As an avid sports fan, I find watching the careers of top athletes to be extremely exciting. Even more-so, for some athletes that have been able to get better as their careers mature. Is it because they become more athletic over time? No. Doctors have proven that most individual’s physical prime is in their mid-to-late 20s. Is it because other players allow them to be the best? Definitely not. Athletes at the highest levels all want to be at peak performance. As I watch these athletes continue to get better as they get older, I found myself naturally finding parallels with successful businesses. These parallels boiled down to three things for me:
- Continuous marginal improvement
Tom Brady is famous for his potentially idiosyncratic investment in his body. What he ingests, when he does it, how much recovery time he allows himself, and how he spends his time are all well-chronicled. Many have reported that Tom Brady spends upwards of $1 million per year on his physical health. Lebron has had similar claims and the list of other athletes goes on and on. The investment an athlete makes in their body is foundational to his or her performance in the future.
The same is true about SaaS businesses. If we accept where we are today is good enough for tomorrow, we will soon be passed by our competition. Investing in the foundation of a company (like stepping away from the day-to-day on a quarterly basis to reconnect with others and reaffirm our core values, as ASG does) is an investment into our future. We take time away to rejuvenate, reenergize and refocus on what it is we’re trying to build. We make sure our foundation has the nutrition it needs to build upon in the future. While that may not look like a kale smoothie for breakfast each day, it acts as a similar investment as an athlete focusing on their physical health.
When LeBron came into the NBA in 2003, the game looked quite a bit different than today. Centers and non 3-point shooting Power Forwards were still a huge part of the NBA (Kevin Garnett won the MVP that season, making eleven 3s that year). Many would argue that LeBron’s weakness at the time was shooting. But as the game changed to be focused more around the 3-point line (thanks Golden State), LeBron worked on innovating his style of play to include more of that. While Lebron naturally lost a bit of athleticism over the last few years playing with the Lakers (he’s still a ridiculous athlete, don’t get me wrong), he slowed his game down to improve on other aspects that continue to have him in the MVP conversations every year. As a student of the game, he wasn’t satisfied with what he’s done or what skills he had, but focuses on areas that he needs to innovate in order to stay ahead of the competition.
In software, this is absolutely true. We’re often thinking about who we compete with today, and what innovations and technologies may arise in the next 10 years that pose a threat to our future. We look at what our customers want, and what we want for our customers as we continue innovating and improving for the future. These product innovations allow us to continue being a market leader. Companies like Oracle have chosen to go another direction where they’ve acquired innovation. Others like WeWork tried to buy cutting edge technology for years. Innovating doesn’t guarantee success (as you can see by my two examples there), but it does give you the opportunity to succeed.
Continuous Marginal Improvement
When Carli Llyod joined the USWNT in 2005, she was not the best player on the team, and she wasn’t the leading scorer. Over her 16 year career with the team, she focused on the minute details to improve 1% better every time she took the field. Over her 16 years, that continuously compounding effect of getting marginally better every day paid its dividends. When she retired, she carried the honor of being one of the most decorated athletes in the sport (male or female). She was able to accomplish that by taking a long look at improving the skills that were within her control.
Approaching the operation of any company is the same. If you build something for the short term, it’s likely not going to be what it could have been if you built it to last (compare the quality of work in the real estate development world for quick flippers). Focusing on long term visions and creating short term plans for how you can get a marginally closer to that goal every day is what will create a company that is built to last. The businesses that I’ve spoken to that have passed through generations, celebrated their accomplishments but never got complacent or comfortable where they were at, were constantly thinking about the thing they could do today in order to be a better version of themselves the next day.
If you couldn’t tell, I love sports. I love watching an athlete’s journey and what they are able to make of themselves. I also love building software businesses and will always make way too many sports analogies. Last disclaimer, I’m a huge Kobe fan. LeBron will always be a Cleveland Cavalier or Miami Heat player in my mind!
Let me know what you think of my analogies! If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.