Sports idioms are everywhere, startup world included. We talk about home runs ideas, ball park estimates, and (nonsensically) below par quarters.
These analagoies permeate casual conversation, board meetings, and all-hands, but they are (pun intended) off-base.
Building a start up isn’t a ball game, it’s a fight sport. What’s the difference?
1) There’s more than one way to win
In football, baseball, soccer, basketball, etc, there is exactly one way to win. You score more points than your opponent. When my (un)loveable loser Jets are down 20 points, their only hope of winning is to score 21. Hell, even quidditch, the sport from Harry Potter — a fantasy book full of mythical creatures, flying brooms, and literal magic — follows this. The Golden Snitch just gives the catching team 150 points. If 150 points isn’t enough to close the deficit? Tough luck, your team loses.
Deficits exist in start ups and fight sports as well, and should not be ignored. Periods of poor, lagging performance can leave founders, boxers, and wrestlers behind their competition. If not corrected, time can run out, those deficits can become final, and the competition can be decided on points, just like all the sports mentioned above. However, unlike those aforementioned sports, those deficits can be short circuited.
No matter the score, no matter the time remaining, fighters and founders are never more than one punch, pinning combination, or well executed idea from breaking through and short circuiting, not closing, the deficit. It doesn’t matter how bad things have been, and how far behind you are. Until the final bell is rung, or the company is closed, there’s a fighting chance.
2) There are no substitutions
When football games become routs, both sides, winning and losing, pull their main players and ease up. The stars sit on the bench, the clock runs down, and the coaches prepare to shake hands. When a basketball player gets injured, he comes out, a sub goes in, and the game continues. In start ups and fight sports, this concept doesn’t exist. If a fighter gets injured and can’t continue, the fight is over. If the founders burn out and quit, it’s (effectively) a death sentence for the company.
Just like a UFC fighter needs to fight smart and not gas out too early, founders need to be smart about their physical and mental energy as well. To repeat a cliche I used to vehemently not believe, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Finish the fight.
Agree or disagree? Let me know via twitter or email or elsewhere.
Want to get automatic updates? You can join my newsletter here