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David Feinleib

Many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs train for big athletic events -- it's part of their competitive nature.

David Feinleib, co-founder of five startups and a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, is a classic example.

He has been training for an Ironman event over the last seven months. The Ironman Triathlon includes a 2.4-mile open water swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a full 26.2-mile marathon.

Feinleib has used the training to help him become a better entrepreneur:

  • Dedication. "If there’s one thing I hear over and over when I tell friends and colleagues about my training routine, it’s how impressed they are by my dedication. Building the endurance required for an Ironman means putting in the hours every day. Having built five companies, I’ve seen just how much dedication building a startup takes. Ironman training has renewed my ability to dedicate."
  • Rhythm. "Entrepreneurs know this as the hum of a high functioning startup. It’s when things are buzzing. Everything is humming. It’s that “It’s working!” feeling. I can feel this rhythm during certain swims, rides and runs. It’s when my legs are moving just right, when I’ve got the right amount of energy, when I’m firing on all cylinders. Things are flowing. When I have that rhythm, I try to memorize what it feels like. It’s what I’m striving for every day as an athlete and as an entrepreneur."
  • Go big or go home. "I’ve run marathons before and done some longer triathlons. But I didn’t understand what real training was until I committed to do an Ironman. You can build a little startup, but if you’re going to build, go big. Go really, really big."
  • Schedule. "To train for an ultra-endurance event requires a schedule. It means committing to that schedule and sticking to it. There’s no 'I’ll just get that workout in tomorrow' or 'I’ll reschedule that Saturday ride.' Because there’s a limited amount of time between now and the race. The same holds for startups. Great pitches, great products, and great teams don’t just appear overnight. They take time to build. It is that commitment to investment of time that creates value."
  • Pacing. "Training for an Ironman is like making deposits in the bank over time–you have to deposit enough so you can make a withdrawal on race day. There’s no cramming. You can’t just put it all off and do it at the last minute. It means hard work every day."
  • Inspiration. "A lot of people comment on my dedication and discipline. Yet training is something I look forward to. I can’t wait till my next workout. I look forward to long Saturday rides around Marin and on the peninsula followed by a run. Hard as they are, I love my long Sunday runs. These are not activities I dread — quite the opposite. I draw inspiration from them, much as I draw inspiration from building great teams and great products."
  • Time. "Training 90 or more minutes a day means time really matters. Lounging around with friends is a great luxury when time is limited. It means that when people are late or fail to deliver on their commitments, I think really hard about whether I want to continue working with them."
  • Energy. "Endurance activities require the right fuel and constant fuel. So do startups. You have to feed the engine at the right time — too much fuel too soon and you’ll bog things down. Wait too long to feed the engine and you’ll run out of energy and bonk."
  • Internal drive. "You might think that training for an Ironman is an external goal — something that requires external validation or motivation. It isn’t. I started training because I wanted to get back in shape. I wanted to be operating at my personal peak. I wanted to push my limits in business and in life. I’m by no means a natural athlete. A commitment of this level cannot come from the outside — it must come from within. The same holds true for building a game-changing startup. It must come from an internal desire to operate at your absolute best."
  • Team. "A lot of people view triathlons as an individual event. That is certainly true on race day, when although there is encouragement from friends and fellow racers, it all comes down to you and how much and the kind of preparation you’ve put in. But every moment leading up to the race is a combination of individual and team effort. Without my friends from the SF Tri Club, the challenge of riding 80-100 miles would be nearly insurmountable, not to mention incredibly lonely. With them, it is social, fun, and inspiring."
  • Break things into chunks. "I don't think about a hundred mile training ride as a 100 miles. Sometimes I break it into thirds. Or I think in segments — easy first 20 followed by a tough tough hill climb, then an easier 10. Same for startups. You have to build success in steps."
  • Confidence. "The thing about redefining your limits is every time you break a limit and reach a new one, you build more confidence. That confidence lets you break the next limit and the next limit and on and on. Redefining your limits is what makes great athletes — and great entrepreneurs."

