What Sports Taught a Non-Sports Fan About Building a Successful Startup
I’ll be the first to admit it: I’ve never exactly been a sports junkie.
You might find it curious, then, that I lead a startup where our team spends hours upon hours analyzing sports content and optimizing it to create compelling online videos and teasers featuring attention-grabbing sports highlights.
But leading Minute has done more than open my eyes to the wide world of sports. My exposure to this world has also instilled valuable lessons about running a successful startup. And while it may sound like a cliché that entrepreneurs can apply the lessons of sports to how we build our teams, pursue innovation, and optimize our operations, perhaps there are some new lessons only a non-sports “fan-atic” can glean regarding what they can teach us about scoring big in the startup world.
You Can’t Really Know What a User Wants… Until You Test It
One might safely assume that the moments fans are most excited about watching are goals, touchdowns, homeruns, dunks, etc. Think again: According to Minute’s extensive crowd-sourced data, replays of player injuries and fights actually get fans far more engaged.
The takeaway: Before building your product, it’s essential to determine what your customer really wants, using good hard data. Relying on hunches and assumptions is a fool’s errand, since they’re probably wrong.
Lesson: When recruiting for your company, avoid superstars who excel in one skillset – the home run hitters, bicycle kickers, the flashy dunkers. Instead, recruit with a focus on people who simultaneously excel in many domains while also embracing a team-player mentality.
Don’t Give the Game Away
One thing you won’t see in Minute’s previews? Whatever the peak moment of a video happens to be – whether it’s a soccer player going down after a kick in the shins, a running back diving into the endzone for a game-winning touchdown, or a golfer acing a hole-in-one. If a user’s already seen the “crowd roaring” shot in the teaser, what’s the point of clicking through and watching the actual video?
The same principle applies in the sales process. Pique prospective customers’ curiosity with an enticing preview of your company’s capabilities – while not revealing all the benefits. To seal the deal, save the best part for last… or even later.
Once I know Minute has got a prospect hooked, that’s when we’ll have a follow-up meeting based on all the additional products we have. To help close the deal, it’s essential to have something else up your sleeve.
A Team Needs a Superstar? Not Necessarily
While conventional sports wisdom claims you need at least one LeBron or Messi on your team to excel, that’s not the case for a startup. At the first stage of a startup, you’re seeking people devoted to the company and collaborating with the team.
Lesson: When recruiting for your company, avoid superstars who excel in one skillset – the home run hitters, bicycle kickers, the flashy dunkers. Instead, recruit with a focus on people who simultaneously excel in many domains while also embracing a team-player mentality. In my own experience, this approach has helped compensate for my own prior knowledge gaps, especially in the sports arena.
Mind Your Peripheral Vision
A good athlete keeps his or her eyes on the ball, but also on their periphery – that’s what’s so thrilling, for example, about the “no-look pass.”
Similarly, good startups must mind their own periphery – both by following emerging industry trends and by embracing bright ideas from unexpected places.
Case in point: Not long ago, I thought I was going into a client meeting to address one particular pain-point, and that’s in fact what we discussed. But when I paid careful attention, I discovered that attending to the client’s needs would actually require addressing a very different pain point. In subsequent meetings with potential partners, that same unexpected pain point popped up again and again.
As a result, Minute pivoted, honing its product offerings to reflect this unforeseen client feedback. The result was a kick in sales.
The bottom line: To score big, startups sometimes need to look for an open shot, while simultaneously taking note of the entire court – especially who’s quietly cutting to the basket.
Teamwork, leadership, mentoring, perseverance… these are some of the standard lessons sports fans can “repurpose” to the world of entrepreneurship. But a deeper look shows there’s much more to learn, and it may just be that outsiders taking a fresh look at the field may just have the best seats in the house.