What Hockey Can Teach Tech Companies About Planning Ahead
I grew up playing hockey. And like any sport, there are some fundamental lessons you have to learn before you can really play the game well.
In hockey, one of the first things you learn is that you can’t pass the puck to where your teammate is. You have to pass it to where they’re going to be.
Everyone is on the move, and if you try to pass directly to someone, your pass will fall short.
Of course, you can’t pass too far ahead of them either. You have to hit them perfectly in stride if you ever want your team to score.
I think the same lesson can be applied to building a company and planning for the future. You want to look a little bit ahead so you simultaneously hit the demands of the market, the availability of the technology, and the ability to scale affordably.
You have to aim where you want to go.
There’s always a tension between building something for the existing climate and building for the future.
Just as you can’t aim directly at your teammate on the ice, you can’t build a company for an existing problem without planning for the next move.
For example, at Chronicled, we’re currently using blockchain to extend trust boundaries and provide incremental benefits to supply chains. We’re focusing on elegance, simplicity, and creating a working and scalable product. But we’re also thinking ahead to the future of the supply chain in general, and where our current work is going to lead us.
You have to strike a balance between what is available and feasible today, and how you can use that to improve the landscape — while still planning for the next move.
The timing has to be right.
On the ice, there’s always a perfect moment to make a pass.
Wait too long and you’ve missed the opportunity. Pass too early and your teammate can’t catch up to it.
The timing of building a business, especially one based on new technology, is very similar. If you wait too long, you’ll miss the boat. Someone else will figure it out before you.
But if you start your business too early, you may be ahead of your time. The technology may not be quite there yet. Or the technology is available, but it may not be affordable to scale a business or a product using those tools. You may even find the general cultural and social sentiments of the time haven’t caught up to your concept.
That was the problem with my very first company, Stunable.
It was around 2010, and we were working on a personal shopping algorithm. It would use your answer to a question such as, “What’s your favorite pair of jeans?” to gather data about size, fit, style, and price point.
We modeled the entire thing based on 784 unique attributes of clothing. The recommendation algorithm worked really well. But I was frustrated with the model because in order to buy something, customers had to be redirected to another website through affiliate links — or even worse, through a jerry-rigged resident. It ended up being a poor user experience overall.
This was just before the time when there were APIs to give you access to certain information in databases. We were not satisfied with simply data scraping, so we worked hard to build out these APIs and ERP (enterprise resource management) / POS (point of sale) integrations for other companies. The experience was incredibly draining and resource intensive.
Yet, at the end of it all, we were able to power a universal checkout marketplace feature two years before Amazon did so.
If we had started the company two years later, we would have had all the tools we needed to smooth over the process. But by that time, the market would have been saturated.
The concept was solid, but the timing was off. A little too early, but certainly not too late.
Even if everything aligns, you have to persevere to push forward.
One pass doesn’t usually lead to a goal. But a series of well-executed passes often will.
Success in business and in hockey both come from perseverance. It doesn’t matter if your idea changes, your goals shift, or you need to pivot to a new model. You have to keep moving.
Stopping isn’t an option, because however you define success — whether it’s a successful exit or personal fulfillment — the only way to get there is to keep moving.
You can change your path, move sideways, even work backwards, but you have to persevere.
The truth is, the vast majority of blockchain companies that exist today won’t exist in the future. We’ve already seen plenty come and go through the first few years of the blockchain’s boom.
You can do everything right, execute perfectly, gather together the best team — but if the timing isn’t right, none of it may matter. So make sure your first pass is on the money.
It could be the difference between failure and success.
Thanks for reading!