Trulia’s Winning Strategy: Treat Your Startup Like Triathlon Training

How is building a company like training for a triathlon? Sami Inkinen–founder and president of the fastest-growing online real estate company in the world, and a triathlete ranked second on the planet among amateurs in his age group–knows. Here he reveals to Fast Company what he’s learned.


When Sami Inkinen first arrived in the United States eight years ago, he knew next to nothing about real estate and didn’t own a bicycle or a wetsuit. Today, the 35-year-old Fin is both the founder and president of Trulia–the fastest growing online real estate company in the world–and a triathlete ranked second in the world among amateurs in his age group. Calling in before yet another half-ironman competition in Hawaii, Inkinen reveals to Fast Company four ways that building a successful web company is a lot like training for a triathlon.

1. Track everything

I’m a huge fan of tracking everything using key performance indicators (KPIs) so that I can keep what works and improve what doesn’t. I have nine years of daily historical data on my sleep hours, workout hours and type, sleep quality and workout performance, and wake-up heart rate. I also do weekly tests within my regular workouts to measure progress and compare heart rates or average times. At Trulia, we measure everything–from high level KPIs like customer satisfaction, net promotion score, page views, and revenue per product line to more granular things like page load time, exit rate for different pages, click-through rates, and completeness score for site content. We track over 50 KPIs on any given day.

2. Value and enjoy the process, not the outcome

While I’m driven to win–big time–in both sports and in building the company, I would do the same thing every day with a smile on my face whether the final outcome is a total failure or a huge success. Changing the world for consumers in real estate is a ton of fun–I’m not doing it to make a pile of cash or to go public. So is training for a race by running over hills on trails. For the past four years, I’ve competed in the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon World Championships. I’ve always had a hard time performing up to my abilities in that race, mainly because being a 190-lb athlete (versus, say, a 160-lb athlete) is not optimal for heat racing. But it’s a fascinating puzzle to solve; I’m learning more every year and am eager to apply those lessons to perform better in the future. I’ve been very lucky to spend my days doing what I love to do. It’s the journey that’s the most exciting.

3. Maintain a growth mindset


In sports, whether I win or come in second, third, or fourth, I always try to find two or three things I can improve and figure out a plan on how to accomplish them. It’s the same on the business side: Whatever we achieve, whether it’s profitability or page views on the website–we now have 27 million visits a month and are growing 80-100% every year–we always step back and say, what can we improve? There is no such thing as “done” when you apply the growth mindset. Growth is about reinventing and improving the status quo continuously. It’s always Day One for me, and for us at Trulia.

4. Plan right

Every Sunday, I spend 20-30 minutes planning workouts the same way that I plan business meetings. I never just wake up and say, “Oh I feel like running 30 minutes.” Whenever I mention how many hours a week I train to other athletes, they’re always surprised at how little time I put into it–and that’s mostly because of good planning. The same applies to business. You need to have a quarterly plan and an annual plan. Being humble and surrounding yourself with mentors and experts smarter than you is probably the fastest and only way to really succeed. At Trulia, we’ve built a ridiculously strong team now totaling 260 people and are continuously adding more talent to perform better. I’ve done the same with my triathlon hobby–I work with an amazing coach and am always learning and sharing from others by reading piles of research and talking to professional triathletes. You can get a lot more done in less time if you do things purposefully.

[Image: Flickr user Mariano Kamp]


About the author

I write articles about culture, technology, and human rights for publications like Wired, Popular Science, and the New York Times Magazine. I also produce radio segments for American Public Media, Public Radio International, and WNYC.