10 notes for entrepreneurs from Michael Jordan (God Of All Times), the Chicago Bulls, and some David Blatt & Oded Katash spices.
The Covid-19 caught us unprepared. Uncertain. Confused. Need to recalculate, re-evaluate, re-fine, re-tune. It’s not an easy task at all, but also a great opportunity, to reflect about what matters the most, where our energy lies, where our focus should be. These are our post Corona biggest lessons. It also brought some interesting stuff with it. One of them is the consumption of great content. Via webinars, zoom, Netflix, lectures etc. Some of them caught my deep attention, and I wanted to share some notes from all-stars basketball players from around the globe, insights gathered for many years, and the mechanisms and similarities that I see from the startups’ world.
Respect your leader and follow him
Michael Jordan (MJ) took some time to climb up the ladder. He did win the ‘Rookie of The Year’ once joining the Bulls, but he got everyone's attention while working his way hard and being his utmost - to justify his soon to be leadership. He was gifted and talented, paved his way to be leader of the group, and then, continued to lead by example. He never demanded things which he didn’t stand up for himself. His standards were so high, but he complied with them. Leadership set by example, is what we the Israelis, call in the IDF the order of “After Me (achary)” - it means that I, as your leader, am here with you, setting an example and expecting from you only what I expect from myself.
The Bulls followed him. Some criticized him, some mentioned his perfectionism and desire to compete, but everyone respected him, and not just within the Bulls. He gained his leadership through leveraging his strengths, and the vote of confidence from his teammate, colleagues, managers and fans.
But not all was peachy for his “Airness”. In his 2nd season he was injured in the 3rd game and missed 64 games, and pretty much the entire season. ”Air Jordan” did get back in time for the playoffs, only to be swept by one of the greatest basketball teams of all times - the Boston Celtics. In the following years he was literally beaten up by the “Bad Boys” of Detroit Pistons. And it took MJ 7 years to win his 1st ring.
As a startup founder, your leadership is under a constant observation - from the investors, co-founders, employees, customers. That’s one of those things that it’s not enough to learn, but to live by, implement, act accordingly. Once you lead your venture, and not just manage it - mistakes can be forgiven, decisions can be made and people will give their everything to contribute to the venture's success.
Find your own Phil Jackson and be loyal to him
In The Last Dance, much and yet not enough was said about the GOAT’s Mentor and Coach - Phil Jackson. Together with him being a pro, leading to many wins along his career and his unquestionable talent and strategy skills in basketball (won 2 championships as a New York knicks player and 11 championships as a head coach for the Bulls and the L.A Lakers) - Master Zen brought with him his philosophy, values, wide knowledge and perspective. He saw his mentees, knowing when to be harsh, when to be gentle, when to listen, when to decide. When to lead, when to empower others. His team was everything for him - so committed that he ‘forgot’ to pay attention to the politics skills he needed to sharpen in order to keep his position. But, he was always honest and loyal to his values and his mentees.
Being loyal to your coach and willing to be mentored by him - is not obvious. People need to build trust, to feel that you see them and to know that you have their best interest in heart. There’s a lot of giving and love in the mentor-mentee relationship.
Leadership, values and loyalty, are measured in the appreciation you show during times of routine, but also, in perseverance and commitment once the boat is shaky.
As a startup founder, having a mentor and a coach, a Master Zen, someone you can learn from, lean on, consult, share and ventilate with - is a must. There is so much pressure and stress, and being alone in it is difficult and… alone. Don’t be shy, go out there and find your own Phil Jackson.
I recently heard 2 separate masterpiece interviews with David Blatt, former Head Coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv and Cleveland Cavaliers and Oded Katash, former Maccabi Tel Aviv Player, as part of the Entrepreneurship School of the IDC masterclasses. Blatt said that (G.B.L):
“As a coach, you worry much more and sleep much less than as a player. The satisfaction and pride of seeing everyone succeed as a team, is much bigger than any personal success. To increase their motivation, I sometimes offered a hug, sometimes a shout, sometimes a different approach. But always, I have paid attention to what is happening and working with it, good or bad, never ignoring it”.
