It’s Masters week, and for anyone that’s into golf like I am… you’re pumped. Not only is this the kickoff to this year’s round of major tournaments; there is something extra special about The Masters – the mystique of Augusta, the history and the consistency of yielding champions that are among the very best in the current era.
With a Masters theme in mind, here are a few lessons I’ve learned on building and growing our own technology startup.
It Comes Down to the Back Nine on Sunday
With few exceptions, the holder of the green jacket ends up being decided on the back nine on Sunday afternoon – and it’s rarely the person who is at the top of the leaderboard around 4:00 on Sunday afternoon. It’s also remarkably consistent that the winner ends up being one of the top names in golf. Sure they positioned themselves to win the first three-and-a-half days, but in the end it’s won on those last 9 holes.
When you’re building a business, it’s easy to get distracted and think you’re busy and making progress. Everyone has great ideas, but I’ve learned that ideas are a dime a dozen. Ultimately, winning will come down to your ability to execute. To have a product idea that you can take from a thought in your head into actual wireframes, scope out with an engineer, and launch for public use. To create that perfect investment story or pitch deck that you can convert into a wire transfer into your bank account. And ultimately, to put your product in front of a prospective customer, as rough and new as it is, and persuade them to sign an order form and pay you money to use it. (For more on the topic of pricing models for startups, check out my recent post on The Wall Street Journal’s Accelerators Blog).
Watch Out for Amen Corner
Amen Corner is a group of three holes that on the surface seem pretty easy – a short par five that can easily be reached in two and the 155-yard par three 12th with a wide green and just a few perfectly manicured bunkers. But look out. Many of the world’s top-ranked players came into Amen Corner with a nice lead and left with their name on page two of the leaderboard. Talk to those who have been there before, and they’ll tell you how to carefully play those holes. For example, always hit it into the middle of the green on 12. It’s just not worth it to go for that Sunday pin – even though it’s sitting there looking so inviting in front of those beautiful flowers.
As a startup founder, my brain is consumed with growing our business. I want more, and I want it faster. It’s not about being recklessly aggressive, being greedy or worrying we’ll choke (although I am challenged with that on the golf course) – not at all. It’s about a deep desire to win and knowing that we’re still proving we can turn our idea into a self-sustaining business, and something that’s scalable. But oftentimes I need to step back and think about the bigger picture – where do we want to be 3 to 6 months from now, and what do we need to do today to support that? This is where mentors, advisors and the right investors can be a big help. They’ll help guide you through key decisions and identify some of your blind spots. Sometimes they’ll tell you to “hit it to the middle of the green,” and other times they’ll tell you to “go for the pin” even when you were thinking the opposite. It’s ultimately your call, but you’ll shave a few shots off your score by seeking and following good advice.
It’s About the Green Jacket
There’s a whole bunch of money that a player will receive for winning The Masters, which includes not only the prize money, but also the endorsements that will come with it as a Masters champion. But I can assure you – that’s not what they’re playing for. They’re playing for that green jacket. The rest of their life they’ll have that jacket waiting for them when they arrive at Augusta National. They’ll forever be a “Masters champ,” and no matter how many tournaments they win, it will likely be their proudest accomplishment.
This is very similar to creating a company – we want to build something, and we want it to be something special. We all want it to work, and it would be a nice bonus if it resulted in a big payout some day, but that is not the ultimate motivator. We jump out of bed in the morning because we want to create things that didn’t exist before, and we want to figure out how to continue refining our own processes so we can function more efficiently to generate more business.
A great example of this is our latest hire, Chris Bland. Chris just joined us in early April and was most recently at Groupon. In just four years, he went from employee #76 to one of over 10,000 people globally. So why did Chris leave a larger, established, publicly traded company with plenty of resources and opportunity to join a little 9-person company out of Detroit? Because he said, “This is another chance to revolutionize an industry, and I want to be part of building something again.” Chris is just the latest example – every one of us wants the same thing.
Stop and Smell the Azaleas
Augusta National is one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever see – golfer or not. The grounds are perfectly manicured, and flowers bloom at just the right time. Players will tell you no matter how many times they’ve been there that chills will run down their spine when pulling down Magnolia Lane. All week long, players will stop and look around in awe of the beauty and history around them. It’s an honor just to be there.
It’s hard work and an emotional roller coaster to get a business going. One day you feel like a rock star when things are going well, and then the next day you can feel like an utter failure destined for implosion. These should just be fleeting moments, and you can’t let them ruminate for too long. It’s also healthy and effective to be a little paranoid, as it helps you identify potential holes in your business that you need to fill. But it’s important to stop every once in awhile to look around and realize what you’re doing – you’re creating something that wouldn’t otherwise exist in the world. You’re creating jobs. You’re developing your own career, and you’re becoming a better person. You’re helping clients be more successful in their jobs and helping their own businesses flourish. And one of the things I particularly love about setting our home base here in downtown Detroit, is that we’re part of a larger group of people collectively playing our part to make Detroit a better place so it can thrive again.
Get ready for another great Masters week – I know I’m ready to put the second monitor at my desk to good use!