5% of the success is talent, the rest is hard work. In business, it’s the same — 5% is the ideas, the rest is hard work.
Zarja Cibej is the Founder and CEO of myTamarin, the trusted partner for childcare. She founded myTamarin in 2017 after having two children and experiencing first-hand how dated and technology starved the childcare market was. Zarja is an Olympian athlete and medal winner, studied and practiced corporate law, and graduated with an MBA from the Wharton business school. Prior to founding myTamarin, Zarja worked as a management consultant at the Boston Consulting group for almost ten years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Igrew up in Slovenia where skiing is a national sport. We’re a population of two million but we’re always ranked at the top with the highest number of medals per capita overall and for skiing in particular.
My father grew up on the Slovenian coast and the family was too poor to afford skiing, but he was keen to learn later, and he took my mum on a ski trip for their honeymoon.
I put on my first pair of skis when I was three and I joined a club when I was five. By the time I was a teenager, I was spending two hundred days a year away from home training and racing, mostly touring the Alps and the Rockies, chasing snow.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete?
My parents were the ones who put me on this path. In the eighties when I started skiing, we had quite a few very good skiers racing in the World Cup and the Olympics — Mateja Svet and Rok Petrovic for example — and the entire nation was glued to the TV when they were racing. I basically wanted to be one of them.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My parentswere absolute heroes. They’d wake me up early in the morning at around 4am or 5am, drive me to the first training location of the day, go to work, pick up me up later, and drive me to another location. When you are training to be a competitive skier there are skiing and dry training sessions, so you have a few sessions a day. They’d also make sure I was eating properly and staying hydrated during that time and also made sure I did all of my school work. In fact, my father was quite strict and told me if I got anything less than an A at school, I would have to stop skiing.
Fortunately, I was a really good student despite the fact that I missed three quarters of all classes, but one day I got a B+… Sure enough, my dad drove five hours to collect me from a mountain just before a race and reminded me that we had a deal. He drove me back home despite the fact I was defending a championship. After some serious pleading he let me continue but made it very clear I should never get anything less than an A again. And you can be sure I didn’t!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I’m ok for you to publish this if you’re ok with it. OK, let’s do it!
It was often freezing on the mountain, and when I was very young, I’d pee in my pants to warm myself up. It helped for the first few seconds, but then it got much worse! Needless to say, I learnt my lesson pretty quickly and stopped doing it.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?
After my skiing career, I continued to participate in the sport while I also studied law. I became a ski instructor and later a manager of a ski school.
After graduating, I worked as a corporate lawyer for a couple of years, focusing on cross-border financing, and mergers and acquisitions. It was fun, but I wanted to move closer to the decision-making. As a lawyer, I felt I was just executing someone else’s transaction, but I wasn’t at all involved in the decision-making around why we were doing the transaction in the first place. In other words, I wanted to be the decision-maker; the business lead.
I then went on to do an MBA at the Wharton School, after which I worked as a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group for almost a decade. I loved my job. But ultimately, I wanted to build something amazing, on my own.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects new you are working on now?
Two years ago, I started myTamarin. I realised how broken the childcare market was after having my own children and wanted to fix it. I saw an opportunity that I instantly knew was the right idea. And I had a strong opinion on how we could improve things — for parents, their children and the nannies.
Childcare is so incredibly important for society at large. Solid childcare allows women to go back to work after they have children, it enables diversity in the workplace, and it helps close the gender pay gap.
We started out with childcare and helping parents find the best nanny or newborn support for them. We match parents and nannies on both objective and subjective criteria — a bit like the dating world and match.com. This is so often neglected when it comes to childcare but we’re matching based on lifestyle, parenting style, family values and compatibility, as well as experience. We’re also using AI to enable our matching. This leads to placement longevity that is 2–3x better than the rest of the market. We’re grounded in psychology and powered by technology.
Over the last six months we’ve evolved from childcare to parentcare. We’re offering parents the support and tools they need to help them be their best selves for their children. I am very passionate about this and we have a lot of new things coming up.
Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?
Absolutely! Because I missed three quarters of all classes and spent most days between October and April training and racing, both weekdays and weekends, I had very little time to study — approximately two hours each day. And since I wasn’t allowed to get anything less than an A, I had to figure out how to learn very quickly and efficiently. I developed a sense for what’s important and what’s just noise, how to make decisions fast (with very little data). And I’ve become super disciplined and organized as a result.
This all comes in very handy in business, especially when you’re building a business. There is always so much you can do, but you need to ruthlessly prioritize and focus on the activities that have the highest ROI. You also need to be comfortable making decisions in the face of ambiguity and data scarcity.
Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- There is always room for improvement. Every single race, every single run, you can do better and faster. You can only advance if you keep pushing yourself, if you keep sweating. Your competitors are doing the same so you have to do more if you want to be at the top. It’s exactly the same in business.
- A win or victory today doesn’t guarantee a win or victory tomorrow. You can be a champion one day and forgotten the next. Every day is a new day and you have to fight for that title. In business, you have to delight your customers and exceed their expectations every day, over and over again.
- 5% of the success is talent, the rest is hard work. In business, it’s the same — 5% is the ideas, the rest is hard work.
- You can’t do it on your own. Even in sports that aren’t team sports, such as alpine skiing, you need a team to succeed — your coaches, your team-mates, your parents. It’s the same in business. As an individual you can only do so much, whereas a team can move mountains.
- Recovery is as important as training. You can only train efficiently if you are well rested. If you keep pushing yourself without taking the time to rest in between trainings, you won’t advance. Getting proper rest is incredibly important in everyday life, as well as in business. That’s probably one learning I don’t follow as well as I should!
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
Do your best. Whatever you do, do it 100% as mediocracy won’t get you anywhere. Cherish and learn from your mistakes and failures. Embrace them as gifts, learn from them, then move on. You cannot win without failing.
You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As a mum of two young boys, I’m very passionate about supporting parents, and enabling them to be their best selves, for their children. While being a professional skier and an entrepreneur is hard, being a parent is harder. It’s the only 24/7 job that you’re legally allowed to do without taking a break — for years! The old saying that it takes a village to raise a child is so true. But we lost that village with our modern lifestyles. And so, with myTamarin we’re building a modern village for modern parents.