Katash was talking about his vision that every player in the team should have his own sports psychologist/Coach to prepare him for peak performances and to maintain his resilience and grit. In startups like in sports - I embrace Katash’s advice and pass it forward to you.
Expand your business model revenue streams
MJ was THE product. He was part of the Chicago Bulls that were part of the NBA - each one is a stand alone strong brand (+ a short period in the White Socks). MJ differentiation was his talent, his spirit, his mental resilience. But, the business model was not based solely on basketball and arenas. Beyond being the #1 All-Time basketball player (branding & positioning wise), he leveraged it and created a strategic partnership - with a small shoe company back then, AKA Nike. MJ's total playing salary during his career totaled $90M, but he has earned another $1.7B (pre-tax) from corporate partners - campaigns, shoes, merchandise, movies and more. This emphasizes the strength of a strong brand and a good positioning, but also, how important it is to create partnerships and leverage your talent, creating a total new brand known as ‘Air Jordan’.
Back to the startup CEO - what is your technology/ solution that another corporate or conglomerate will partner with/use/ buy/ invest in, that will create your new ‘Air Jordan’ business model? That’s the strength of design partners and strategic partnerships.
Sometimes we mix competitiveness with comparison. I believe that one should always aim to be his better and higher self, try to reach his own highest standards. MJ's competitive spirit was his inner drive to thrive and succeed, always aiming to surpass his own limits, win another championship, win the MVP award, to be the best in the game. Comparison is one of our most unrewarding and less empowering behaviors - as we see what others have and think about what we lack, or the things we didn't reach. That won’t take us anywhere . So while having a competitive spirit, which is balanced and not at all costs, is something that can bring wins - comparisons are causing us to be competitive, not for the right reason.
Appreciate your rivals and mark your competitive advantage
Talking about competitiveness, one shall remember to respect his rivals and competitors, and at the same time learn from them, recognize their weaknesses and excel in those areas that give you the edge. Thus, differentiate oneself from the rest of the pack. Be respectful and know when it’s right to collaborate. Just like MJ kicked another MJ - a certain one named Ervin Magic Johnson while playing against the Lakers, but also won the Olympics with him, with the greatest team ever assembled together. Just like when Taboola and Outbrain have decided that together is better than alone.
When closing a deal, always know your way out
Scottie Pippen was indeed a legend. The $18M contract is definitely something to be proud of. But seems that also 20-30 years later - he cannot forgive himself about the “lock” he chose to take on himself. In Design Thinking methodology with startups & corporations, we talk about the ‘lock’ or ‘trap’ while engaging with customers. It’s exactly the same. Scottie was so focused on saving his family, creating a “stable” future, that he probably made the worst investment and bid ever - on himself. So one lesson is to always have a shorter term exit point, and the option to re-evaluate the terms of the contract, whatever kind of contract. Another point of view about it, is to practice mindfulness in the way we act, react and behave. What do I mean? Pippen was so focused on “ensuring” the future, that he wasn't present in the moment itself, the here and now. That caused some blindspots. Once, because when he closed the $18M deal - he thought about the future from a present point of view (didn't take into consideration the organic growth of his brand), and second, because he regretted it his entire career (which means he was bitter-sweet). So as a startup founder that signs on his safe/ term-sheet/seed/ round A investment - always know the terms of the negotiations, when will you be able to change the rules of the game and that you are signing on things that you feel good about, while going to sleep at night. Listen to your intuition. It is usually right. And if you are wrong - so maybe the aspired result wasn't the right one for YOU.
