Nov 20, 20185 min read

“What 300 km on a bike taught me about e-commerce”

Anton Hellkvist headshot

by Anton Hellkvist

Imagine cycling for 15 hours straight. What would that be like, do you think? I’ll tell you. It’s a crash-course into successful e-commerce entrepreneurship.

When I decided to say yes to joining 22,000 riders in the Vätternrundan race (that’s Sweden’s equivalent of the Tour De France – at least that’s how I like to think of it, and that’s how my knees will remember it) I felt that mix of anticipation and excitement you probably felt the day you decided to sell things online. Remember that day?

You feel excited. You trust yourself. You tell yourself you’ll make it, and think 24/7 about how this will be a victorious journey. Then the journey actually starts.

The race has its scary moments – just like in business

To be fair, Vätternrundan is considerably flatter than its French counterpart, and the race mostly attracts men like myself who sign up to challenge themselves – or so we say. The appeal is being able to tell everyone and the cat about it afterwards. It’s an ego thing, for sure. It gives us a licence to brag for a while, because even if the Alp summits can’t be seen in this race, it’s still 300 kilometres on a bike to plough through, longer than the longest distance of any of the 21 stages in the Tour de France.

And it hurts, let me tell you. But it’s worth it. Your ego goes wild with pride, but you also get the opportunity to practice some of the mental challenges that show up on the entrepreneurial journey. At least that’s what I’ve come to realise now, afterwards.

The race is frustrating and challenging and even has its scary moments – just like in business.

You are assigned a starting time between 7:30 pm and 5:30 am – I took off at midnight – and then you spin those wheels. That’s all you do. Hour after hour. You keep going. Does that sound familiar? Yes, this race is about persevering and not quitting when it gets tough.

In the morning I started to see hallucinations, everything was blurry. My legs were like overcooked spaghetti. My butt was screaming “Don’t you dare sit on me ever again after this”.

There were many more voices.

The voices that try to distract you

You’ll hear many of those kinds of voices in this race, just like you probably hear them too, in your business. They try to distract and discourage you. Here’re some more examples of what I heard during the second half of the race:

“I’m so sleepy”

“This sports drink is disgusting”

“My knees are killing me”

“This is so boring”

In addition to that, the hills along the race started to grow as high as Mont Blanc. I’m not making that up. They did.

Little did I realize before the race what a mental challenge it would be. If, after a few hours, I started thinking “my god, it’s 240 kilometers to go”, I would be screwed. It’s the same in business. While the best e-commerce entrepreneurs are aware of the bigger picture and know they are in a long-distance race, they don’t let themselves get distracted, discouraged or overwhelmed.


How I kept going

To keep going, one of my strategies were to narrow my focus to the next refreshment stop. There were several of these stops along the way. I told myself: “It’s just 40 kilometers to the next one, I can do that.” It’s like that saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The most successful entrepreneurs I’ve met have this ability. Trying to eat the whole animal at once is just too much.

I used several mind games to keep going. During those Mount Blanc moments, for example, I counted white painted stripes on the road. It was like: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Now ten more! 1, 2, 3 … etc.” I knew that if I just counted for long enough, I would reach the top of the hill sooner or later. I’ve realized that most online business entrepreneurs I meet in my job do this too. They are always leaning forward, saying “ten more”, and then “another ten”.

Another big takeaway from my butt- and knee-hurting experience: If I hadn’t made up my mind in advance to achieve my goal no matter what, it wouldn’t have happened. It’s way too easy to come up with excuses to bail out during the journey. I committed myself before the race to make it to the finish line.

Trusting the process

In business too, it’s necessary to put our monkey brains aside and start trusting the process. During the race I knew that if I followed the road, and keep going, it would finally take me where I wanted to go.

The last two hours I was standing up, the whole time, because of my hurting knees. I pushed for 4 seconds, rolled for 4 seconds, and so on. It took me to the finish line.

That’s a lesson too, isn’t it? Isn’t it true that we sometimes need to add that extra effort into our game to push ourselves, our projects and our goals over the finish line?