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3 unexpected lessons Athletics taught this Founder about startups

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by Startacus Admin

lessons learnt by a startup founder
There are more parallels between the sport of athletics and startups than you think. The Founder of PinU Haris Adu shares his thoughts and the key lessons learnt on just that...

"There are more parallels between the sport of Athletics and startups than you think. For a start both of them are winner take all, a lot of the hard work goes unnoticed until you win and it can be over in a flash. Even if you’re not going to be the next Usain Bolt or you’re simply not that into sports there are still a lot of valuable lessons that can be learnt from one of the oldest sports in the world.


In a 100 metre race you hear a gun and then aim is to run as fast as you can towards the finish line before anyone else. The Founder of PinU (an app that helps you discover when your friends are around, so that you never miss out again) Haris Adu know’s this feeling all too well as a former athlete who was awarded a sports scholarship at University, his coach always used to tell him to “focus on what’s going on in your lane, because you can’t influence what’s going on in theirs).

Lesson for Startups

You can’t STOP another startup from prospering no matter how dirty their tactics are and his coach’s advice would directly apply to PinU, as he learned that one of their VC backed rivals had stolen their tagline and some features of PinU. However, Haris used this lesson to pull through against the odds, “when we initially realised the founder of our competitor had signed up to PinU and was clearly trying to rip us off it was infuriating! At first I wanted to crush them but then I took a moment and realised that by focusing on them we would stop focusing on ourselves.” Haris went on to state that because he believed in the strength of his team and the problem that they are solving so he wasn’t worried and was vindicated in his approach when the competitor announced that they had gone bust.

lessons learnt by a startup founder


There’s more to a 100 metre sprint and just running. There’s an acceleration phase followed by a maintenance phase and ending with a deceleration phase. Similarly, startups have should have a pre-launch, launch and growth strategy and whilst planning it can be easy to neglect or underestimate the amount of demand that your product could have if you’ve built something people need.

Lesson for Startups 

Always plan ahead and make sure you can handle the next stage of your growth as it isn’t easy to gain momentum back once you lose it. “Whilst in open beta we were testing a few growth strategies and we began to experience some explosive growth that our server couldn’t handle.” Haris went on to state that “it was a tough situation which set us back a little bit, so my advice would be to make sure you can scale with the demand because there’s nothing worse than an app that doesn’t work”.  Always plan for the future. 


Some races are won by 0.001 of a second which is barely anything, if you really think about it. Similarly, there are a lot of tests your startup can run and small iterations you can make to your product in order to make a big difference.

Lesson for StartupsHaris Adu

TEST TEST TEST. In startup land, we tend to hear about the big successes of companies that appear to be growing at phenomenal speeds but what you don’t see is the amount of growth and design tests that happen prior to their success. Haris recalls how he increased PinU’s growth rate exponentially “I noticed that not enough people were adding friends when they first joined and I tested a few methods and realised that sharing on other social platforms was extremely powerful.” Despite the small change to the app, PinU has been growing at 10% a week since its launch. 

No matter what your startup is, the likelihood is that you already have the transferable skills to cope with the situation whether it’s tenacity, focus or even attention to detail. This ultra-competitive founder’s strength and composure came from the most unlikely of places and if you take some time to reflect, you will probably find something to help you through the tough times too. PinU is now available for download on iOS"

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Published on: 23rd March 2017

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