How To Become Legendary- 23 Things Michael Jordan Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

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How To Become Legendary- 23 Things Michael Jordan Taught Me About Entrepreneurship


If you know me personally, or even digitally , then you know that I am a physical fitness and athletic enthusiast. I find that there is a certain level of determination that is built up by being physically fit and sticking to a regimen. Athletics and exercise are the purest physical expression of true mental discipline that one can find. As an entrepreneur, I don't think I would be able to do what I do without the mental preparedness a daily workout routine brings. michael jordan entrepreneur resized 600With so many parallels between athletics and entrepreneurship, I asked myself "Who is the Steve Jobs of athletics?" This question can certainly be debated, but at the end of the day I arrived with an answer of Michael Jordan. A recent ad campaign by Nike with Michael Jordan is focused on the phrase "Be Legendary." and the quotes that come from them are absolutely golden. In truth, some of the best entrepreneurial advice I have ever received has come from Michael Jordan and this campaign. Here are 23 insights that I've learned from Michael Jordan:

It's About Knowing Where You're Going

You have to have a clear path as to where you want to go. As a startup, things change along the way. Your execution might make you pivot or implement a different solution. At the end of the day, you need to stick to a clear vision and problem that you're trying to solve. If you're lucky enough to succeed, the road to where you're going may look a lot different than it did when you first started. Take a look at Google- make the world's information freely available. That has been the goal from day one, and despite solutions consisting of email, maps, video, operating systems, and more, that is still their goal at the end of the day. Never forget where you are going as an entrepreneur with your company.

Don't Forget Where You Started/Came From

This holds true for you as a person as much as it holds true for the company itself. Though we do it for more than the money, money can often change people to forget their humble beginnings. Many great entrepreneurs came from absolutely nothing - just an idea that might change the world one day. Don't ever forget that child like desire you had the first day you started. If you harness that essence, no money or fame can ever change you. Never forget your family and your close friends that were there before you started upon this journey. The best thing a company can do is keep a list/wiki of company lore that will remind them of their adventures. The long flights, the growth in employees, the launches, the failures, and more from the early days. Andres and I have been traveling the country with PadPressed. We've encountered some victories and many failures along the way, but we're keeping a record of it through writing, tweets, and pictures.

Have the courage to fail

Failure is a part of anything in life, but having the courage to face it head on is what makes you stronger. We hear so much talk about "it's okay to fail", but I don't think there's enough clarification. You shouldn't let your startup as a whole fail, that's not something you should easily let happen. Startups are really a compilation of many small instances of victories and failures. It's embracing those small instances of failures that will let you learn and adapt better. Think of embracing failure as the entrepreneurial equivalent of an immune system. By embracing failure, you learn what went wrong, what's bad, and how to prevent it from happening again. You build up a resistance to that specific instance of failure.

Don't break when broken

What goes up, must come down. Starting a company is a roller-coaster ride like none other. YCombinator actually has a graph here about this exact subject . You will feel broken inside and figure it's time to give it all up. That might be quitting yourself, selling the company, taking a weak deal, or even calling it quits on a smaller scale. DON'T. Emotions are fleeting and cloud your judgment. For the most part, something that makes you feel broken, should not break you. The true also holds same for the opposite.

Take everything given to you and make something better

Society is all about evolution, especially in technology and software. The greatest technologies take the fundamentals of what already exists in some form, but improves them with the new pieces that have evolved. I wrote about this earlier in a piece called "Build What Was Previously Not Possible." As an entrepreneur you will continually find new tools and innovations brought forth by other entrepreneurs. Take every single relevant thing you can find and bake it in to your product to make something better. For some that might be mobile, social, local,etc. Always ask yourself: "Am I using all the resources that are available and making something better?" We literally get nowhere with complacency, but get everywhere with advancement. Don't change the game, evolve the game.

