For decades, the Golden State Warriors have been an afterthought, frequently missing NBA playoffs. Last year, they won the NBA championship and they continue to be on a roll. The biggest difference in the past five or so years? Venture capitalists bought the team--not all that unusual in sports--and then decided to run it like another startup in their portfolio.

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Joe Lacob and a group of fellow investors purchased the team for $450 million in 2010. A New York Times Magazine story describes how the owners--most hailing from Silicon Valley--think their management style is responsible for the team's successes. Sure, it helps to have Stephen Curry on the team (he was already there when the VCs bought the Warriors) but the owners view the team's achievements as part of a master plan. 

"Lacob was not the first venture capitalist to buy a franchise, but he is the first to operate one according to what might be called Silicon Valley precepts: nimble management, open communication, integrating the wisdom of outside advisers and continuous re-evaluation of what companies do and how they do it. None of that typically happens in professional sports," writes journalist Bruce Shoenfeld. 

Lacob saw the Warriors as an under-performing business and one he could turn around with the right management strategies. Here are three ways he and his fellow investors approached managing the team just as you would expect them to--as VCs. As sports writers have noted, whatever Lacob is doing, it seems to be working

Instead of being hands-off, Lacob rolled up his sleeves and strategized. 

When some investors buy sports teams, they sink cash in with no strings attached. Not Lacob. "Everyone he's partnered with has a strategic reason to be there," Dennis Mannion, C.E.O. of the Detroit Pistons, told New York Times Magazine. "You have this phenomenal bullpen of talent."

Lacob reimagined the franchise as a software startup.

Lacob is used to managing a portfolio of companies, something Shoenfield suggests is similar to running a franchise. When he took over the Warriors, he physically reorganized the front office in such a way as to give it a tech startup feel. He removed walls and converted the office to an open floor plan. "You walk through there now, and it's young, and there's excitement," Gib Arnold, a former University of Hawaii head coach, told New York Times Magazine. "It's Google in the N.B.A." 

He structured his investor team the way a VC would. 

Lacob and Hollywood entrepreneur Peter Gruber, who's also invested in the Warriors, brought on N.B.A. Hall of Famer Jerry West, someone obviously well-known in basketball circles. They knew it would be a good way to stave off any criticism of their decisions. Lacob put it this way: "If we make a mistake, 'Well, Jerry West thought it was a good idea.' " Vanguard Ventures' Tom McConnell described the move as something he would expect from Lacob. "Bringing in Jerry West is not just a VC move but a typical Kleiner move," he told the magazine. "They always put Nobel laureates on their advisory boards. In basketball, that's West."

 

Published on: Apr 1, 2016