Keith Rabois explains startup/growth investing in football terms. For any growing business, this is a great metaphor to have in your back pocket to describe 1. What you’re doing, 2. What your strategy is, and 3. How you’ll take on the competition.
The optimal “safe” strategy in football is to run the ball. If a team can get 3-4 yards every time, that’s a lot of first downs, a lot of potential points, and a lot of time spent in control of the clock. Why risk a pass and jeopardize the first downs and steady progress? Most businesses find themselves in this “just get 3-4 yards at a time” mode once they hit some level of scale and profitability. It’s conservative, consistent, and it compounds well over time.
The optimal “risky” strategy is to throw a lot of passes. With 30-40 yard potential gains from a completed big pass, that’s 10x the gain of the running play with less burned time and exponentially higher scoring potential. Why run at all when the “Hail Mary” is the path to the biggest points? Most early stage and high-growth businesses are looking to throw big passes in order to demolish their play-it-safe, simple running play, conservative competition.
As Rabois explains, the best strategy is to recognize we’ll need both types of plays. To competitively maximize first downs, points, and clock management, we need a comprehensive playbook. “No risk” or “high risk” expose a team to being blown out. Businesses need to strike a similar balance, understanding when their safer, more conservative bets are appropriate, as well as when to play their high-growth passes for big opportunities on the scoreboard and the clock.
All professional practices are a mix of how to advance the business, earn profits, and manage the clock that is the passing years of life. There are more plays in the playbook than most managers/owners/operators ever think about running, and that’s part of what creates competitive advantages. As Rabois’ success can attest, strategy and execution are everything. Metaphors like this can help us better explain our game plan to others.