When I was 22 years old and fresh out of university, I started my first tech company with a business partner. It was 2014, and the company was called Vivergy.
You may notice that the company name isn’t hyperlinked. Seems strange, right?
Fast forward 5 years to 2019: The website is no longer on the internet. In fact, it has been dead for at least a full year. I don’t even remember how long any more.
Yes, this company met an early death, just like the startups of almost every young entrepreneur before me.
However, this story is not about my “lessons learned” from yet another failed tech startup. Looking back, the company failed for reasons that are so obvious that I do not dare repeat them.
Instead, this story is about a much simpler question:
What gave me the audacity to believe that I could do a tech startup at the ripe old age of 22?
I have been a high achiever my whole life. Great test scores… compliments from teachers… all the meaningless stuff. I even started a few successful clubs in college that reached thousands of people. I knew how to start and scale a small organization.
So, why couldn’t I be one of those people that the media adores? The ones that are hailed as “geniuses”?
I have no problem with hard work… or operating in chaos. And I don’t even have a big ego.
But, let’s be clear. My startup crashed and burned incredibly quickly. In 6 months, we had already made critical mistakes that we would never recover from.
To find this answer, we will need to turn to the world of the NBA.
How does Joel Embiid exist?
The NBA is the most competitive basketball league in the world. There are 450 players on opening day rosters, and each one is paid somewhere between $500,000 and $50 million per year to entertain fans around the world.
There are millions of basketball players around the world that want to play in the NBA. But these are the 450 that made it.
You might assume that each player has dedicated their whole life to becoming an NBA player. That they trained countless hours since the age of 6 years old.
When other kids played video games, they went to practice.
When other kids went to school, they took more jumpers.
When other people were tired at the end of practice, they stayed late.
But then there’s Joel Embiid.
He’s one of the most dominant players in the NBA.
In 2018, he averaged 27 points and 13 rebounds per game, which is ASTOUNDING considering that only a top 30 player can reach EITHER of those numbers, never mind both.
You might assume that he has spent countless hours on his game, while dominating games in high school and college before reaching the NBA.
But that’s not actually the case. In fact, he started playing basketball at age 15.
He wanted to be a professional volleyball player before that.
By the age of 18, he was playing at Kansas, one of the top college basketball programs. Then he was drafted #1 in the NBA draft in 2016.
How the hell does the phenomenon named Joel Embsiid exist? Even though he is 7 feet tall, there are THOUSANDS of people that are 7 feet tall in the world.
And, even though he is incredibly athletic and intelligent… what about all the other 7-footers that have been playing since 6 years old? He simply could not outwork them in three short years of basketball. They had a 9 year advantage, including all the years when their bodies were developing coordination.
So how did he make the 9-year leap? What was his secret workout regimen? Did he use some sort of magical drug?
HOW DID HE DO IT?
The Most Obvious Answer Is The Correct One
We need to pause the story right here.
The entire story, to this point, has been built to deceive you.
Have you noticed what we have been focusing on?
- Becoming famous
- Making outrageous amounts of money
- Earning the attention of the media
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. In order to get to the truth, we must focus on something much simpler:
In order to succeed in the NBA, you have to become a world-class basketball player.
It sounds so obvious, but like many entrepreneurs, I believed I was ready for the big time after a few years of starting organizations after school.
Imagine if a high school basketball player believed that? That a bit more practice after school would catapult them to fame and fortune?
That sounds outrageous, but thousands of college students start companies with a similar pedigree.
And yet, Joel Embiid continues to flourish. Mark Zuckerberg started a transformative company while he was in college and had a cool movie made about it. How?
So far, we have been looking at this question as a linear, or direct, relationship. In other words:
Work hard for 12 years at basketball -> Become an NBA player.
This is obviously false.
But, what if the amount of work required to be in the NBA is not a set number of hours, but a normal distribution?
You know, this thing from Stats 101:
This is a distribution of all the players that became world-class basketball players. And on the X axis, we have the amount of time it took them to get there, where the far left is the most amount of time, and the far right is the least.
Smack dab in the middle, we have that number: 12 years.
And on the very far right, we have our friend Joel. His combo of speed and brains means that it only takes him 3 years to become world-class.
And on the far left, we have our friends that need to play in Germany, Lithuania and Greece before they get their shot after 20 years (!) of hard work.
Instead of thinking of this as “magic”, we can instead think of it as a distribution: some people are more gifted than others when it comes to basketball, and that means it will take them less time to become world class.
But guess what? There are still hundreds of people that are just a little gifted, and they still make it.
Are You Joel Embiid?
NOW I know why I thought I could do a tech startup at 22.
I thought I was Joel Embiid.
The person with the magical mix of talent and work ethic that could see immense success almost immediately.
Now, 5.5 years into my personal startup journey, I have a new way of thinking:
PLENTY more people become world-class after 10-12 years. It’s just statistics.
If they can just keep pushing for that long.
And by the way, Joel Embiid didn’t know that he was Joel Embiid when he started. He just started.
More books on becoming world class.