If I had to pick two things in college that prepared me for running a startup it would be failing a lot through engineering, and second, the inordinate amount of time I spent playing pickup basketball.
I started as an underdog, no friends, no credibility, and nobody that really wanted to play with me. It took about two years of just straight up: practice, rejection, practice, trying again, failing, practice, trying again, small success, big failure, practice, build some credibility, fail again, rinse and repeat to be somewhat ok.
After 4 years I finally made it to the A/B court. At Cal, there are 3 courts A, B, C (A being the best, C being the worst). The politics are complicated, but basically, I worked my way to a decent place in the basketball pecking order. 4 years at least enabled me to fake it in the somewhat higher levels of basketball-dom.
But then I left. And I never really played basketball that intensely again.
Which is where I think I am now with the startup world. Same story, and 4 years later I am finally at the decent levels of startup-dom. But right at this moment, I’m coming out of a bad championship game: the game was tied, I was open, I took a shot, and I missed. We lost. Everyone was pissed. At themselves, at me too. I was most pissed of all. So many things I could have done differently. Our team could have done differently. How many open layups did our team miss? How many times did we fail to box out? How many times did the other team penetrate our defense and score some easy shots? How many second chance points did we give away? How many ways could we have won? A lot. And it plays over and over and over in your head. All the ways we could have won.
But really, now the only thing to do is go over the game tape with the team. And see how you can prepare for the upcoming season. It’s a hard loss. But it’s not the end. Not yet at least.
So you double down on the basics. Play one on one with people way better than you who will give you any time possible, so when they brutally beat you, you’ll learn and get better (i.e your advisors that can be dicks, but their advice is really good and makes you better). But also shoot around with people who are really experienced and can give you pointers on the nuances of the game (i.e. your more seasoned advisors who may not tell you the harsh realities of day to day, but they give you really good operational advice to implement and are there to support you emotionally because they’ve been around the block a few times) and anyone in between really. Anyone who’ll either play pickup with you, shoot around with you, or anything basketball related really. Because you learn from everyone, and you take what you can get. Absorb it like a sponge. And while you push yourself to get better, you realize you have to push everyone else on your team to be better too. That is absolutely your job.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, your friends/family that you either bitch about the game with, commiserate with, or perhaps even bail you out when you’re in a tough spot. That’s key. The mental piece of the game. That’s something you never had before that helps you get to the next level.
Physical and mental union is how you up your game. And you have to up your game.
Because the next time around, who knows how forgiving life will be.