We acknowledge that we live and work on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. The University of Waterloo is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River.
Howard Armitage, founder of the Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship, and Technology Centre is, in my eyes, the Dumbledore of the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Technology (MBET) program: just as accomplished, distinguished, and respected as the legendary Harry Potter character.
Every year, Howard organizes social events with the MBET class to allow everyone to experience the Waterloo Region and its beauty. On a Sunday in April, we met at Conrad to embark on a bike ride around St. Jacob’s. The group consisted of Chris, a competitive cyclist, Misha, a runner, Howard, the most athletic man with a head of white, and me, an asthmatic Sleepy from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
MBETs on bicycle
The journey was anticipated to be around two hours, which seemed to be no problem for Chris, Misha, and Howard. I, on the other hand, was regretting all the times I’d skipped leg day or neglected cardio, but you already know the motto; onwards we went. Surprisingly, the ride was actually quite pleasant and involved less burning in the lungs than anticipated.
One part of our excursion was not completely dandy however. We decided that it would be a lot of fun to go down a hill which allowed us to get to speeds of up to 60 km/h. It was indeed a lot of fun, but what wasn’t fun was the journey up the hill. The uphill portion might have only lasted for two minutes, but it felt like twenty.
Chris led the pack and got up the hill with no issues, followed by Misha, seemingly not experiencing much difficulty. Following Misha was me, slowly dying, and Howard, who volunteered to bring up the rear so he could pick up my corpse along the way.
Those two minutes could not have painted a better picture of MBET and the entrepreneurial journey.
Once the burning started (around three revolutions in) it dawned on me how steep the hill actually was, and how much further I still had to go. I knew there was no stopping—I had to keep climbing, or I’d be stranded halfway up the hill. If I stopped, I would get the chance to rest, but it would be even more difficult to continue because I wouldn’t have had the forward momentum from the flat stretch prior to the incline. I had to keep going.
Just one more rotation
Being the creative problem solver that I am, a stroke of genius came upon me: I could get off the bike and walk up the hill. That wouldn’t be unreasonable; it was a huge hill, and I was riding a heavier bike than Chris and Misha, whose bikes were made of feathers and helium. And Howard, well, he’s done this a million times, and he’s Dumbledore, while I’m one of those side characters, probably in Hufflepuff (with no disrespect to Hufflepuff, they just weren’t the focal point). It would have totally been reasonable for me to just get off the bike. So it was decided: I would get off the bike and walk up the hill.
But there’s a funny little thing that I forgot to mention—my pride. I thought of how stupid I would have looked to someone driving by, not to mention how soft Chris, Misha, and Howard would have considered me. No way would I have let that happen. But seriously, my legs were falling off and my lungs were incinerating; clearly, a compromise had to be made.
I decided to quit after pedaling once more. After one more rotation, I would have earned my right to quit. So I pedaled once more. It wasn’t that bad though, and I wasn’t at my breaking point yet. So let’s take one more, then, I have permission to step off. I would be like Kobe, retiring on my own terms with dignity. So I took another step, but it still wasn’t that bad yet. Before I knew it, I went full DJ Khaled and took another one, another one, another one. One step led to another and soon I was at the top of the hill where Chris and Misha stood waiting.
The hill and the entrepreneurial journey
The climb up this hill was oddly synonymous with MBET and the entrepreneurial journey. This past year has been the most difficult year of my life. Never have I been so stressed with so many demands pulling me in every direction. It is also precisely what an entrepreneur can expect through their startup journey. Things will be difficult and may even seem impossible.
The hill will seem too steep and too tall to be scaled—just like the process of getting your first customer, or breaking even. Others may have better and lighter bikes than you. Similarly, competitors may have more funding, a better network, more experience, and every possible advantage over you.
Nobody would blame you if you quit under those circumstances. The easier option will always be there to just get off and walk, comparable to getting a job. You’ve earned the right after all for even attempting to start a business, and there’s merit to that. In some cases, you might be smart for choosing not to continue.
My goal isn’t to make you feel guilty about leaving your startup aspirations so you can continue to smash your head against the wall. My goal is to inform you of how hard it is to create and operate a meaningful business that solves a problem. Think thrice before embarking on your journey, and make a deliberate decision to ride up the hill because there is no turning back.
Of course, there’s a good chance that you will fail no matter what you do. The chain of the bike could break off, you could get a cramp, or slip on a patch of sand. There are infinite possibilities, all out of your control, that will cause you to fail. And that is okay, because you know that you’ve given it everything you’ve got, and it took an uncontrollable force just to stop you.
But enough of the motivational rubbish, that’s not what you came for anyways. I will now share something more practical, a secret key to persistence. That key is procrastination.
Quit - but do it tomorrow
Of course procrastination, in most cases, can be rather debilitating. We’ve all been there, staying up all night to study because we spent the last two nights watching just one more episode on Netflix.
The idea is to harness that mindset and procrastinate on quitting. Quit tomorrow. Just one more day and you would have earned the right to quit. Each day will be filled with pain, but you will realize that you’re not at your breaking point yet, otherwise you would’ve already broken down. But tomorrow, you will break and that will be the last straw, so quit tomorrow.
If you leave it for tomorrow, keep procrastinating, and keep earning the right to quit, before you know it, you’ll be at the top of the hill.
So I challenge you to procrastinate. Go ahead, quit, but do it tomorrow.
Remember, you signed up for a bike ride, not a walk with a bike.
John is a recent graduate of the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program. He holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology and Recreation and Business from the University of Waterloo. He is the co-founder of Speakeezy, a web platform which aims to break down the barriers to mental health treatment for university students.