Work Before Glory

The best entrepreneurs are humble and don't really care about the glory. One of the things that Dharmesh has taught me over the past few months is to keep a level head and be humble. Don't worry about the next press article that comes out about your company. Eventually there will be too many of them that it won't matter. It should be about the work you produce instead of the side benefit of glory. Your work will live on forever, but the glory will fade away when the next acquisition or rumor pops up. Legends are products of their work, NOT their glory.

Do what they say you can't

The competitive nature of entrepreneurship is a fun one. Many people will tell you that it can't be done or that it is too crazy. They will tell you that a better X can't be built or you won't be able to accomplish a small goal like fundraising or hiring. The people telling you this might not even be strangers, but close friends and family members. The only way to prove them wrong is to do it.

It's not about the tech, it's about what you do with it.

The tools and technology that is available to entrepeneurs just keeps on growing. Whether it's social, HTML5, geolocation, node.js, cloud services, or whatever else, that's not what this is about. Those tools by themselves are cool, but not that useful. The technology tools are like an artist's paint brush or a baseball players bat. It's about what you decide to create with those tools.

Be Scared Of What you won't become.

As an entrepreneur, you probably have a very big long term vision that you want to accomplish. It can't happen right now, but over time it eventually will. I always point out that Facebook started at one college, with one photo, no wall, and a mediocre design. Look at decisions as if they might compromise what you could become. If you take the easy route and make the wrong decision, you will not become what you should be. That should absolutely scare you. What if Zuck sold to Yahoo! many years ago? That has to be a scary thought as Facebook would not have become what it is today.

Make Others Scared Of What You Could Become

Entrepreneurs are often asked "So what if Google enters your market?" That's a worthy question, but at the end of the day, your vision should be so mind numbingly amitious and huge, that it scares Google or someone else. Today you might be something small, but if you play your cards right, what you end up becoming is scary. The really smart entrepreneurs aren't scared of the bigger guys as much as they are of the smaller, more nimble startups that COULD BECOME who they are now. At some point, everyone was no one.

Don't finish where you began

Startups are all about momentum and forward moving progress. Every task, project, or new feature should be able to take you forward. It might even be okay if it took you backwards, as the journey backwards is still a journey. Spending a ton of time on something and just ending up where you began is something you should avoid as an entrepreneur.

Know what is within you, even if others can't see it

Sadly, too many people in our industry disregard others that aren't in the in crowd or very visible. They look at who an entrepreneur is now, but not at the true future potential of who that person will become. The same way a smart person knew that Facebook would be something big in 2004, is the same way a smart person knew that a 19 year old unknown kid from Harvard would change the world. Some people ask me why I put my phone number and other contact information out there publicly (fyi- it's 201-305-0552). It's simple- You never know who you might meet. They might not be somebody now, but over time they might become somebody legendary. If you can help them get there, it benefits everyone involved. By helping others, you eventually start to develop pattern recognition for finding great talent, which is a key component of being a leader.

Patience is more important than courage

We always want success now or even yesterday. It's hard for us to realize that things won't happen as fast as we want them to. Courage is certainly a very important trait, but more important is having the patience to see things through. When we look at the success of others, we only see the end result. Even if we see the journey along the way, it is still a small snapshot. Take in the whole picture and realize that there are no overnight successes.

Fulfill your destiny.

It takes a while to get to this point, but you eventually realize what your destiny is in life. You clearly know what you were meant to do with your life and what the end result will be. It takes a lot of trial by fire to get there, but once you do, you will become unstoppable. The real key to fulfilling your destiny is figuring out exactly what it is. Once you figure out what that specific destiny is, it's a long journey, but the fire it generates inside, will put you on auto-pilot.

The press leads us to believe it is easier than it is

The press' job is to write about stories that generate pageviews, since pageviews generate more advertising dollars. Failure and the grueling times don't really get too many pageviews. Success, money, glory, and the end result of hard work certainly does get pageviews. This skews us to think that raising money, selling your company, or launching is just so easy. I'd wager a fair amount of money that you will almost never hear a story titled:"Startup X Fails To Raise $2,500,000 Dollars" unless there is some juicy gossip backstory attached to it. Get back to work and close the RSS reader.

