Dink to Success

November 9, 2009

Being a Seattle sports fan is really tough these days, but I figure there are lessons learned even in lost seasons.  I’m generally the biggest optimist in the room when it comes to the Seahawks each year to make it to the Super Bowl, I’m now convinced it’s not going to happen.  However, even in the ugly win against one of the worst teams in NFL this past Sunday against Detroit, I thought there was a good lesson to be applied to our businesses.  The lesson is that there is nothing wrong with dinking away to success.  Let me explain.

Even if you don’t follow football, you should know being down 17-0 is a bad thing.  Seattle was down 17-0 almost immediately after the game started.  They tried running the ball to no avail and after being that far down, they had to change plans to pass their way to success.  And pass they did.  Over and over and over again.  They didn’t pass long with only 2 passes over 25 yards and 39 completions in a game, the most ever for a Seattle quarterback.  They eventually won the game 32-20.  The defense couldn’t stop the short passes and Seattle kept taking what was available to them all the way to victory.

I can’t help thinking that we should be running our businesses that way.  When we find something that is successful on a small scale, we should keep executing and take the small gains, it will add up to success if not a huge win.  I met with an entrepreneur last week that mentioned that he’s seeing success, but he wants to change the model and GO BIG.  I couldn’t help but wonder, you’re doing great right now and if you focused more and kept taking what is obviously successful, couldn’t you build a big business just executing what you know is working?  It’s a huge gamble to change what’s working and throw the long bomb, sure it can work and will pay off handsomely, but your percentage chance of success is significantly lower than taking the dink pass high percentage move.  This is not a rant against taking chances, but continue taking what’s there.  You can still test new models without betting the farm and if it works slowly shift your model.

I’d argue that finding a successful model is not easy, if it were easy we’d see a lot more entrepreneurs.  Once you find the model that works, keep at it and the pennies will add to dollars and it will keep rolling.  For me, it’s taken at least 1-2 years to get a model that’s barely working and then a few more years to really refine it.  I’m constantly battling all the new ideas that can be HUGE, but have to temper it with what is working now and taking the 5-10 yard gains every play rather than try to get the touchdown in 1 play.  In football terminology, it’s a field position game, keep good position, keep the ball moving and stay in the game - that’s how upsets and wins happen.  I’m convinced it’s being disciplined and focused, staying true to a plan that requires patience, hard work, and consistency that leads to success.  What do you think?  Do you fight the same battle?  Or, do you want to keep tossing the long bombs hoping for that big reception?

Now, if the Seahawks can just win the next game… just maybe, we can still make it!

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10 Comments »

Comment by Keith Smith Subscribed to comments via email
2009-11-10 03:07:13

Great post Andy. Business, like football, is often a game of inches. We all get enamored with the big exits (2 new ones just today that make us all drool). But this is a good reminder.

 
Comment by Shayan Zadeh Subscribed to comments via email
2009-11-10 10:35:12

I am a true believer of what you wrote here. And I learned it the hard way. Resisting those changes that have that hint of working at the expense of a working model is hard but definitely worth it.

On the other hand, experimenting with new ideas without disrupting the whole system is a must for entrepreneurs. Without such potentially game changing experiments you can’t find the next “working thing”. You just need to find a way to test them in a limited way without betting the farm on it every time because 9 out of 10 will fail.

Continuing with sports analogies, one should remember that Ichiro wins a lot of games. But he is not always on the highlight reel except when all those hits year long add up to record breaking events :) You just need to keep executing…

PS: as an ex-Seattleite and Seahawks supporter, I feel your pain.

 
Comment by Rahul Pathak Subscribed to comments via email
2009-11-10 10:51:53

I concur with Keith - great post. Shame about the Seahawks though ;)

 
Comment by Joel Gendelman
2009-11-10 14:32:12

Excellent post Andy - I’m a big fan of the dink strategy. BTW, Seth Godin had a recent post that also posits the importance of questioning and perhaps throwing on first down a time or two…http://bit.ly/3h2o4l

 
Comment by Soleil Hepner
2009-11-10 19:03:57

Finally, words to soothe my battered ego - you know that voice that says, “You’re doing it all wrong”.

With people telling me to take YogaBlaze to every city in the U.S. - RIGHT NOW - I’ve resisted - instead perfecting it here in Seattle one yink (yoga-dink) at a time. And it’s working, pennies to dollars; 30,000 students to 1,000 teachers.

course, I’m from Detroit…

 
Comment by SEO Consultant Subscribed to comments via email
2009-11-11 13:32:48

Great post today! It was refreshing to hear this advice as you and Neil have in the past made the plea to people to commit to their entrepreneurial ventures despite fears. I understand that you were both saying that if you never try then you will never win, and to now be afraid of failure. But my side is that if you have a family to support its difficult to be reckless with your career and finances. That being said I have always favored a more conservative approach, that is much more similar to “dinking” than it is the long bomb. This, for me, is the right way to go about moving into my own entrepreneurial adventures since I have obligations that will not allow me to fail financially.

 
Comment by Cary Bergeron
2009-11-12 09:13:46

I really like your view on this and I completely agree. Some of my most profitable websites have been brought up this way. I have also fine tuned the plan and have applied it to othes as well. Not every one is a success but a short gain is better than nothting.

 
Comment by Neal Freeland Subscribed to comments via email
2009-11-12 10:28:01

It’s a weak division, Seattle is only 2 games behind and there are 10 games left. Playoffs are still an option, never give up hope.

(That’s another lesson for startup success).

 
Comment by Free Mind Games
2009-11-29 12:20:24

Crawl before you walk. Walk before you run. Good one…

 
Comment by Dan Price Subscribed to comments via email
2009-11-30 18:38:42

Hey Andy, Nice post…do you think the seahawks should try to bring Holmgren back as GM? Not sure if you saw the times article on that today. Anyway, I think I am going to take the other side on this issue. With Gravity Payments, we did some very innovative things for our customers when we started. Those innovations as well as ethics and a drive for excellence from our customer’s point of view have been a great platform for incremental growth creating nice revenue and profit bootstrapping from unbelievably low resources. However, those innovations will only provide a platform for a differentiated offering for a finite period of time. Eventually, we are going to have to make some radical shifts to further revolutionize our industry, again from the customer’s standpoint. At some point, we will have to say goodbye to our current business model, which is working wonderfully, and delighted our customers in the past, and embrace tomorrow’s model. In addition, we will have to do this before (and not after) we become irrelevant. I agree it doesn’t mean you completely abandon what got you there, perhaps you start to have multiple business units or carry some of the stuff that is working forward. However, a). to stick with what worked yesterday and assume it will work tomorrow strikes me as more risky than b). figuring out what your customer wants your industry to look like tomorrow and creating it as soon as you can…even if b). involves taking a step backwards with radical change. I always want to stay ahead of the curve on the “what have you done for me lately question” that all customers ask one day. I really appreciated this entry because I am spending a lot of time thinking about this issue right now. Thanks for all of your great posts!

 
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