‘That was a crappy call ref’
‘We won on the weekend.’
If you’re a founder, yelling at the TV or bragging about your team’s win to a friend, may be the extent of your interaction with sport and elite athletes. Maybe some of you play sport too, and compete at a decent level, but playing for a Premiership or an Olympic medal seems like a long way away. Particularly in Australia, we love our sporting heroes, and respect the sacrifices athletes make to play at that level.
For athletes, we are just as impressed by the sacrifices founders make to solve the problems they care about. Early mornings, hard work, the pressure to perform, seemingly insurmountable odds and the lack of days off are not things that only athletes face.
A lot is written for investors about selecting which companies to invest in. Not so much is written for founders about selecting which investors and advisors to allow into their company and onto their cap table. Money is the same no matter who it comes from, so what else is worth considering?
Athletes can bring a lot to the field of play. And more and more athletes are becoming passionate about supporting and investing in founders. It’s fantastic to see as in many ways, the founder journey is very similar to the athlete journey. Here are a few unconventional ways athletes could be a great teammate for your company.
1. Athletes think long term. Really long term. Most of us started our sport around age 5, and we aren’t successful at the highest level until our twenties, or even later. If you’re an equestrian athlete you might not make the Olympics until your sixties! The average span of an investment in a startup is seven to ten years – for an athlete that’s pretty short. We aren’t in the investment game to see a quick turnaround. We are in it for the long haul. Speaking of which…
2. Athletes understand the grind. Startups are a lot of work. There are no days off (and even if you take a day off you’re still spending your time thinking about your company). We know that there are days you don’t feel like working. There are weeks where nothing seems to go right. There are months where you question whether you are on the right track. Every successful athlete has felt exactly the same as a founder. And we know what it’s like to get out of bed anyway and do what needs to be done to succeed.
3. Athletes don’t freak out over the ups and downs. As investors we aren’t like first time day-traders getting ecstatic with one sale or milestone, or despondent with a single setback. We’ve all lost races, been beaten by stronger teams, missed important shots and fallen down. We’ve also all stood on top of the podium, heard the national anthem played in our honour, felt the weight of a medal around our neck and been hoisted into the air by our teammates. While the ups are exciting, and the downs are depressing, we know that the game is won on all the days in-between the extremes. That’s what we are here for.
4. Athletes recognise the importance of team. Even in an individual sport any success is the result of a team of people – coaches, training partners, supporters, psychologists, nutritionists, physios and so on. Everyone brings different strengths and expertise to the team. At Athletic Ventures we think we have a few things we can offer startups to help them grow. That could range from using our personal brands to promote a product, to making an introduction to one of our sponsors who could be your next client, to running a team building day for your staff.
5. Athletes are great at feedback. Every. Single. Day. Our coaches and teammates give us brutal feedback. ‘Too slow. Work harder. Your left hand was in the wrong position by half an inch. You made the wrong decision on that play.’ It’s relentless. As a result athletes get really good at both receiving and giving feedback. So founders can tell it to us straight if we aren’t adding enough value. And we’ll tell it to founders straight what we love and don’t love about your company. Feedback is a far faster way to improve than trial and error.
6. Athletes are comfortable with (really) low odds of success. Did you know that athletes are more likely to win the lottery than qualify for the Olympics? Or that less than 0.02% of athletes ever get drafted for a professional team? As athletes, we’ve learnt a few things about high performance – lessons we’re more than happy to share with the companies we invest in and their people.
Elite athletes are an unusual group of investors that probably understand the struggles of the founder journey almost as well as other founders. They understand what it takes to win and stick with it even if getting that victory takes decades.
Aside from that, imagine next time you’re cheering on your favourite sports team, you could do so knowing the athletes on the field are also part of your startup team.March 11, 2021