The real work starts at the keyboard and with customers.

If you're in a startup you're either making something or selling something. If you haven't made anything or sold anything, then I sincerely have no clue what you're doing at a startup. Sure there are operational tasks that need to be handled, but all founders can bear that burden. As a whole, founders + early employees need to make sure their actions have a direct impact on something be made and/or something be sold.

Not every product or feature launch is a winner

Remember Beacon? Remember Google Buzz? Remember Yahoo! Live? Remember AppleTV V1? Well, you might, but not for good reasons. Not every feature or product launch is going to be a slam dunk. Even the giants in our industry like Apple can have products launch that don't perform well. It's impossible to shoot 100%, but what matters is that you take 100% of the shots that you should be taking.

Fire over flash

Pretty interface and nifty features are not the path to success. They are certainly a great advantage to have, but the product also has to have fire behind it. If you have a pretty application that provides no real "fire" aka utility to the user, then it won't be used for long. Make sure you have fire before you have flash in your product.

Find Strength In Your Weaknesses

More and more, I'm finding out that my weaknesses are my strength. Weaknesses can be identified and attacked. If your company has a hole in its team, business model, or customer acquisition model, you can attack it head on. Find your weaknesses and figure out how to attack them in order to make your company stronger. It's simple: the less weaknesses you have, the stronger your startup becomes.

Be motivated by your pain

Some athletes hit their high points when they reach the area of most pain. The pureness of facing the most difficult parts of your journey should be the most rewarding as they allow you to level up. When Facebook first started in the college market, they didn't go after the schools where they could gain market share the easiest. Instead, Facebook actually went after universities where they would experience the most resistance and have the most pain ie- schools with existing social networks. If they could conquer this pain, they could easily conquer everything else.

Treat entrepreneurship like a privilege, not a right

I'm lucky to live in a country where entrepreneurship is something that anyone can get into. Many people often forget that other countries are not as lucky and have oppressive governments. We often talk about entrepreneurship as a way out of poverty, but this isn't even possible in some countries. Don't treat this as a lackadaisical experience. Many people would literally kill to be an entrepreneur, because it meant their survival. Be grateful for the opportunities you have and never take it for granted.

You must work for it every single of your day

Work/life balance is important, but there is no off switch for being an entrepreneur. You can't just turn it off and come back to it 3 weeks from now. If you really want to do this. If this is your destiny, which for many many people it just isn't, then it is something you have to keep at every single day of your life. Some are lucky enough that their first thing takes off. Your first, second, or even third thing might not take off. Stick with it and keep working at it every single day of your life.

Do not make excuses

Accomplishing something is a binary outcome. You either accomplished it or you did not. A lot of the times the end result will be the former, but don't sugercoat it. It happened for a reason and don't make excuses that act as scapegoats. Face success or failure head on. We often associate excuses with failure, but I think they can also be present in success as well. Though it's good to be humble, you shouldn't also make excuses for your success. Realize your what you did right and the hard work associated with it. Excuses are exactly just that- excuses. What other athletes and sports references have helped you become a better entrepreneurship? Instead of Michael Jordan, who might you pick and what has been their advice?

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Posted by Jason Baptiste on Mon, Dec 06, 2010


As a ex athlete, I always love it when entrepreneurship and sports analogies tie together :) 
The part I loved the most about this post is "Make Others Scared Of What You Could Become". 
If you are able to do that... then you are on to something big for sure.

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 8:54 AM by Lewis Howes

Really great stuff - every entrepreneur and business owner should see it. 
I will be promoting it on my blog and linking back.

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 8:55 AM by Henri

Great advice!

