The utimate success in startups

It seems that since this summer, time normally spent throwing words at my Blog has quickly become time spent throwing Frisbees on an ultimate field. So it seems only appropriate that the theme for this blog should focus on ultimate Frisbee and startups.
Without further ado … The similar keys to success in Ultimate Frisbee and in a startup.

1. Learn nothing from success, but everything from failure
Once every couple weeks, one of my favorite quotes pops on one of the tech startup blogs I read. Most recently Don Dodge used this quote about “success being a terrible teacher.”

In 2005, our mens ultimate Frisbee team (EMU) went into Canadian Nationals as the number 3 seed in the country. The tournament went down as one of the most disappointing for EMU, after we finished the weekend in 11th spot. Looking back at this classic collapse, I often attribute much of it to success we had earlier in the season. We had beaten Calgary in Alberta regionals handily, and dominated Flowerbowl in Vancouver earlier in the year. However, these successes taught us nothing. We won Alberta regionals on a cold, soggy, rainy day where we played the game with the same 7 players. Similarly, Flowerbowl was a victory against a weaker division. The success of these tournaments was misleading. Not only did we fall under the false belief that we could succeed with a smaller roster, but it instilled a false sense of entitlement in our players. Instead of being hungry, and eager to improve, we became complacent and content. We glossed over the areas that we could have improved on, and glorified all of our success.

2. Effort less than 100% results in quick failure.
I wish I was … but sadly, I wasn’t blessed with the god given speed, agility, or fitness that many athletes are born with. Nor was I born with Stephen Hawking’s IQ. Any success I’ve had, has pretty much been achieved through a lot of hard work. Unfortunately, in the case of both career and ultimate Frisbee, not giving 100% has resulted in some pretty terrible performances. The 2006 and 2007 ultimate seasons are good examples of this. Infrequent training, poor diet, and not practicing resulted in my worst 2 ultimate Frisbee seasons ever. In the same way I feel completely behind after being away from the office for only a couple days; the second I take a step back from the ultimate field I feel completely behind. I’m unconditioned, can’t keep up the pace, am confused on the field, and not ready to compete at a high level. There’s little room for taking a break in a startup, or on the ultimate field. The game just moves too quick, you’ll be left too far behind, it’ll be tough to get back.

3. But there is always a chance to bounce back
Another of my favorite sayings … “if you haven’t failed, you’re not trying hard enough.” The game of Ultimate Frisbee, perhaps more than any other, allows you opportunity to atone your error quickly. Drop the Frisbee? Work extra hard and get it back with a layout defense. Throw the Frisbee away? Block your opponent next pass. Mistakes, both in ultimate, and in start ups are crippling, but they happen. Of course, the goal is to minimize your mistake, but more important than that, is your ability to realize the mistake, adjust, and fix the problem quickly.

Comparing Fenway vs. Safeco much like comparing Boston vs Seattle

On Friday, July 11th I was lucky enough to take in my very first Red Sox game at Fenway park here in Boston.

I’ve attending many games at Safeco field in Seattle, but going to a different ballpark truly was novel.

I’m still pretty excited thinking about my experience a week later, and have described the evening at Fenway to a number of my peers back west. I got into the habit of comparing the evening to an evening at Safeco, and I started to realize that comparing my first couple weeks in Boston to my time spent living in Seattle. Both (Fenway and Boston, Safeco and Seattle) are absolutely amazing, stunning, and beautiful cities and ball parks in their own rights. A lot of people could argue they are tops in the league and country. Here’s my take on Fenway and Boston, and how it compares to Safeco and Seattle.

1. Everything seems so tight and confined, at Fenway.

Fenway is small. Seating capacity, I would guess, would be around 38,000. It’s crammed full, a sell out every evening. The walkways are full of fans, herded together like cattle on their way to their seats. The space between these seats is similar to that found between seats on an airplane.

Safeco, while a quaint ballpark itself, is much more spread out. The 38,000 that attend the typical game are sprinkled amongst nearly 50 thousand seats, resulting in a much more spread out feel.

I very much get this closed in, confined feeling traveling around Boston. The turnpike is narrower (but with as many cars), the subways are shoulder to shoulder, the streets themselves seem to be even more crammed with commuters than the massive I5, 405, or 520. Maybe it’s just me, but Seattle, as a result of all of the hills, trees, lakes, ponds and inlets, just seems so much more spread out.

2. The second I set foot inside Fenway, it felt like I’d walked back in time.

Fenway is old, creaky, and smells a little musky, much like you’re granddads house.

Safeco was designed (like all stadiums built in the 1990’s) to feel like an old ball park. It does great job of this for the most part, deep down you know you’re in a new park. That’s the price you pay for some of the luxuries of cushioned seats, wider aisles, and elevators that take you to upper levels.

While Seattle has it’s definite touch of history (especially walking around Pioneer Square), there’s no denying Boston’s place in American history.

3. There’s an unmistakable touch of attitude in the air in Fenway.

It just so happened that our seats were exactly in the middle of the isle. Of course because of this and the fact we showed up at the game late, there was much ado when we arrived, and forced people to stand up. For the rest of the game, my friendly seat neighbors, when not harassing the Baltimore batter or pitcher, would remind me about making them get up to let us in. This was always followed by saying that it could all be made up by “picking up a dozen beers for the row.”

It seems cliché stating that Seattlites and Mariner’s fans seem a bit more laid back, but it truly feels like they’re too busy instant messaging on their phones, browsing the web on their iphones, checking their Microsoft stock, to worry about harassing their opposition or their aisle neighbors.

4. Deciding what to eat really was deciding on how long of a hot dog I would get.

Fenway celebrates baseball, as baseball has been celebrated for a hundred years. This means that when I go up to buy dinner at the park, I can buy, a hotdog, a lukewarm pretzel, peanuts, and if I’m lucky a big slab of greasy pizza. No low fat, low calorie, no meat option. That’s a far cry from the Ichiroll (that’s a sushi roll), cashew cicken stir fry, Mexican Burito, or Salmon sandwhich that I can get at Safeco. Boston definitely has it’s share of ethnic restaurants, but in my 2 weeks here I’d say that the pizza and submarine sandwhich shops outnumber the Thai, Chinese, and sushi restaurants 5 to 1. In Seattle, I’d say it’s exactly opposite.

Obviously this is hardly scratching the surface of the differences between the cities (I’m sure the cuisine is the least of which any detailed comparison would discuss). However, any comparison, by it’s very nature is highly subjective. And for a kid who is still excited about his first Red Sox game, this seemed to resonate the obvious differences.