Entrepreneurship Lessons From High School Hockey

February 13, 2012

11:00 am

The #2 team in the conference is the Whitman Vikings, who played the conference-leading, defending state champion Churchill Bulldogs this past weekend.  The two teams had played 4 weeks earlier in a hotly contested, down-to-the-wire game that ended with a late tie breaking goal for the Bulldogs. On that night, the undefeated Bulldogs handed the formerly undefeated Vikings a 4 – 3 loss.

The Vikings were ready to avenge their only conference loss against their cross-town rivals.  Think Apple versus Google, Ebay versus Amazon, Google versus Bing, Kanye versus Taylor Swift. Think 2 minutes left in the game and the score is tied 4 – 4.

How to play this?  There’s the conservative play, the Fortune 500 play, the hedge-your-bets-load-the-ice-with-your-best-defense-and-go-for-a-moral-victory play.  What you don’t do is play for a tie. Did Steve Jobs ever go for a tie? Did Zuckerburg start out with a goal of sharing the stage with MySpace, or did Facebook set out to vaporize the competition?

Building something great is not going for the tie. Founding a startup is walking on a wire without a net.  It’s putting all your money on the next roll of the dice. It’s pulling out all the stops and going for the win at all costs. It’s going for broke. It’s saying, “Screw the tie, we want the win.”

With a little more than 2 minutes left in the game, the Whitman coach gave his team a lesson in entrepreneurship.  He pulled his goalie, leaving his net undefended while making room on the ice for another attack-man. With 20 seconds left, a Bulldog wing eludes a Viking defenseman, carefully aims and gently slides a puck into the empty goal.

Once again the the Bulldogs have beaten the Vikings by a goal.

Was that better than the safe play? Was this loss better than a tie? My son, one of the 6 Viking skaters on the ice when the goal was scored, just witnessed a lesson in what it takes to be an entrepreneur.  His coach’s damn-the-torpedo-full-speed-ahead attitude was an example in startup leadership for all the kids on the ice. There are losers and there are winners and having fewer goals on the scoreboard at the end of a game does not a loser make.

The founder of a company that tanks does not make them a loser – not if the founder left nothing on the ice, played for the win, put it all out there, learned from the minor setback and took those lessons forward.

There’s nobility in playing all out, and lessons to be learned from this game.  If we decide we want to play for the tie, maybe we need to go work for The Man.  But if we want to start a company, we need to be ready to risk it all for the win.

If we don’t win this time, at least we played.  We’ll just dust ourselves off, apply the lessons learned, and give it another go.  It’s the same in high school hockey as it is in starting a company.  You have to keep playing to win.

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Glen Hellman (@glehel), is an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, and works for venture capitalists as a turn-around specialist. He is the Chief Entrepreneureator at Driven Forward LLC, frequently muses on his blog, Forward Thinking, and works with entrepreneurs to help them figure out what to do and get them to do it.

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