Entrepreneurial Lessons

    Image provided by: http://abpopwarner.com/

Since the second week of August, my 8-year-old son has dedicated an inordinate amount of time to one thing: football.  This Sunday, he’ll wrap up his second year of Pop Warner football.

And while there have been a lot of highs and lows since the team first got together for agilities week in the hot summer, two things are certain: they’ve had a ton of fun and learned a lot! In fact, I think the players learned quite  a few lessons that they will be able to take off of the field and apply in school and life more generally.

But the players weren’t the only things to learn something along the way.

I have as well. And, quite frankly, I think some of what I’ve learned are entrepreneurial lessons that startup and expansion-stage founders can apply to their businesses. For instance:

1. Do something you love doing and the hard work you’re putting in won’t seem like work at all

These kids worked hard. In the summer, while all of their friends were swimming or taking vacations, they were practicing from 5 to 7:30 p.m., four nights a week. During the school year, practices went to two nights a week plus a Saturday (7 a.m.) walk-through. Sunday is game day and that means being at the field by 7 a.m., which can often involve waking the kids up around 6 a.m. (so much for sleeping in!).

All of this hard work on the field — along with plenty of school work, too — meant that these players were tired. That said, they love football. So, while going to practice and waking up early can sometimes get old, very rarely did it seem like work at all. This is so true for many entrepreneurs I know.  They may be ‘working’ seven days a week, but the truth of the matter is that they love what they do. It is an extension of them and they enjoy that part of their life.

2. In order to be successful, you must surround yourself with a great support system

In the case of the AB Pop Warner Colonials (E Team), that support system is the parents and coaches. As I described in the first bullet point, football is a HUGE commitment.  That commitment is not just for the players, but also for the parents and coaches. Carting the kids around to the practices and games, and waking up early are all things the parents must deal with as well. They must also be there for their child when they have a tough loss, miss a big play, get injured, or are generally just frustrated with the game. The coaches are an irreplaceable piece of the support system for these young players, as well. They dedicate an amazing amount of time to the team and each of the players, making sure that everyone is learning, having fun, and is in the best position for success.

Great entrepreneurs surround themselves with great support systems, as well. Those systems come in many different forms, but may include one’s friends and family, employees, mentors, investors, board members, and advisory board members, among many others. Surrounding yourself with the right group of people that believe in you and will help you achieve your goals is a hugely valuable asset to any entrepreneur.

3. One great team member can’t carry an entire team; the entire group needs to work as a team

I grew up playing baseball and I loved it (and still do). I always thought of it as a team sport until last year when my son started football. I then began to think about baseball as a team sport built around a series of individual accomplishments. With baseball, at any given time a play revolves around a select subset of the team. With football, everybody needs to do their job in order for the play to be successful.

Whether that means blocking, throwing, running, catching, or faking, there are a lot of moving pieces and they all need to work together to achieve the desired outcome.  Similarly, while an entrepreneur may be great at many things, he or she is likely not the best at everything.  Surround yourself with great people who can take on specific roles and responsibilities within a company. Doing that will allow the organization as a whole to hit its goals and move forward more quickly.

4. Iterate often and fail fast

This is what football is about — you get four downs to move the ball ten yards. Each attempt allows you a different play to try something new. It provides instant feedback to the team. What worked on that last play and what didn’t? Knowing what we know now, what should we do to get past the defense? Football is a game of iterations that allows for quick failure and the opportunity to try again immediately.

When building a business and/or product, you should try and do that as much as possible. Figure out if what you’re working on is going to work and if it is, go faster.  If it’s not, it may be time to revisit the playbook.

5. Break up your goals into a series of smaller additive accomplishments

Similar to the above bullet, this is what football is about. If your goal is to win the Super Bowl, you must first make the playoffs, which means you must have a good record, which means you must win games, which means you must score touchdowns and stop teams on defense, which means you must get first downs, which means you must have successful plays… Thinking about it in the reverse direction and focusing in on the goals that are immediately within your control allows you to see measurable progress against your end goal, motivating the team and allowing for rapid data collection.

The same goes for business. While having a big vision of what you want the company to become is important, recognizing the steps along the way to achieving those goals is what your team should focus on in the short-term.

6. Don’t be afraid to try new things

This lesson came late in the season for me when I saw my son playing a position he’d never played before due to a player on his team being out that week. I was a bit nervous for him because he hadn’t practiced there and I wasn’t sure he knew his roles and responsibilities in that position. However, he really stepped up that game and made some very big plays. It was pretty clear he felt perfectly comfortable in that position.

The lesson here is that if you settle into a routine because it is the easiest way to survive at the time, you may never figure out that there is a better opportunity or better way of doing things. It’s important to make sure that you’re constantly innovating and staying on top of the best ways to do things.

7. Keep pushing and don’t give up

It’s cliché, but I’ll say it anyway. These kids faced some tough times this year — whether it was being shut-out, losing a couple games in a row, or missing a touchdown by a yard or so. Through all of that, they never gave in, always played out the rest of the game, and showed up ready for battle in the next game. They could’ve easily given into their frustration and lost their motivation to keep playing, but they didn’t.

The same goes for great entrepreneurs. When their backs are against the wall, they find new ways to attack. If they fail, they chalk it up as a learning experience and look to see what they can do differently next time. Great entrepreneurs don’t give up.

I’m sure there are many more lessons I can draw from this season, but these are a few of the common themes and entrepreneurial lessons that seemed to stand out week after week. Here in the final week of practice and heading into the last game of the year, the team cannot be more excited or more ready for their next opponent. They’ve had an amazing season and it has given them the opportunity to learn a ton about themselves and their teammates. Those are lessons they’ll be able to carry throughout their lives, both on and off the football field.