Tag Archives: FIFA

Of Startups and Soccer

3 Jul

No one would dare call the Dutch football team a minnow. But nor did anyone expect five-time champions, Brazil, to get booted out in the quarters of this year’s FIFA World Cup.

To borrow an epithet from the more fashionable sport that seems to have caught most of India by the b*lls, such are the glorious uncertainties of football.

Did the Dutch play better? Did Brazil lose it when they had to send one of theirs off the field and play with a depleted team? Or was it just the foot of God yesterday which decreed that one South American team would go through to the semis while another wouldn’t?

It matters not, I say. What does strike me is that 11 well-oiled people – like the avenging Germans in their match versus England – will triumph if they play as though they have nothing to lose and everything to win in 90-odd minutes. Almost as a young startup would.

Startup? And soccer? Mohitoz is finally off his head, you say… a self-goal, you twitter.

But humour me and consider a startup as a team of footballers.

People who have come together with nothing but passion to bind them, a hunger to win and a goal in clear focus. Coached by VC-like gurus who celebrate and critique from the sidelines, pushed by established competitors who have ruled the field, egged on by a roaring crowd of prospective investors, every football team has the genes of a startup. Or so it should be vice-versa.

And like most startups, the leader can be either aggressively upfront – a centre-forward – or a goalkeeper who defends and determines the course of play from a vantage point. In the former’s case, the startup CEO is the face of the company; the marketing and sales spearhead, so to say. He’s the one who leads by example, the strategist and the tactician, rolled into one dynamic ball of energy. And, in the latter – the goalie as CEO – he’s the man who prefers to stay out of the limelight but controls the quality of the product or service, looks for niches that can drive wedges into the competitor’s gameplan and relays it up the line to the men in front. And, when attacked, he’s the one who takes the pressure head on because there will be moments when startups stare at near failure as a wounded competitor strikes back: that’s when the goalkeeper keeps his eyes only on the ball and has a split second to separate debacle from defense, shame from pride.

Football, unlike cricket, calls for men of fervor, stamina and courage. It demands that you set aside long-term pleasures for quick wins born of agility. Every move up the field towards the other goal is akin to a battle in the sales arena, but a battle from which there is no rest. Regardless of whether you score or not, the team that wins will be the one who experiments and attacks unendingly. Startups, too, need endless reservoirs of adrenalin to keep them going because investors’ funds, like minutes on the referee’s watch, are limited.

Go watch a match before you decide to take the plunge to start something on your own. Do you have it in you to chart a course and yet be flexible to swerve and tackle and fall and get up and charge again towards the goal you swore to meet?

Eleven Dutchmen did it and sent half the world into mourning yesterday. Sure, they had Lady Luck as their 12th player as well but doesn’t every successful startup have her too?

Go kick a ball or two. Even if you don’t actually start up, you won’t end up any poorer either.

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