What you can learn about running your business from one of the best basketball players of all time.
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To a casual observer of the NBA, Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry seems like an overnight basketball sensation. He has smashed multiple records, including notably this season, where Curry has shown that the three-point line is just for beginners. For one stretch, he had a higher efficiency shooting 28-50 feet away from the basket than one would have making 100% of one’s two-pointers. And with his performance, Curry has attracted loyal fans from around the world, including those staying up well past their bedtimes to catch a glimpse of greatness.
Entrepreneurs and VCs in Silicon Valley hear about supposed “overnight successes” all the time. We know that moniker to be false, and that the culmination of success comes from repeated behaviors that are often ignored, until suddenly they’re not.
Recently, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote a great article about how Steph Curry has made the impossible seem effortless. The answers are intriguing, and offers startup founders a great lesson on the archetype it takes to succeed when you’re innovating and competing with the best.
1. Get your hands dirty and work hard for a cause
In his quest to be the best, Jenkins writes that Curry takes 2,000 shots every week. That translates to 23.8 shots for every waking hour of every single day. Curry observes, “My hands are actually kind of rough…I got a lot of callouses from the shooting.”
I often hear that founders are starting a company because they’re fed up with their boss, want to see what starting a company is like, want to be a CEO, want a chance at making a big payoff, or other mediocre reasons. More often then not, these are the founders who quickly give up and go home.
Starting a company takes an incredible amount of hard work, and a burning passion to make your version of reality, reality. If you don’t have a cause, don’t put in the effort, and are unwilling to be left calloused, you’re probably not up for the challenge.
2. Do more with less and turn rejection into iteration
Most startups start off scrappy, and the best founders often maintain that mentality long after they begin experiencing what most would deem success.
At 6′ 3″, Curry is short for a basketball player, and even short for a point guard. Commenting on his physique, Curry admits, “I’m not an above the rim guy, so I’ve got to have creativity.”
Jenkins reports that coming out of high school, Curry was a lean 140 lbs, and that though he was passed on by multiple teams and leagues, “The snubs bred determination, and they also bred something else: radical experimentation.”
Your startup probably doesn’t have a lot of resources by traditional standards. I remember working out of hotel hallways and coffee shops for the free Wi-Fi, and begging Silicon Valley insiders for free office space when Boris Silver and I first started our online VC firm, FundersClub. I could rattle off a list of industry insiders who told us our vision was impossible when it was just an idea (some of whom have since recanted or apologized for their naysaying).
In fact, we’re only just now moving to our first office building after spending the last couple years in a work/live zoned loft apartment. The master bedroom served as our conference room, which I had to deck out with mirrors to make it appear larger. Yet in that time we managed to become shareholders of tech industry leaders like Slack and Greenhouse, to invest in rapidly-rising startups like Instacart and Shippo, and to partner with intrepid founders who are changing the world. We have a long way to go-I liken it to being on mile 10 of a marathon that never ends-and know that like our own startups, our quest is still ours to own or falter.
Jenkin reports, “The interplay between Curry’s neuro-receptors and motor skills, the ability to read and react, might be the single fastest messaging system on the plane.”
As a startup founder, you have speed and agility as a competitive advantage. Experiment, be willing to do what others may not risk, go where others have not gone, and work smarter next time when you inevitably make mistakes.
Keep trying till you find what works best, and you will be nailing three-pointers in ways no one previously would have anticipated.
3. Stay humble, focused, and balanced
Jenkins reveals that as a result of his early rejections, for Curry, “humility is his natural state.”
It is easy, particularly with the tailwinds of early success, to get caught up in the hubris of startups and VC. This is especially true in the world of tech startups, with our tech media, conferences, the Twitterati, and other quirks that sometimes glorify certain aspects of tech startup culture.
Hot off that oversubscribed seed round? Landed that amazing feature article? Delivering that keynote speech? And yes, moving into that shiny new office? That likely has no bearing on your startup’s success. Don’t let it get to your head.
For Curry, peripheral distractions include filming ads for sponsors, attending awards shows, participating in media events, and other consequences of being the MVP of the NBA. Not surprisingly, Jenkins reports that Curry has dramatically scaled back his commitments this year.
Speaking on work-life balance, Curry says he lives by the mantra of if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life, and that it’s his love for the game of basketball, and for his wife Ayesha, that provide him with what it takes to move through his life with energy and passion.
When running a startup, it’s important to take care of your emotional and physical well-being as well, which often starts with loving what you’re pursuing and throwing yourself wholeheartedly into your work. Yet beyond this, there are activities that are equally important. Eating well, exercising, keeping close with family and friends, reading, learning, traveling, and taking breaks are all part of a balanced entrepreneurial path.
Building a startup from scratch is hard work. Most top founders seem to agree that keeping a business running and growing doesn’t get easier either, as the problems just change in scale once you’re past your early days. The clock is always counting down, there are always competitors on the court who want exactly what you want, and there is the ultimate price to pay if you’re off your game.
Yet take a page from Steph Curry’s playbook, and the stats may skew in your favor.