A Good Chin

This morning, I randomly met an undefeated Welterweight boxer named Karim “Hard Hitta” Mayfield at a yoga class in San Francisco. Karim is 15-0-1 with 9 knock outs. We started talking, and I asked him whether the key to winning bouts was skill, strength or endurance. He said endurance wins over skill and strength, but the other factor that really matters is “a good chin.”

At the risk of revealing my boxing ignorance, I asked him what he meant by a good chin.  Some guys, he said, when they take a punch, get knocked out. Others can just take punch after punch and keep going.

Well, if that isn’t a metaphor for what makes a successful entrepreneur, I don’t know what is. Yes, it takes a certain level of skill and intelligence to build a company. Deep understanding of customer needs and industry dynamics matter. Endurance matters even more – it’s a long, hard slog, and if you’re not passionate enough about what you’re doing, and persistent enough to get through the hard times, you don’t stand a chance.  But it also takes “a good chin.”

For entrepreneurs, “a good chin” means the ability to take the bad news, the outright rejection, disappointment after disappointment without getting knocked off your game. Your CFO comes to you and says “Oops, I made a mistake on the spreadsheet and our projections are off by $1 million.”  Your largest customer decides not to renew. Your seed VC says they’re conflicted and can’t invest in your Series A round. Your favorite product management candidate takes a job at Square/Facebook/Pinterest.

In that moment, your team is taking their cues about how to respond by watching you, their fearless founder. Do you blow up at the employee who screwed up and scare her off from taking risks? Do you mope around the office?  Sneak out to console yourself?  Or do you hang in there and fight on with your head held high, focused on winning the match, and awaiting the next punch – emboldened by the chance to show the world what you’re really made of?

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