Major League Baseball (MLB) was founded in 1869 with its first team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. The league reaches its 150th anniversary this year.

MLB existed just four years after the Civil War ended. It was around before women had the right to vote, and a full 70 years before World War Two. Such longevity is less common in the corporate world. According to a Kauffman Foundation report, two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies in 1955 fell off the list within thirty years.

How do over 300 companies fall out of the Fortune 500 so quickly while Major League Baseball stays hugely significant for five times that amount of time?

Entrepreneurs can learn a lot from such long-term success. Here are five things MLB does right, that will help you build a sustainable, long-lasting business:

Create something people love.

Behind the success of any top business is an amazing product or service.  

MLB created a game that is tactical, requires significant skill, and is full of big plays like home runs and hundred-mile-an-hour fastball pitches. Fans love watching it. Baseball wouldn't still exist if fans didn't attend games, listen on the radio, or watch on TV all this time.

If you can create a product that your customers love, you can achieve comparable success. Experiment with creating a better customer experience. Develop strong loyalty programs. Simplify your online shopping experience.

Forget about profits and daily operations for a minute. Just remember that the end goal is for your customers to love what you're providing them. This alone can help you find a path of long-term success.

Build community.

Baseball brings people together. Entire cities rally behind their teams and form community that keeps them coming back to the sport, and each other.

As a San Francisco native, lifelong fan of the Giants, I remember the team's incredible three World Series wins in five seasons earlier this decade. It blew me away. Every other person you met was wearing a team jersey. Long-suffering fans could all identify with a certain "story" about the team and ourselves. For more than 50 years we had seen our team lose, and we became champions. It was a tremendous triumph. The Giants brought together stranger and friend alike. It deepened our love for the team, the sport, and each other.

There are many ways to foster community like this in your company. Start by doing doing it internally, with your own employees. It can be as simple as buying employees t-shirts or sweatshirts.

Building community externally with your customers is vital as well. Creating spaces for them to interact and learn from one another, for example, is a good first step.

Don't be afraid to change age-old ideas when the time comes.

I talk with fellow fans all the time about the speed speed of games. Many say they don't enjoy baseball because it's too slow. MLB is well aware of this critique.

In turn, the league took active steps to speed up games. Starting in 2018, it limited the number of visits managers could make to the pitching mound each game. More strategies are in the works possibly. The point is, despite rules that have been in place for decades, MLB overcame concerns and made changes to better support fans.

Likewise, you shouldn't balk at making changes to your product or business strategy if the time feels ripe. It might be challenging at first, but failing to adapt may put you behind competition and on the path of those Fortune 500 companies that didn't last.

Know your target audience.

In addition to creating a product your customers love, knowing who they are and what they care about will improve their experience.

For baseball, for example, it has meant offering hot dogs, beer, and peanuts at games for fans to munch on while they watch. MLB also created a singular television package called MLB TV for avid fans to watch any live game they want.

These choices both bring baseball more revenue and give their customers a better experience.

Understanding what your users want and care about, and emphasizing a willingness to support them in those wishes, creates more loyal customers and even generates more revenue.

Hire the best people.

The best baseball players and some of the smartest managerial and analytical minds in the world work for MLB and its teams. Such talent has let baseball keep the quality of its "product" extremely high. This translates to the highest quality customer experience.

Similarly, you should look to hire the best people for your company. Don't be afraid to pay top dollar if needed. You won't deliver the best support or build the best product without having A-team players. It'll be well worth the salary when you make the right hires.

Published on: Jan 8, 2019