Strong Opinions @marksbirch

Random thoughts from a NYC entrepreneur and investor about start-ups, technology and the people that make it all happen. Also find time for good tunes and good food.
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Then there is no hope.  Zero.  Zilch.  Just end it immediately.  Fire the staff, apologize to your users, return whatever money is left to investors, move back in with your parents, and whimper to yourself for the next several weeks.  With any luck, people will forget all about your startup and you can survive with some modicum of dignity left.

Sorry for the severe bout of doom and gloom in this bright, shiny new year.  However, after watching an entire NFL regular season of the most hapless show on turf, I have nothing but bile and misery coursing through my veins this week.  Granted I only predicted the Jets would win four games, the season was actually much more embarrassing with their sum total of six wins.  But the final straw was seeing the back page of the NY Post this morning about Rex taking a beach vacation.  What a complete and utter joke of an organization.

But enough of my ranting, what is important is that you, the entrepreneur, need to avoid a similar fate.  While I normally would not stoop so low as to compare startup life to sports, pop culture, or animals, there are some points about culture and organization that are worth exploring.  So without further ado, here are some useful tips you can take away:

  • Have a Plan and Stick to It – You wondered if there was ever a strategy to all the things the Jets did in the off-season and during the year.  Getting Tebow, hiring a failed coach as offensive coordinator, pursuing ground-and-pound without a ground game, and half-heartedly using the Wildcat.  When you have no plan (i.e. strategy), then you simply get blown about as things happen.  Customers have no idea what to expect.  Investors lose confidence.  Leadership is questioned.  While flexibility is important, so is having control of the ship and making decisions based not on whims, but on a clear vision and plan to execute on that vision.
  • Put Product Ahead of Publicity – Bringing on Tebow exemplified the narcissistic, attention grabbing behavior of the Jets, but this current iteration of the organization from the start has been all about the headlines.  From the Rex bombast to the HBO show to the off the field distractions, they have managed to completely steal the spotlight from the other NY football team, the one that actually won a Superbowl.  Problem is that theatrics and press do not fill the seats, sell season tickets, or lead to championships.  PR is important, but it falls flat if the product sucks.  Do not let media attention and celebrity hype overshadow the mission to create a great product and gain loyal users.  If you need any proof that press does not equate success, just look at Color and Airtime.
  • You Live and Die by Culture – The locker room was in disarray at the end of last season with the public airing of many private grumblings about the offense and Mark Sanchez.  This season morale was even worse as injuries, losing took a toll on the team, and players started griping about Tebow.  While Rex toned down his typical bombastic statements, he clearly did not have the pulse of the locker room.  When you want to be liked rather than right (or at least right in accordance to your vision and goals), then you do not have a culture, you have the makings of serious discord.  Be firm from the very beginning about the attitude and expectations and be rigorous about maintaining those standards.
  • Team Versus Superstars – When both Santonio Holmes and Darrelle Revis went down with injuries, they lost their best offensive weapon and their most intimidating defensive player for the bulk of the season.  Others tried to fill in place of the stars, but it was clear that the team was bereft of talent.  That being said, you also have to create an environment that is conducive to helping to cover the gaps and that was obviously missing.  Many talk about finding “A players”, yet most early startups are simply not equipped to attract that level of talent.  If a startup does get those rare individuals, they are more like free agents; they do what they want when they want.  You are better off getting the best folks you can that fit well with your culture and believe in your vision.  If you create an environment that gives employees the freedom to experiment, fail, and learn, then there is a good chance that they will grow into the type of superstar you so desperately sought.

The moral of the story is the Jets are horrible.  The thing is that no matter how bad they are, they are not going away anytime soon.  I am a huge sucker for sticking with them all these years, but eventually they will right the ship.  Your startup however does not have such a luxury, so have a plan, focus on the important things, foster a great culture, and build the right team.  And do not become another long suffering Jets fan.