As a former pro basketball player overseas, many people have wondered why I chose to start my own company. I believe the transition from athlete to entrepreneur is a logical one: it takes drive, persistence and vision to succeed in both fields. While my experience playing basketball in part spurred the creation of my company, CoachUp, it also taught me a lot about how to run it successfully.
There are times in both sports and business when the going gets tough. During those critical times, what are the most essential rules to live by? Here are four from my experience as an athlete and entrepreneur.
Rule #1: Dive for every loose ball.
One of my all-time favorite basketball players, Larry Bird would always "hit the deck" for loose balls that he had seemingly no chance of getting, as his teammates looked on. What struck me the most about this seemingly routine habit and what has stayed with me all these years is how he put the team's goal of winning above his own health and career longevity. He didn't have great knees--and he didn't always come up with the ball--but he always dove for it. This ultimately had a big impact on his team. Here's why: Leaders lead from the front.
How does this apply to your startup? When you have a team lunch, be the one who eats last. If there are dishes to wash, a refrigerator to clean out or a picture to hang, do it yourself instead of passing it off to a junior employee. Dive for every loose ball, and you will see your teammates start to do the same.
Rule #2: Seek out good mentors.
As a founder or leader in your company, how do you ensure that you are constantly pushing yourself to be better and more competitive? The best way to extend your current skill set is by finding mentors, advisors or a business coach--and a close group of colleagues in the office and in your industry--to share notes with and learn from.
It will come as no surprise that I am a big believer in private coaching--no professional athlete trains alone in the off season. In fact, the best players train one-on-one or in small groups with a private trainer all year round. It's simply the best way to develop their skills and stay in "game shape".
Rule #3: Be consistent and take care of your body.
As a professional athlete, you are constantly being judged by how hard you work, how well you take care of your body, how professional you are with media and in the community--you are a brand and are expected to hold yourself to a higher standard.
As an entrepreneur, it's no different. Whether you are staying up late coding away, or busy executing against business-goals in your startup--fundraising, PR, business development, marketing, strategy, etc.--be sure to treat your body as your top priority. If you don't, you won't be able to perform at your highest level.
There are certainly things you can't avoid, but focus on the things you can control such as your diet, exercise and hydration. Consistency is everything. If you want to set a goal, set a goal of being the Cal Ripken of startups. Be consistent, avoid catching a cold, and show up every day. It's more than half the battle!
Rule #4: Celebrate your wins as a team.
My first year in Israel, in the final game of preseason, our team won against one of the best teams in the world outside of the NBA. But individually I played poorly. I was disappointed in my performance, and even more frustrated that I didn't make the most of the opportunity to showcase what I could do.
But the team had won the championship, and it was time to celebrate. As a group of kids on the sidelines wearing our jerseys came over for autographs, I reflected on how my actions mattered to my team and fans, despite what I had--or had not--personally achieved.
At CoachUp now, I make a concerted effort to celebrate our wins, no matter how small or large. Whether it's raising a new round of funding, beating our monthly forecast, setting new records for daily sales, onboarding a new hire, or reading a glowing review from one of our athletes-- it's really important to take the time to celebrate these wins. Leading by example means creating this culture of encouragement on the team--a culture that celebrates the victories of each person on the team and overall--because your actions matter to those who are watching.