“Corporate acquisitions, accumulations of wealth
Build with the gods and double knowledge of self
Entrepreneur visions, Moulin Rouge religion”
– 50 Cent, “We Up

fasting awareness

Last week, I did the Master Cleanse, a six-day fasting program in which I consumed a solution of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. I do the Master Cleanse once a year for both the health benefits, as well as the mental endurance challenge. This year, during the fast, I had a revelation: the fasting journey is analogous to the entrepreneurial journey. No, I’m not insisting that all entrepreneurs need to undergo the Master Cleanse. But I am saying the attributes that get you through a fast are similar to the attributes you must adopt in order to be a successful entrepreneur.

Fasting has been around since the dawn of religion. Among the pious, abstaining from food for a period of time is thought to be good for the soul. Fasting has also been used to make political statements. Gandhi went on several hunger strikes as a non-violent way of protesting social injustice.

In modern times, increasing numbers of people fast for health and longevity. Researchers and dieticians are divided over the health benefits of fasting, but clearly I’m in the camp of believers. According to research by Dr. Mark Mattson, the Chief of Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, fasting acts as a form of mild stress that increase cellular defenses against molecular damage. In other words, according to Mattson, fasting can lower the risk of degenerative brain diseases and even prolong lifespan.

As you can see from my documentary tweets below, abstaining from food for six days wasn’t easy (especially when you love food as much as I do). But now that I’ve completed the program, I feel better than awesome! I have greater mental acuity and physical strength. And I feel a sense of accomplishment — not unlike how entrepreneurs feel when they’ve sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears to make their startups successful.

Like fasting, the entrepreneurial process of building a company — hiring people, getting funding, shipping product, increasing profits — can be painful. Some entrepreneurs, just as some fasters, don’t have what it takes to complete the journey. But the fasters and entrepreneurs who do prevail share three fundamental traits:

  • Mettle: like fasting, entrepreneurship takes courage and fortitude. Entrepreneurs undergo prolonged periods of deprivation, whether it’s from sleep, money, personal balance, and/or wins. Before I got into venture capital, I ran businesses and not a day went by when I didn’t feel some doubt and fear. The temptation to surrender to more predictable paths was intense at times — similar to the desire to give in to food during a fast. To persevere through deprivation, you have to focus on finishing. Focus takes mettle, and mettle is the sustenance you need to reach your goals.
  • Minimalism: for the uninitiated, fasting seems an insane feat. Fasters severely limits caloric intake, which results in weight loss. How can people, especially those who are lean to begin with, endure that kind of temporary starvation? Based on my experience, the body is amazing at adjusting. As a 70-mile per week runner, I thought I couldn’t afford to lose much weight. But after six days of fasting, I was down ten pounds and still up and running. My mind and body learned to live on less and less every day. Entrepreneurs must have a similar minimalist mindset when it comes to startup budgeting. You might think you can’t run a company on so little funds, but plenty of founders have done so successfully. A minimalist culture must be established from the top. CEOs must lead by example by practicing minimalism themselves, which works toward influencing a company culture of minimalism. Gil Penchina, former CEO of Wikia Inc. and lead syndicator on Angel List, was famous for passing on posh hotels and instead staying in hostels. The late Pat McGovern, founder of IDG, flew over 100,000 miles per year — in coach, not first-class. Use every dollar wisely, and you stand a greater chance of startup success.
  • Self-Awareness: one of the trademarks of fasting is a heightened sense of awareness. During my fast, I was more acutely aware of myself physically and mentally. I could feel the effects of every drop of the lemonade solution in my body, almost at a metabolic level. I was aware of every specific functioning in my body (but I’ll spare you the details). The caloric deprivation also put me in a meditative state in which my thoughts slowed to a deepened sense of clarity. I was more cognizant of my interactions with others, what my words conveyed, and the reactions of others to me. It’s not uncommon to see entrepreneurs who have little to no sense of self-awareness. They have the ego and the drive to push their ideas, yet no understanding of their effect on people, people they need to build their business. These entrepreneurs will likely fail despite a brilliant idea and big market opportunity. On the other hand, entrepreneurs with self-awareness carefully observe their effect on others, whether it’s during a pitch or all-hands meeting. They identify the causes of unwanted effects and adjust their approach for better outcomes.

Do you have the above three attributes, or can you muster the effort to adopt them? If yes, you’re entrepreneur material — and maybe more than capable of a six-day fast.

Here’s my six-day Master Cleanse journey, as documented via Twitter:

Entrepreneurs: I challenge you to undergo the Master Cleanse as both a physical and mental challenge. Interested? Send me a tweet, and I’ll provide tips and guidance.