How Running a Venture Capital Firm is Similar to Playing Basketball
A sales Person who games throughout the weekend Because Why Not
Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital explains similarities between basketball game and running a venture capital.
The world often works in microcosms, and I find frequently when I am stuck on something that’s giving me trouble, that if I can shrink the problem, and understand a smaller version of the dilemma, I can overcome it. I can work backwards from my simple solution, expanding it and growing it, until it fits the problem at hand. So, while the two worlds of venture capitalism and college basketball may seem to have nothing to do with each other, the problems that one must face and overcome in each field are very similar, if one just shrinks those problems down to the lowest common denominator.
This is all just a roundabout way of saying the same lessons and techniques I learned from my time on the men’s basketball team at Duke University, are the same ones I rely on most as a businessman in the corporate world. The values of the two are completely interchangeable, and can be transferable to any workplace or setting where a group is working towards a common goal.
Be a Good Leader. If you can’t Be One, Find One.
Every project needs a leader. It’s a simple fact that the world falls simply into hierarchies, so whether a hierarchy is implemented or not, it will always exist, either formally or informally. Of course, the best thing to do is to take control by creating a hierarchy of your own choosing, before one can form on its own. A hierarchy without a strong leader will have ineptitude and confusion spread throughout it from the top down. As the creator and owner of your business, you are the natural choice for the position at the top of the hierarchy.
Rise to the challenge and lead your team with confidence and conviction! A strong leader who acts with integrity and gumption will always garner more respect than a leader who tries to please everyone (an impossible task with inevitable failure.) However, if you are not a born leader, or your role in the project is one of pupil, as mine was in the Duke basketball program, it’s possible to find someone to be that leader for you.
Luckily for me, my first leader was the legendary Coach Mike Krzyzewski AKA Coach K, and it was from him that I learned the characteristics of a great leader. Confidence, sympathy, honesty, positivity, creativity: the list goes on, but these are some of the main pillars which, measuredly balanced against each other, form the foundation of strong leadership.
Be a Team Player
While the generalization of “being a team player” may seem to abstract to be meaningful, the concepts that make up the contents captured under the umbrella term “teamwork” are important ones. Humbleness is essential to working cohesively as part of a team, where the overall, grand goal set by the team is truly the only goal.
Within the context of a team, individual accomplishments mean nothing if the group goal is not accomplished. The best, most humble athletes are quick to admit that a career day of points scoring means nothing if their team didn’t win. The next quality a team player must have is the ability to listen and communicate well with others. No successful team exists without communication; without it, every team member would feel responsible for every aspect of the project.
Instead, delegation must occur, and all members of the efficient team work on something different. Lastly, a team player must have awareness, both of himself and those working around him. Negligence of one’s responsibilities within the team is no better than blatant malpractice within the team, and may actually be worse, depending on the situation.
Being aware of the team means knowing your responsibilities as well as knowing the responsibilities of everyone else on the team, so as to facilitate maximum coordination. A team leader who likes to keep his team members partly in the dark, only releasing to them the information necessary for their own role in the project, is a bad leader, and is doing an injustice to the success of his team and their goals.
In a basketball game, if Coach K ever caught us on the court not moving, he would instantly take that player out of the game. Sure it was part punishment for laziness, but it was also Coach K letting that person know to change their attitude. Coach K knew an unmoving player didn’t have the right mentality needed for success. A player who is standing still is waiting for the action to come to him; a moving player is saying, “Gimme some of that action!”
Which one do you think a coach/leader wants to see? Even when it seems like there is nothing to be done, like all tasks are completed and the only thing to possibly do is to sit and wait, one can always keep preparing! Coach K would tell us that even if our feet weren’t moving, we should wave our hands and keep our heads on a swivel, increasing our awareness and visibility, effectively inserting ourselves into the action of the game.
There is no room for spectators on a team. Every team member is expected to put in as much energy as the next person, and if your work is done, assisting the person next to you will only accelerate the team towards its communal goal.
Be Positive and Stay Positive
Simply adding positivity to a situation will never make that situation worse. Negativity, on the other hand, will destroy any situation it gets it hands on. Nothing will cause a team to break apart and shatter like negative attitudes (especially those that come from massive egos!)
A positive attitude is essential to any team project, and it becomes even more essential when the odds are stacked against that team’s success. Every comeback begins with someone believing and saying it can be done. Never lose your positivity and optimism, and even the big defeats will feel miniscule.
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