Only Start a Business If You Have a Purpose

January 27, 2020

Back in 1990, I created a software package called RunningCounts

While my vision was to track my running and racing on my computer instead of a paper journal, my purpose was to become a better runner.

I’m about 6’ tall, if you round up from 5’ 11”. Okay, make that 5’ 10.5”, but who’s counting? My natural weight, even back when I was 20, is about 200 pounds. I tell you this because when I decided to become a marathon runner, the odds were stacked against me. I was never going to be one of those pencil thin dudes that breezed through a 5K in 15 minutes, a marathon in sub 3 hours.  

My father in-law was none too happy when his daughter married me. She’d graduated from the University of Iowa and I’d graduated from the school of hard knocks. He cared little that I’d raised $1,276 as a twelve-year-old for the American Heart Association, that I’d skated summers with the LA Kings hockey team or that I treated his daughter well. What stuck in his craw was that I lacked a degree.

My purpose was to get a degree in record time

So, in 1987, I took my credits from Western Michigan University and Grand Rapids Junior College and enrolled at the University of Iowa, the school my father in-law’s daughter had graduated from. I transferred just short of junior status, hell-bent on getting my degree in less than one year. We had enough money for me to go for a year.

My plan was simple. First, I enrolled in regular daytime classes. Realizing that approach would take too long, I also enrolled in the Saturday and Evening Program figuring I could amass more credits. At the same time, I also signed up for correspondence courses.

Since money was running out and our newborn baby girl needed shoes, I had to get into Iowa and get out of Iowa as quick as possible to get back to work. At the time, I didn’t know I was a writer, but I figured it out after taking a couple of correspondence writing courses. To speed things up, I purchased an IBM clone computer from the school computer lab.

To stay sane with such a heavy schoolwork load, I ran all the time. I was pretty darn handy with a spreadsheet, so I developed one to track my running and racing. To write more and more, more quickly, I used a word processor. This may not seem unusual today, but in 1988 it was.

Sometimes you need to break the rules for your own good

To make a long story short, the personal computer, for which I paid $15 per month, got me through the University of Iowa in record time. I only met with my advisor once that year. In that meeting she looked at my transcript and course work progress so far and said, “You can’t possibly graduate this year.” When I asked her if she’d factored in my correspondence and evening courses she said, “Your what?” I’ll never forget the look on her face when she realized I’d beat the system.

I love the University of Iowa. I am proud of my degree. Thanks to Iowa, I flew through my junior and senior years of college in a little over 11 months and got back to work. I’m guessing they might have tightened up those loopholes after me. Oh well, no worries. They include me on their notable alumni from time-to-time next to dropout Ashton Kutcher.

About year after I graduated a fellow runner asked me what I was doing to get so much faster. Unsure as to the reason of his inquiry, though it might have been the sickly 171 pounds I was down to, I told him maybe it was my spreadsheet. “Spreadsheet, can I get a copy?” he asked.

That’s when it hit me. I needed to turn my spreadsheet into a software package

The purpose of my spreadsheet was to get faster and it was working. I ran my first marathon in 4:24, a leisurely Oprah Winfrey and congressman Paul Ryan pace. After I started tracking every little detail of my training, my next 15 marathons were sub- 3:23.  

With RunningCounts, the line between vision and purpose was somewhat blurred. Tracking fitness electronically was my vision, while creating a software package, in my case RunningCounts, became my purpose.

Without vision you have nothing. Start a business without a purpose and you won’t be around long.