A Pro Athlete’s Startup Success
Truth be told, I have one startup tip for starting off right
“Huffman, what the hell are you doing now?”
It’s a typical question I hear after pro sports.
“I’m in the game, the startup game,” I tell them. “It’s an adult basketball fitness class.”
“What is that?”
“It’s a class for adults to hoop and get fit together on small-based teams.”
They nod and think I’m full of shit. To most people, the startup game is another name for jobless, or penniless, or homeless. I can see the disgruntled look on their face. They know I’m not making any money, but don’t want to say it.
“How’s it going?”
“Real slow, but I’m enjoying it.”
And I really am enjoying it.
And that’s the catch and release of it all. When my pro career came crashing to a halt, I went crazy. Literally, I went batshit crazy. I was lost, wandering the streets of my mind doing what wasn’t authentic to me. I tried to go into real estate. I decided to make a tiny home. I tried to sell on Amazon. I decided to write a website about basketball training. But the problem I had, which may or may not be a problem for you, is, I have a hard time doing shit I don’t love or care about. I don’t care about the siding of a rental house. I don’t enjoy drawing up rental leases. I don’t like selling things that don’t help the world become a happier, healthier place.
I suck at building with my hands (that said, I got much better at it).
Start your startup with asking yourself, “How can I get paid to do what I love?”
There are days in the startup world that don’t make sense to me. After a five-month trip of slow travel and solitude in the Caribbean, I decided (somewhat existentially):
“What’s the point of life, if you can’t get paid to do what you love in something that gives you purpose?”
But that question doesn’t do shit but induce an anxiety attack if you can’t answer the, “How do you get paid?” part.
While rolling past the tin huts teetering on wooden stilts in Placencia, Belize, I realized the most crucial question we startup folk have to answer is:
What is sustainable for you? What do you feel passion for and what brings you as much as joy as it does suffering?
I’m just a pro athlete turned blogger, turned startup newbie, spilling my guts on a screen about what I’m learning, observing, and assimilating in this wacky startup world. Being a pro basketball player was, in many ways, very similar to what our first year of being a startup feels like. The ups and downs. The processes, losing customers, gaining customers, finding our truest demographic, is much like getting cut from paying NBA and European clubs.
But the truth is, all of this startup journey, is fun because I enjoy learning about it. I enjoy the startup space. The branding, the marketing, the experimenting, the validating.
It reminds me of how I felt before I got paid to play pro basketball when I was training, lifting, and competing in two-a-days for six years from the ages of 14–22.
I worked harder than any 6’1 white kid I knew, but it didn’t feel like work.
It felt like fun, yet I felt the pressure to succeed. I felt the fear of not being good enough to get a scholarship. I had big dreams, just I like I do for my startup.
People tend to run from what they fear.
That is because there is a ton of vulnerability in accepting your failures. If you are in a state of fear with your current job, you are probably closer to startup life than you know.
This is a fundamental of startup life: if you love it, you’ll naturally work harder at it than other people in other startups in a similar industry.
This love of labor will sometimes suck, but other times it will also feel really, really good.
But I loved hoops. The process. The learning. The reading. The tape watching. The analysis. The ups and downs.
The ultimate payoff was in the championships, the paychecks and traveling Europe for 12 years, but it happened because the process was full of passion, authenticity, and purpose.
Startup Tip #1: Don’t start something you aren’t going to love doing, learning, and suffering in for the next ten years. If you have the choice, do something you are truly passionate and curious about, as it will probably take you that long to build a successful startup.
There must be something I love that I can get paid to do!
But what then? How do I start that process? How do I get so good at something entirely new? How do I succeed in a startup, a new business, and get paid to do what I love?
I mean, society and government make this digital currency, and we have to live, exchange, and barter for things with this currency, but yet, this currency is just the masses believing that there is value in the money.
There is no love in just money for me.
In some parallel world, we are all allowed just to do what we love, and swap our expertise in exchange for something we need.
I think most people in the startup industry probably think about money first, but why? Why not start with your passion first, and do what you naturally love doing? There is sustainability in that, and it’s why I am focusing my efforts on a basketball fitness class for adults to connect back to the game that once made them fit.
But, like why can’t I just make people buy this gadget, this experience, this thing I know inside and out, and why can’t I make a million dollars tomorrow?
Startups take time. 10,000 hours is coming at me like a freight train and I have to decide, do I really love what I’m doing? Do I want the quick money, or do I want to build for the long haul?
I know I lack patience, but I’ve never required obsession or grit when it comes to doing what I love.
This is probably a huge factor why I believe I can succeed at almost anything I love doing. I will out grit you. Out-learn you. Out-compete you. Out-obsess you. I’m learning this startup shit takes time. It makes testing and validating and time. It takes teamwork and synergy and people working at their strengths.
I am an activator.
Maybe that is the pro athlete in me — the part that drives and pushes and wants to see improvement every day. But startups, you don’t see vast improvements every day. It’s a slow drip of +1’s. But I believe when you get to 1000 true fans, you have something. If you add one fan, one follower, one customer for 1000 days, you will succeed.
Well, maybe not like Kevin Hart success, but you will be succeeding at doing what you love.
And that’s okay.