Fantasy football season is here and I’m looking at another year of barely scraping by. Out of the last four seasons, my only real success came in 2012, when my buddies somehow allowed me to get Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson at the peak of their powers. That was a true dream team. We were virtually unstoppable!
Of course, that’s not how real sports work, is it? Having the best natural talent doesn’t always mean easy victory. For proof, just look outside of football to basketball. The Miami Heat put together a star-studded team in 2010 headlined by three bonified superstars, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Yet In spite of this triple-threat, they lost in their very first NBA Finals appearance to the Dallas Mavericks, a team led by Dirk Nowitzki and a cast of players well past their prime (they had one starter under the age of 30).
That got me thinking—people are always talking about startups led by superstar entrepreneurs and executives. But startups have much more in common with actual sports than they do fantasy sports. As a result, success is about much more than fielding a team of all-stars. It takes the right combination of complementary skill sets, experiences and personalities.
It’s not that big name talent is bad for startups, or sports teams for that matter. Dream lineups can, and do succeed, but they often don’t meet the huge expectations placed on them. Meanwhile, underdogs routinely outperform everyone’s predictions.
The Miami Heat, eventually won two NBA titles. They certainly didn’t walk away empty-handed, but they didn’t live up to the hype either. In the startup world, I’d liken this scenario to Jet.com, an e-commerce site with a big name founder that was once hyped as a potential “Amazon killer.”
The ambitious company came storming out the gate, raising more than $500 million in capital, some of which was invested before they had even launched.
When Jet was eventually acquired by Walmart for $3 billion, many noted that it was the largest e-commerce deal ever. What I noted was that the company was burning through cash and largely fell short in its bid to topple Amazon. It was a solid exit, no doubt about it—but it didn’t display the dominance that was predicted, based on the team involved.
The truth is, whether it’s sports or startups, success is less about finding an entire team of all-stars and more about finding the right combination of complementary skill sets, experiences and personalities.
So when a founder pitches our investing team based on the reputations of the team involved, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that all the truly critical elements of startup success lie much deeper in the details. How does their team fit together? How adaptable are they to different roles and responsibilities? Can they keep their own egos in check for the good of the venture? And most importantly, what skills can these individuals bring to the table that can translate to actual wins for their team?
At some point, every startup has to answer these questions—that doesn’t change just because they have big names at every position. So don’t freak out if your executive team isn’t yet known all over the world.
Just stay focused on what really matters—the right people, the right product and the right market. The rest will take care of itself.