Startup Businesses and Rugby

November 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

When driving back from rugby training last night, I found myself thinking about the transferable skills and practices between rugby and starting up a business.  I thought, both require a lot of preparation, a willingness to learn strong execution to come out on top.  Below I have jotted what I thought to be the main correlations between the two practices to see if knowing how to play rugby can assist your understanding of how to startup a new business.

Pre-Season Training/Business Plan –

When creating a startup, you need to know your objectives, plans of execution, research, prototypes, areas requiring refinement all in time for launch, likewise for the first game of the season.  The first games will show you where your weak spots are and what you need to focus on to reach the top of the League Table; or top of the market for new businesses.


Communication is just as important in both rugby and business startups.  Everyone is working towards the same goal, and it’s not always possible to read every part of the game.  That is why it is good to listen to those around you who can see what you might have missed.  Guy Kawasaki describes the key to this bit as “creating meaning”.  There must be a common objective that everyone is striving to and therefore requires each participant to be speaking the same language (i.e. playing the same game).

Positions/Business model –

How are you going to make money, for you, consumers, and other businesses?  In rugby, this is the same as asking what the role of each position in the game is there to do to put points on the scoreboard.  It helps to plan for as many possibilities as you can so as not to be caught unprepared.

Membership fees /Bootstrapping & Raising Capital –

Without some money being injected into the business or club, there will be no action.  You must pay to play.  Simple.  There are many ways to accumulate the funds, but today the costs for startups is a lot cheaper with the tools available than it was say 15 years ago.  Google has made this RIDICULOUSLY easy.  Back in the days, you had to account for TV ads costing thousands of pounds (you now have Youtube), had to buy computer suite packages like Office to create presentations for hundreds (you have Google Docs), the need of office space and so on (Google Drive and Plus).  Now, all can be done with a Gmail account, for free.  No excuse.

Referee/Consumer –

You have to respect the consumer and let them dictate the game.  In the world where the customer is always right, you can’t afford to tell them they’re wrong if they have already spoken up because it could result in you being penalized.  The power of social media nowadays too can make this far more painful than an extra 10 metres and could be repeat penalty tries.  I found that Shane Gibson and Stephen Jagger’s book Sociable helps to understand how to use social media to your benefit.

Set Plays/Marketing Strategy –

In rugby, the back line and forwards during a line out have an idea of where you plan to arrive and how.  Similarly, you must be on-side/working with the consumers to make sure it’s all fair and square.  In rugby this simply requires you to look up and read potential opportunities.  If you see an opening in the opponent’s line, you would be silly not to go for it, especially since you have the energy of a startup against heavy legged companies caught on the back heels.  Execute.  However, going for something that is not actually there can have devastating effects on the scoreboard.  Always play to what is in front of you.

Defensive line/Market trends –

You have to keep an eye on the game at all times because small changes on the field are enough to create huge changes on the scoreboard.  Companies like Apple went from just producing computer software and hardware to becoming world leading mobile/cellphone and MP3 manufacturers.  You must always stay alert to the consumer’s desire, whether they want functions over beauty or otherwise.  Whatever the trend is you must move with it, you simply cannot expect that if you just stay in the same position the customers will continue to come to you.  Likewise in rugby you have to stay in tune with your opponent and move accordingly to eliminate all possible gaps.

Opposition/Similar companies –

Though it is not always the case, you have to believe that everyone is out there to be at the very top of the League Table.  To believe this is to be ready to give your very best against any opponent.  Research is however essential.  Not only are you likely to learn of ways to improve your game, you may also learn what they’re doing wrong and that signifies potential opportunities for your team.  You cannot expect to enter the game clueless of the habits of your opponent.    It’s all about making the right decision at the right time, and good research is integral to this.

Half-time/Team meetings –

Whether it’s a review or an urgent need to refer back to the drawing board, it is always good to see what effect you’re having in the market and what changes need to be made (if any), but do not trivialize the need for a REVIVAL MEETING.  In any case, it is extremely important that you take note so that you know what role you need to play.

What I have taken away from both my involvement in a startup and rugby, is the desire to grow within both context.  I want to be a better player and a more successful businessman, but they both require the ability to spot opportunities and the willingness to take unusual risks.  Adaptability is crucial for survival and winning and research in the world of business as rugby aids focus and adaptation.

The game of rugby is always changing with new safety and equity rules as well as the desire of individual teams to beat those in its league and be at the top of its League Table.  Similarly, the environment for startup business changes with government regulations as well as the desire of competitors to be the number one or only company operating its arena.  The important thing is not only to know the rules of your game, but to maintain precise focus on your main goal and to quickly seize opportunities with decisive action.


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