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 9:00 AM by Emanuel Dohi

I think you've got to fail or be challenged to succeed. Nobody gets things right all the time, or the first time. It's about perseverance, and persistence. I've been challenged to launch a social site for college students, FreezeCrowd for a long time. We will hopefully be launching soon.  
Please support my efforts and follow us  
Thank you, 

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 9:02 AM by Eric Leebow

Great Monday morning post that is inspiring for my business and basketball game this evening!  
I especially enjoyed this point: 
Patience is more important than courage

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 9:04 AM by John Rizzo

OK, all clear!

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 9:07 AM by Valeriano Cossu

Micheal Jordan would likely agree, the major key to most successful endeavors is to gather your professionals with complementary skills, to guide you on your journey. In business, these professionals are legal, tax, etc. 
I give credit to all those who travel the path less followed and even more to those who bring a compass (a.k.a. professionals).

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 9:10 AM by Michelle L. Grenier, Esq., Grenier Law Offices, PC

Hi Jason, 
Thanks for coming up with an excellent set of thought provoking bits of info. 
Good work. 

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 9:13 AM by Janaki Pendyala

Great article. I will be sharing this.

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 9:15 AM by Dee

We've just been through this and I have to say, what fantastic advice. Especially around using what's already out there and focusing completely on the vision.  
We are in week 6 of our startup being live. Our hard launch will come next year, and we have captured all our experiences to date at our  
All the challenges, heartaches, successes and banana skins along the way are covered there whilst the live app is  
Our most recent experiences suggest that you shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that the forward path becomes clearer after your first sales! We've had a stunning response to our offer from multiple markets and in some ways it makes it harder to stick to plan A whilst at the same time enabling us to make plan A even bolder.

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 9:23 AM by Customer Thermometer

This is akin to Richard Bach's statement - you are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. You have to work for it however. 
Anything that we can imagine we can do. A great article.

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 9:57 AM by Sanjeev

Excellent post. 
Thanks for the tips.

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 10:21 AM by Itamar B.

A perfect comparison. Sure, Jordan enjoyed life off the court (golf, gambling, etc) but when it came to his job, the man was all business. At the end of the day, the only thing in his life that mattered was winning. He wanted it so bad, he would do anything to get it - like punching out a teammate in practice. I wonder how that would go over in the office?

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 10:27 AM by Ian

As a competitive Ironman Triathlete and entrepreneur I have always seen the correlation between athletics and business. Recently I began training for my 8th Ironman and I find I am always clearer in my work when I am training. The focus in my athletic life helps my work life.

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 11:24 AM by Brenda Smith

I plan on sharing this with many other people and I think you did a great job on this article. Nice work. "Be Legendary"

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 12:03 PM by Michael

This is one of the best posts I have seen...anywhere, not just this site. With 23 items, there is much to contemplate for the next several days. This is an outline for an excellent book...(hint, hint) 
Nice job. I will be sharing!

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 12:58 PM by Shawn Carson

Not only do I love this post, I love MJ so you had me hooked. I am printing so that I can remind myself of these very important points every day. Thank you so much!!

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 1:17 PM by Frederica

Nice! We can all learn from the greatest basketball player to ever lace them up. Maybe #24 should be follow Kobe Bryant, not LeBron James.

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 2:58 PM by Scott Asai

This definitely rings true... "Not every product or feature launch is a winner"

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 5:32 PM by Anton at Golfing Gloves

Thanks for the pep talk. It is always good to remember how to get up and get going. Thanks.

