5 Things Startups & Competitive Salsa Dancing Have In Common
Sumazi prides itself in having a team that brings to the table non-traditional work experiences, unique skill sets and different perspectives. Take me, for example: I grew up training as a competitive figure skater. I went to college for exercise and sports science, switched to majoring in journalism and became a writer, editor and then a television news producer. I’m now the director of community at Sumazi. In my spare time, I train as a competitive salsa dancer and recently placed second at the World Latin Dance Cup. I realized during my training that being a dancer is similar to working at a startup: You experience highs and lows, you endure long hours and need a high level of commitment — all while executing your product with beauty, grace and finish. Here’s what I’m talking about:
#1 Pick the right teammates
I call my salsa partner a “robot.” He never seems to get tired, and wants to practice ALL the time. I may be laying on the dance floor, gasping for air after our fourth straight run-through of our routine, and he’s telling me to get up and run through the routine again. This is exactly the type of partner I want on the dance floor: one who pushes me to a whole new level, and is hell-bent on achieving and surpassing our goals. It’s the same situation when we hire at our startup: We want to choose teammates who believe in the product, and challenge and motivate each other to make sure we’re building a product that is going to succeed. It’s a mental battle with long hours and we want to make sure we’re spending that time with people who are on the same page and work as hard as we do.
#2 Find your support network
It’s important to have a strong support network. In dancing, we have an amazing team of coaches, mentors and fellow dancers who give us unwavering support and motivate us to do our best. Meanwhile, our team at Sumazi prides itself in having a huge support network of advisers, investors, fellow entrepreneurs and friends who we rely on. They help evangelize and spread the word about Sumazi, they give us early feedback on the product we’re developing and to help us “think big.”
#3 Work hard & manage your time wisely
My dance partner and I went into this past season with the motto that “no one will work harder than us.” I think we accomplished that goal, with many people telling us we were “insane” with the amount of training we were doing in addition to the crazy startup hours I was putting in. With that said, he lives in San Jose, CA and I live in San Francisco, CA, which is about a 50-minute drive without traffic. We had to schedule every practice, outfit fitting, coaching session and workout in order to make it work. At Sumazi, we set tight release dates and make sure everyone on the team — from engineering, product, design and community — delivers in order to meet these deadlines.
#4 Realize it’s never going to be perfect
Half the battle is getting out there and showing off a routine. It’s probably not going to be perfect and there will be areas that need improvement. But we know we need to get out there, show off our hard work, and see if the audience likes it. If they do, then we can focus on improving our current steps and choreography; if they don’t, then we may have to go back to the beginning. This was also one of the earliest lessons we learned at Sumazi. We had to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, move faster, improve more quickly and recognize we need to release our product with imperfections. We have been beta testing our product, getting feedback from early users, and making changes according to that feedback. Because users have been trying our product in its early stages, even though we knew we had better features being released a couple of weeks later, we know what users like and don’t like, and can make those changes before we do a launch.
#5 Dealing with hiccups along the way
Competing at the World Latin Dance Cup, I was suffering from a back injury, where I could barely walk and needed someone to put my shoes on before going on stage. But I somehow put the injury out of my mind, danced to the best of my ability, and we came in second place.
You have to expect that things won’t always run smoothly. Injuries happen, outfits tear, laces break… it’s all a part of the game. You learn to just deal with it, and rely on your training to get you through difficult situations.
Very little is different in the startup world. One memorable and scary experience was when we competed on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt, a prestigious technology competition for startups. We were selected from more than 1,200 startups, and as we were getting on stage, our website went down.
We were about to demo Sumazi in front of 2,000 audience members and hundreds of thousands of people watching it streaming live, but we had no website. Instead of freaking out or pulling out of the competition, we calmly worked with our engineers, and we were able to fix the problem as we stepped on stage for the presentation. Incidents like this happen — but it’s your recovery that counts.
Both salsa and startups take incredible dedication, hard work, perseverance and the necessity to go with the flow. They both have a similar journey that I love and they both have an applause at the end that makes it all worthwhile.