By Adam Mendler, CEO of The Veloz Group
Ed Orgeron is the head coach of the No. 1 college football team in the country, the LSU Tigers. He reportedly earns $4 million a year. His star quarterback Joe Burrow recently won the Heisman Trophy and is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
If you aren't an avid college football fan, it would be natural to assume that Orgeron's success was preordained -- a Louisiana native returning to his home state to lead LSU to a national championship. But Orgeron's road to the top has been anything but smooth, and entrepreneurs can learn key lessons from Coach O.
Orgeron started coaching college football as a graduate student and became the head coach at LSU in his mid-50s. In between, he was the defensive line coach for the University of Miami but was fired; he was the head coach for the University of Mississippi but was fired. He was the interim coach at USC, but he was passed over for the permanent position. Orgeron's failures are not dissimilar from those of entrepreneurs who operate businesses that fail.
Startups fail because of issues in founders' personal lives, because the company's performance cannot sustain or does not justify its continued existence, or for reasons that, years later, especially with the comfort of hindsight, do not seem as significant as they were deemed at the time.
In entrepreneurship, some form of failure is inevitable -- even when our businesses succeed, we experience failures of varying magnitude on a daily basis. Ultimately, it is the ability to manage failure that is integral to success. As long as you accept the inevitability of some form of failure and look at setbacks as both temporary and as opportunities to learn and grow, you will be able to charge forward.
Orgeron's career is a case study in persistence paying off. Coach O was long considered an elite assistant coach, but it took more than three decades from the time he began coaching for the right combination of opportunity, preparation, skill and luck to manifest itself. On a journey and in a profession with many ups and downs, Orgeron's perseverance ultimately allowed him to reach the pinnacle of his field.
Along similar lines, entrepreneurs intent on operating thriving businesses must recognize that the process of building a highly successful company requires the convergence of a variety of key variables that often take time to come together. Entrepreneurs capable of playing the long game and able to grit out the tough times can find the success that is often elusive in the early years of a startup.
While I am by no means advocating continuing to operate a fundamentally bad business -- and all decisions should be made as rationally as possible -- giving up is a lot easier than grinding through, and the path of least resistance is not necessarily the best. Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither are successful businesses, or championship-level coaching careers.
Relatability is rewarded.
Throughout his career, Orgeron was recognized as one of the top recruiters in the sport and has long been praised for his ability to motivate and connect with players. When Coach O took over as interim head coach in the middle of a tough season at USC, one of the first things he did to turn the culture around was let his players eat dessert. He famously said at the time, "You feed a lineman a cookie, he's happy." X's and O's are important to winning football games, but nothing is more important to your team's success than your players.
In order to win, you need to have good players, and you need to have those players want to play for you. Similarly, while entrepreneurs must have a sound business model and a winning strategy in place, without the people to execute the game plan, there is no business. You need good employees, and you need them to perform to the best of their abilities.
Prioritize your personnel by taking the time to understand their needs and their wants and acting on them. Create the kind of company and culture where people will want to work, and in doing so, your business will be much better positioned to excel.
Adam Mendler is CEO of The Veloz Group and Founder of Beverly Hills Chairs, Custom Tobacco and Veloz Solutions.