Entrepreneurial events like Startup Weekends, multi-week programs and fourteen week accelerators are exciting events that can give startup companies a boost toward success and the startup community a reason to engage with one another and celebrate our progress. In my opinion, these events alone are not enough to build a sustainable entrepreneurial community. We must also have long term skills development and knowledge acquisition.
I use many sports analogies because playing sports was a big part of my life growing up and many of the things I learned playing sports I use every day in business. In sports, you practice far more than you play games. Practice is where you develop your skills, knowledge and work ethic to be able to compete and win in a game. The game is a test of our skills, knowledge and effort in a competitive environment. The games are fun, especially if you win, for the competitors and coaches and entertaining for the fans and supporters. Although games do teach us how to compete with an opponent, games don’t develop our basic skills, knowledge and work ethic. That is the purpose of practice. It works that same way for learning to play an instrument – lots and lots of practice before you’re ready for a recital or a gig.
Identifying Talent is Not Development – Startup weekends, pitch contests, and business plan competitions are like sports games. These are all great activities for getting people into the entrepreneurial community, making connections, building confidence in the participants, and they can certainly be entertaining. Many of us refer to these as “big end of the funnel” activities. The concept of the funnel describes a process whereby many ideas and teams enter the big end of the funnel, but only a few companies will have all the right attributes to pass through the narrow end of the funnel and become successful. These “big end of the funnel” activities serve to identify, but not develop, potential talent.
Short Term Programs Are Focused More on Testing Than Training – Multi-week and multi-month programs like accelerators can be very valuable activities. In sports terms, these longer events are much like a tournament where contestants compete in a series of preliminary contests leading to a final, with little time in between to actually improve their skills. Most sports teams don’t get better during a tournament. Most accelerators, for instance, provide a combination of a little bit of skill and knowledge acquisition in a competitive environment, a series of small competitions, and a final contest at the end where the winners receive investment of some sort. These type of events also provide an opportunity for advisers and mentors (we use this term too loosely – see my previous post) to engage with the teams more frequently and for an extended period. That type of engagement is important for both the advisers and the participants. The shortcoming is that most teams don’t come into these accelerators prepared to take advantage of the boost that the accelerator, and programs of this type, can give them. In addition, the advisers and mentors aren’t there to train them or develop their skills. Simply put, most teams aren’t ready to play at a level where an accelerator will give them a major boost toward success. Reason – not enough practice.
Practice, Practice, Practice – Sports teams and athletes who compete in individual sports typically don’t practice on their own. I know few athletes who love practicing more than playing. Competing with an opponent was the reward we received from working so hard to develop our skills and knowledge in practice. If we thought we could compete and win without practicing, we would. However, we all knew that we couldn’t compete and win without structured practice, good coaching, focus on specific skills development, team building, game strategy, and physical and mental conditioning. This is what practice is for.
THE TAKEAWAY: I refer often to Malcomb Gladwell’s book “Outliers” , especially the 10,000 Hours Rule. The 10,000 Hours Rule states that it takes approximately 10,000 (20 hours per week for 10 years) hours to master a skill set. 90% of this time is spent in practice developing skills and knowledge, and only 10% in games or competitive events. Startup Dad is dedicated to coaching and advising parents, young entrepreneurs, and their supporters, in an effort to build entrepreneurial skills and knowledge every week, for years in preparation for success.