Note: This post was originally written by ATI’s entrepreneur in residence, Ben Dyer. His excellent blog can be found here.
The launch of college football season reminds us anew of plenty of truths that apply to entrepreneurial businesses. There is much more to the startup than just the opening play when enthusiasm is high and hope springs eternal. There’s a lot of work in the trenches before the conclusion of the game and the posting of the final score.
Here’s my list for your consideration:
Parity- At the beginning of the game, the 22 players on the field probably have just about equal talent. Even if one school is far more powerful and highly rated, all the players that make it to FBS schools are the very top stars at the high school level and have exhibited some DNA for football. When they are fresh, not yet banged up, and not yet intimidated, the underdogs can make some plays. We saw that early in the UT-Wyoming game a couple of weeks ago. And, look at the 8th ranked Arkansas loss to Louisiana-Monroe, a 30-point spread obliterated when the Razorback QB went down. It’s a team sport, but one injury in that case proved to be a great equalizer. Similarly, when you are cranking up your business, you and your team are very smart and very good at what you do, but everyone else around you starting tech companies has similar traits. You’re competing for money, human resources, and mind share against a pretty tough crowd.
Depth- One thing that comforts the coaches of the superior team in these typically lopsided early season games is the depth of the bench. Even though Wyoming had some lucky passing plays aided by some careless defense early in the Texas game, one glance at the bench made it apparent that the Longhorns could eventually throw enough muscle onto the field to wear down the visitors. If you’re the QB of your startup, you will learn early on that you can’t do it all yourself and that you will depend on your bench strength to confront all the challenges ahead. You will have to contend with delays, missteps, pesky customer problems, miscalculations, and plenty of chance-good and bad-and you’ve got to surround yourself with enough clear heads to deal with this. You might get into the game as a bit of a loner, but you’ll get blown off the field pretty quickly if you carry that approach too far.
Stamina- Bob Metcalfe (Director of Innovation at UT-Austin) always tells his 1SS classes that being an entrepreneur is not about wasting yourself on Ramen Noodles. Yes, you may be working long and stressful hours on tight deadlines with meager budgets, but you’re more likely to survive and thrive in that situation if you have both the physical and the mental stamina to stay in the game. There again you see that in the better football programs; they have superior training and they get stronger, not weaker, as the game progresses. You need to develop that frame of mind and prepare yourself to fight hard until your venture reaches a happy conclusion. You don’t have the luxury of knowing there’s a fixed time limit, with perhaps a bit of OT, so you need to stay at your peak for however long your project dictates. Good health is a blessing not under your control, but you can mitigate risks by taking care of yourself, and you can determine to maintain the mental stamina that entrepreneurship requires.
Faith- You’ve met people who just have an abiding Faith that they will figure out a way to work through any challenge. I’m not talking about religious Faith necessarily, although for many that is the foundation, but just going out each day with a positive outlook makes all the difference in coping with the rigors of starting and growing a company. You can’t get all Panglossian and lose your touch with reality, but if you ever go negative you’ll quickly find yourself in a tailspin. You and your co-founders and other key people need to keep each other steeled for all eventualities. You don’t have the luxury of Knute Rockne firing you up to “Win One for the Gipper.” The ultimate motivation has to come from within.
Timing- As per the title of this blog, whether you win or lose is generally a function of how you perform at the end of the game. Sure, there are blowouts in sports and business; sometimes it’s just over. But, more often than not, the results of an entrepreneurial endeavor can turn on one sale, one discovery, one break; even after you seem to be completely worn down. You just have to find a way to stay in the game, and you may just well win in the end. Winning is partly a matter of accomplishing your business goals, and it’s also a matter of finding and negotiating an exit that creates a win for you, your team, and your backers. The art of the exit is just as important as the art of the start. I can’t overstate how many times in my own businesses good things have happened out of the blue when least expected. Being able to recognize those events and to capitalize on them can make all the difference.
May the ball bounce your way.