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by Claire O'Neill

A while back, I stumbled across a mysterious school of photos, as it were, somewhere, way out at Internet sea. They were mysterious and magical scenes of underwater flora and fauna; schools of fish, sharks, coral clusters and free-divers — all black-and-white and glowing in underwater light.

Mark Under Breaking Wave
Wayne Levin

Mark Under Breaking Wave

I spent more time fishing around on the photographer's site and thought: I'll wait for the day when I have an excuse to contact him. The photographer, Wayne Levin, now has a new book, called Akule, and I wanted to know more. He agreed to share a wide selection of his work and answer a few questions.

Some background: Levin received a Brownie camera for this 12th birthday; later received an M.F.A. in 1982; somewhere in there he moved to Hawaii and is still there today. He has been exhibited and published widely around the world but ultimately feels most comfortable in scuba gear.


Underwater Photos

The Picture Show: Describe the underwater universe.

Wayne Levin: I titled my first book of underwater photograph, Through a Liquid Mirror, which was a play on Through the Looking Glass. Just like Alice, who passes through a mirror and finds herself in a world where things are different (even the rules of logic have changed), when I pass through that mirror called the surface, I am equally in another world.

Things look different, visibility is more limited, and the atmosphere has more weight, density. Moving through this world is like flying; you can move in three dimensions, and be suspended above or below things. There are plants and animals, which are different from what we are used to seeing; they move differently. This all creates a possibility to take photographs that look different from anything I have seen before.

I feel a sense of freedom, and I can feel myself relax, and my bodily functions slow down as I leave the anxieties of the human world behind. But the ocean has its own dangers. ... So there is a freedom in being underwater, but also a responsibility to always be aware of your surroundings, and yourself.

Surfacing Freedivers
Wayne Levin

Surfacing Freedivers

What came first for you — photography or fish?

Photography. Most underwater photographers are divers first, then they get into photography to capture the beautiful scenes they see underwater. I was a photographer first. My first serious underwater photography was when I finished graduate school at Pratt in 1983. I returned to Hawaii to teach photography at University of Hawaii, and decided to photograph surfers from underwater. My first attempts where in color, but the results were very murky blue-on-blue. The I switched to black-and-white, and everything came alive.

The black-and-white abstracted the ocean, so the viewer wasn't sure if the figures were suspended in water or sky. After photographing the surfers for a couple of years I went back to terrestrial projects. It wasn't until I moved to Kona in 1989 that I became immersed in underwater photography.

Can you describe some of the sights and sounds of that world?

If it's whale season in Kona (winter), you can often hear the humpbacks singing. Sometimes you hear dolphin clicking and chirping if they're around. If you're near the shore, you can hear the sound of surf crashing on the rocks. Or if there are boats around, you hear the very loud and pervasive sound of their engines.

Visually, in Kona you often glide over beautiful coral gardens, or sand channels with amazing sand patterns. When I'm way off the coast in deep water ... I look down and see the light rays disappearing into the bottomless deep blue abyss.

Akule Pyramid
Wayne Levin

Akule Pyramid

Could you talk a bit about Akule? What does the word mean?

Akule is the Hawaiian name for big-eyed scad, a fish that reaches about 8 feet and schools in huge, tightly packed groups. I was photographing Spinner Dolphins in Kealakekua Bay (infamous as the place where Capt. Cook was killed).

Column of Akule
Wayne Levin

Column of Akule

When swimming out to photograph the dolphins I saw what first appeared to be a huge coral head. But as I approached it, I could see movement within the shape. ... I found that it was a massive school of fish. I took a few pictures, then swam on to find the dolphins.

As time passed every once in a while I would spot these Akule schools on my swims in Kealakekua Bay. Finally, I realized that these schools were an even more interesting photographic subject than the dolphins. So over the next 10 years I shot hundreds of rolls of film of the Akule schools.

You can see more of Levin's work, including a gallery of fish schools, on his website.

Tags: scuba, Fish, Hawaii

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