Running a startup is a like running on a manual treadmill

Agreed, it’s not a great analogy but it fits logically! And I am a student of mechanical engineering, motors and rollers is what I could think of when I was thinking about an analogy!

Startups are like manual treadmills and entrepreneurs are the ones running on them, while on the other hand, people with a regular job are jogging on the ones with motors.

The basic argument I want to make is that an entrepreneur has to create not only the solution to the problem he is trying to solve but also a support system, to make him work for it. Whereas a regular guy in a regular job can be laid back because there will be a manager to make him work. Likewise, in a manual treadmill, you are your own motor, if you stop running – you stop running for real but in the case of a motorized treadmill, you just follow the speed set by the motor.

Let me put forward one more thing, whenever I mention the word “entrepreneur” – you shouldn’t just picture a code junkie sitting in a small room and smashing his keyboard all night long.. Any intrinsically motivated person who is putting efforts on his projects and is working towards a solution to a problem that can make his or someone else’s life better is an entrepreneur.

So, yes if you are thinking about working on a problem that is troubling you, starting a new venture or even starting a new project in your company, be ready to be your support system. There ain’t a motor that will keep you running on the days when you don’t feel running and those days will be coming, no matter what your project is! How you motivate yourself is a different story, but chances are what motivates you today might not in future, so be ready for that as well.

To add to the complexity of this game, let’s add more people to your treadmill, in the beginning, they all decided to run together on a manual treadmill but with time.. some might be running at a slower pace than yours. This is how entrepreneurship is in real life, the unsexy side that people don’t see. This happens not just with startup founders but with projects managers in small/big companies as well. A lot of times, it is not just the motivation level of team members that’s slowing them down, so you have to figure that out as well, subtly…. I must add.

Jason Evanish from KissMetrics replied to one of my tweets a while ago which fits perfectly here. It has been in my mind ever since and is really one of the best piece of advice I’ve received so far on twitter.

I am yet to figure out a good solution but yes, i’ve now experienced the problem, so I am sharing it! If you too have dealt with this in past, I’ll be happy to learn from your comments.


  • Love the analogy..

    • thanks Karthik! I had this discussion with Jalaj a while back in BITS, but thought the analogy wasn’t good enough to be posted, but it seems like it is :)