On Thursday night, the NBA Finals will kick off, for the first time ever, outside of the United States. The game pits the Golden State Warriors against the Toronto Raptors--and showcases the sideline support of Raptors superfan and Grammy-wining rapper Drake.  For some, Drake has become the focus.

Drake has been part of the Raptors' organization for years. He has courtside seats and is extremely demonstrative during games. Some are taking exception with the rapper's antics, which occasionally tread the line between observing the game and personally impacting it from the sidelines.

Such is the case of Smash Mouth, a washed-up band from the '90s, who in a recent tweet tired to pick a fight with Drake:

This seems to be a calculated attempt to engage Drake in an online fight.  I say calculated because a radio station in Milwaukee, home to the team that the Raptors beat to advance to the Finals, did the same thing just before the last round of the playoffs:

I can think of a number of possible motives for these attacks. Full disclosure, by the way: I live in Toronto and am a lifetime Raptors fan. I've never met Drake.

Here's the surprising thing: Those motives make a lot of sense when applied to a startup setting. See for yourself:

  1. The Halo effect. "When David picks a fight with Goliath, he puts himself in the ring with him. From then on the audience associates David as part of the bigger game." explains Les Hansen, an angel investor and CEO of Benetech who has watched Drake's cheering from his seat approximately 100 meters away.
  2. Steal followers. As of Thursday morning, Smash Mouth has 77,000 followers on Twitter. Drake has 38.2 million Twitter followers. I'd say this is clearly an attempt to steal the narrative and hopefully pick up some publicity.
  3. All press is good press. I am writing this article about Smashmouth. 'Nuff said.
  4. Incite your tribe. By calling Drake a glorified mascot, Smash Mouth is basically pandering to the millions of Golden State Warriors fans who want their team to win. (By the way, the Warriors have six million Twitter followers.)

How Your Startup Should Pick a Fight

Now, I'm too Canadian to pick a fight. But if I were a startup, here's how I'd do it. Notice that Smash Mouth achieves some of these steps--and fails dramatically at others.

  1. Find a target. If your startup is in cybersecurity, pick the largest players in that field.
  2. Choose the battlefield. Volvo takes on Porche with safety, not speed. You must do the same. Focus on your unique value proposition--how you make your users exponentially better. Then, identify industry leaders who fail to offer that level of value. That cybersecurity startup could leverage every hack on Microsoft, IBM, and Norten to taunt those larger rivals.
  3. Use only facts. Don't use subjective, unvalidated, personal opinion. "You suck, I'm great" is a poor tactic. Instead, focus on arm's length objective facts. "My company's solution is ten times more secure than yours" is a much stronger line of attack.
  4. Challenge--but don't invoke retaliation. Instead of resorting to taunts and trolls to incite your targets, take the high road. For instance, challenge them to see who can raise the most money for charity. It keeps matters friendly, and even if you fail to win any new followers, it's all still for a good cause. Retaliation can get you in trouble.

The NBA Finals are upon us, and everyone is talking about Drake. You should pay attention.

Published on: May 30, 2019
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