is always a risk, having a resilient mindset ensures that you can pull through difficult times and ultimately build a successful business.

Lesson #5: Keep pushing boundaries

Continuously pushing to be the best is how Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu took home the gold in the Tokyo 2020 badminton women’s doubles. Despite facing insurmountable odds, the Indonesian pair beat China, a team that had won gold in almost every women’s doubles since badminton was recognised as an Olympic sport.

As founders, competing against industry giants may seem like a long shot. To gain a competitive edge, one needs to keep innovating 一 especially if you’re entering a mature industry that’s ripe for disruption. By providing more value or building a superior product, there’s no telling where constant innovation may take you. As the old adage goes, shoot for the moon and you’ll land among the stars.

At Aspire, we are passionate about celebrating the grit, creativity and determination that comes with being an entrepreneur 一 even the moments that go unseen by many. That is why we’re proud to have a thriving and diverse Entrepreneurs of SEA community. Discover the amazing entrepreneurship feats done by our fellow founders, where they take you behind-the-scenes on their journey and uncover what sets them apart from the rest of the pack.

For more episodes of CFO Talks, check us out on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or add our RSS feed to your favorite podcast player!

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About the author
Zachary Pestana
is a seasoned writer in market trends and business thought leadership. With a writing history at Incorp Global, MOQdigital, and AIESEC Australia, Zachary leverages his broad range of experiences to stimulate industry conversations and engage audiences.
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