Keeping Those Balls in the Air

I’m a juggler.

Now, if you’re an entrepreneur or in any way engaged in a startup company and we were having this conversation face-to-face, I’d expect you to maybe say, where’s the new news in that? Everyone who works in the startup world has to keep dozens of “balls” in the air every minute of every day.

True. And I juggle those kinds of balls. But I juggle real balls, too…and tennis rackets and clubs. From the time I was little, I juggled tennis balls with my brother. My uncle does it as a hobby.

The secret sauce to juggling is practice, persistence, and speed—kind of like building a company.

Here are 3 tips that jugglers use that also help me stay on track in my day job supporting entrepreneurs and startups.

  1. Look at the spot where you want the ball to peak.

Jugglers train themselves to consistently throw the ball up to eye level each time so they don’t have to try and follow the balls with their eyes. Good jugglers keep their eyes on that spot. They don’t get distracted or look around.

Effective entrepreneurs have a vision for where they want to the company to go. They understand exactly which problems they are trying to solve and for which market. Just like a juggler aims each toss for the same eye-level spot, successful entrepreneurs narrowly focus on their target market.

  1. Don’t throw the second ball until the first one peaks. 

In juggling you only have two hands to keep multiple balls in the air at once. (Okay, there are some advanced jugglers who use their heads and feet, but you get the idea.)

Every time a ball peaks, the juggler throws the next ball from the hand where the next ball coming down will be caught. There’s a rhythm and pattern that keeps the balls from hitting each other and dropping. It takes lots of practice to figure this out, but once you have it, you have it.

It’s the same with entrepreneurship. When an entrepreneur is starting out, like a juggler, all she might have is her head, hands, and feet, and a perhaps a little loan from family or friends. Resources are limited; timing is critical. Prioritization is a must.

The first priority is to validate the market. Second, figure out how to fund a minimal viable product. Third, match capital to milestones. It takes a lot of practice and there are a lot of details in between, but once you get the hang of it, you have the hang of it. That’s why investors are attracted to serial entrepreneurs.

  1. Don’t grab the ball. Let it come down into your hand.

When a juggler throws a ball straight up to the intended peak it will come down into the intended hand. But if the juggler throws out in front or makes a grab for a ball, the rhythm is broken; the trick falls apart.

Entrepreneurs want to make things happen fast. By their nature, they are impatient agents of change. There are lots of surprises in starting up a new company. But sometimes, when the entrepreneur has done things right, when she is achieving the milestones of a well-thought out business plan, when he is operating with patient and balanced tenacity, things will fall into place.

With juggling, you have to learn to keep the balls on the right path so they don’t collide. If you don’t do that, you can’t move forward because the balls will just fall.

Sound familiar?