Lessons from Silicon Valley & the Football Field

It’s no secret that I’m passionate about startups and funding companies as they follow through with their innovative, ground-breaking dreams, so I’m particularly excited about a recent trip I took to Silicon Valley.

While there I had the opportunity to visit several notable startups and investment firms, speaking with founders, investors and executives. I stopped by Greylock Partners, IVP, Jawbone, Uber, Redpoint Ventures and Juicero. While I’m no stranger to entrepreneurship or startup companies, two related themes stood out during my trip:

  • You have to be able to adapt if you want to succeed
  • You’re never done getting better

These lessons really resonated with me given that they apply on the football field as much as they do in business.

One company in particular, Jawbone, solidly embodies these two principles of success. Hosain Rahman, CEO of Jawbone, said the company culture is built on the belief that “you’re never really done.” The message is so engrained in their culture that employees wear t-shirts that read “underdog.” This mentality was core to the company early on because Hosain never wanted Jawbone or its employees to rest on its successes. As the underdog, you’re always fighting for a little more, an extra inch, the “big break.” This ethos is what drives a company and propels it to continued success and relevance.

Jawbone is also an excellent example of the need to adapt if you want to keep succeeding. The company started as a supplier to the U.S. government, then pivoted to be a wireless headset company, transformed again to become a leader in wireless portable speakers and now has its sights set on wearables with a strong focus on health and medical innovation. Hosain admitted that “pivots are difficult,” but it’s this willingness to change that lead Jawbone to remain relevant and continue growing.

These sentiments were echoed at the venture firms I visited – especially IVP. Somesh Dash, a general partner at IVP, mentioned that data, due diligence and research are key when determining which companies to invest in, but those measures need to be married to agility in order to be successful. The world is always changing, so companies – and their talent – need to be willing to change along with it if they want to stay relevant and have a chance at success. Case in point – the original football helmet was a good idea, but you don’t see any successful companies holding fast to producing leather helmets in 2016.

A willingness to change and the understanding that you’re never done improving are related themes. You often won’t have the motivation to follow through with the first if you don’t believe the second. The insatiable drive to be better, do something better and reach for higher heights is what motivates companies to pivot when need, just as it motivates athletes to train as hard as they do.

On the field, plays, lineups and strategies all change (often) and to be an effective player you need to be able, willing and comfortable with adapting quickly to those changes. If you don’t, your contribution to the team is undermined and the success of the team is at risk. And everybody knows, I don’t like to lose.

It’s a set of lessons I know well and actively work on every day of my football career. It’s also a set of lessons and skills I take with me into my ventures as a businessman and entrepreneur.

The risks you take and changes you make may not always work out, but cost of stasis is even greater. Ignoring opportunities to be agile and embrace change won’t lead to success – on the field or in business. While there’s no “secret to success,” this is a good place to start.