The price of your choices
Going back to Pippen - the deal is done. Now, it's up to you to choose how to spend your life - feeling sorry for yourself or looking towards the future, feel gratitude and think about the new directions you can grow your talent, impact and fortune. Going back to the startup’s life, being a startup CEO is a one heck of a choice. In my clinic and lectures, I often meet entrepreneurs that are not completely aligned with their personal and professional decisions, and what does this choice of being an entrepreneur mean. My message is not that the price is too heavy, but, that everything comes with a price, and not necessarily a financial one. And while making a choice, we just need to be crystal clear with ourselves, as for what those prices mean to us - what they enable and what they eliminate and to be in peace with it.
Be a good friend and a teammate
Michal was #1 player, no doubt. But he did not do it alone. Every captain has a first officer. Jordan had Pippen, Rodman, Kukoč and Harper. Their support, physically and mentally, their collaboration, their ego-put-aside - allowed MJ to be the rockstar he was. It’s not a solo dance. It’s a team of giants that were focused on the higher goal, and allowed their superhero to shine. There's much friendship, out-doing and maturity in it. In his recent thrilling masterclass, David Blatt was discussing the complexity of playing for such a great cause, when there’s a leading winner and everyone is there to support him. Blatt spoke about the mental and emotional distress of the players, and how important it is to help them release the stress they feel.
Back to the startups world - while growing and scaling-up a company - a good entrepreneur is the one that builds the company in the right way - meaning, brings talented colleagues, professional in their field that will help him bring the company to its next level, builds processes and teams and empower his managers to lead and take decisions. And have their back. A CEO that leads, but has a strong system around him.
Appreciate your audience/ fans/ users
MJ was a phenomena, no argue about it. But, he never forgot the essence of his success - giving back to your audience. Every game he took pictures with children and fans. His all ‘Air Jordan’ line of products was his commercial success - because someone bought it. People endorsed him, because they felt he gave back to them. He valued them and provided added value to their whole experience - be it generating faith in yourself, developing super-hero skills or in designing the best basketball shoe.
Leading a startup company, the most important thing is the users. B2B/ B2C/ SaaS/ HW. Will they pay for it (product market fit)? How much (pricing)? Will they continue to use it after a while (retention)? How much do they cost me vs. how much I gain (LTV/CAC)? Is my brand memorable and stable? How is their whole user experience?
The users are your starting point. And your end point. Respect them, see them, treat them fairly, communicate with them, remember that you yourself are a user in the service called “life”. Be humble. Do good.
Don’t rush for fame
To Michael Jordan who indeed was a legend, it took approximately 20 years after his retirement to participate in the production of The Last Dance. Yes, he had campaigns, movies, interviews, commercials - he was all over, but this genuine, intimate conversation with him only came much later. Speaking of intimate, his wife and children were barely mentioned there - in a 20 years career.
To the founders amongst you - you have time to be the phenomena that you’re aiming to, to be the unicorn and part of the hall of fame of the business schools case studies and Forbes richest people. Build your way carefully and professionally. Invest in the way, not just in the PR. Be good to your people - team, investors, customers. Remember your family - cherish them.
Don’t rush to be the next unicorn or God Of All Times only for the sake of status and prestige - believe in every step of the way, lead with passion and do what really makes you feel good.
In my clinic, I debrief with my entrepreneurs the behaviors and actions that led them to one result or another, helping them to understand which actions to cherish and duplicate and which ones to drop and eliminate in the future.
In the IDC masterclasses I've mentioned earlier, Blatt said that (G.B.L):
“you learn much more from losses and debriefing them, and the willingness to take it for positive and productive directions. It's not a shame to lose, it's a shame not to get up and go on”.
Katash gave a beautiful story about the EuroLeague in 2000, about what being a pro is all about, and how it feels when the goal is bigger than anything (G.B.L):
“I was in Panathinaikos, a moment before playing against my former team. I was confused and upset. My sports psychologist knew not to talk to me, that it’s too gentle. But once the game began, I have left it all behind, playing against my friends, former team and fans, knowing what are my values and education, and that basketball is on top of everything. We won. It was the happiest and saddest day of all”.