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 6:13 PM by Gretchen Fogelstrom

Probable this is the most encouraging blog/site I have ever read in my life :)

posted on Monday, December 06, 2010 at 10:45 PM by Pradeep

Great advice and each head must be read in detail. While helping start-ups we focus facilitating them to learn a type of innovation process which is based on constraint. Your line under the heading "take everything given to you and make something better" is very important. For start-ups we define innovation as creating value based on use of existing, wasted, unnoticed, or under utilised resources. That is great for start-ups who always feel that they would do better with some more external resource. Then the line "dont change the game-evolve the game" is very important for start-ups. Start-ups should know that anecdotal research clearly shows that while 85-90% of innovation funds are almost always invested for new technology or new products, the 10-15% that is invested to innovate and develop a new business model of an existing business almost always results in a higher return compared to NEW developments. A new business model is usually disruptive and thus has a greater sustainability than a NEW development which becomes the target in months for imitation if successful. While Apple products are often termed innovative; they are just great in terms of design and navigation. They are based on existing product technologies that have been made much better. BUT the real disruptive innovation is ITUNES. It has changed the face of the music industry who are now unable to catch up because of the tens of millions devices that are already hooked and tied within the new business model. So great advice and i suggest that EACH tip be read slowly and twice to extract max benefit. Start-ups dont have to deliver very earth shattering stuff to be successful. There are great opportunities for start-ups if they can improve on existing methods of delivery which makes fulfilment easier for customer compared to the current process.

posted on Tuesday, December 07, 2010 at 4:01 AM by uday pasricha

Thanks for mind provoking blog. Definitely will try a few of the tips and forward the results to you in my new biz endeavour

posted on Tuesday, December 07, 2010 at 4:17 AM by jacob godwin

Great post, lots of great information there. Thank you.

posted on Tuesday, December 07, 2010 at 4:43 AM by Niamh

Great article. Too many people face their dreams and do not know where to start. Your help in making us realize the inner strength's we have is fantastic. 
Perfect Health is the result of being the best you you can be. 
To be the best you need to believe in you. 
Pierre William Trudel 
Thee Quest For Perfect health

posted on Tuesday, December 07, 2010 at 9:11 AM by Pierre William Trudel

I especially enjoyed this point:  
1 Patience is more important than courage 
2 The real work starts at the keyboard and with customers. 
some more tips on 2nd point here for getting real sales which I follow in my startup venture as below: 
1 To provide top brand product at lower prices.  
2 To achieve consistently the highest levels of customer satisfaction.  
3 To respond and deliver promptly.  
TECHSHOP TEAM put customer services at the first priority. We will work hard to earn your business, keep our customers happy and coming back.All our product have been checked and packaged in good condition.

posted on Tuesday, December 07, 2010 at 9:49 AM by Jape Gautam

Dear Jason,  
I found it a very very inspirating post! You did a great job! I totally agree with you. Everything in this world depends on how we perceive things. And one can archieve what ever he wants just by having a strong belief and will. I am sure world would be a better place if this would be a common point of worldseeing.  
Thank you!

posted on Tuesday, December 07, 2010 at 9:54 AM by Yuliya

Great article! I greatly appreciate your keen insights and inspiration. While entrepreneurs may know some of your points deep in the back of their minds, it is always great to pull them to the surface and refocus.  
If you find entrepreneurship fascinating or at the very least intriguing, please stop by my start-up BeUnemployable.comto read more about becoming a change agent whether it be as an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur.

posted on Tuesday, December 07, 2010 at 5:35 PM by Shawn

Just wondering if anyone here has read, "Driven From Within." Growing up MJ was probably one of my biggest heros, so I had to read his autobiography. It's short, to the point but worth a read.

posted on Tuesday, December 07, 2010 at 9:00 PM by Darren

Excellent article! Thank you very much! And the commercial, it's, wow - moving!

posted on Wednesday, December 08, 2010 at 12:49 PM by Adrian Salceanu

As an entrpreneur, I can relate to each of your's all true. But tenacity is the key...keep on keepin on! The Rotater is just shy of the tipping's a wild crazy ride and I love every day of it!

posted on Thursday, December 09, 2010 at 1:29 AM by Chris Melton

I liked this very much, especially the focus on accepting the inevitability of small failures on the road to large successes. Unless you create a culture which can learn from, and recover from mistakes, you have no chance to survive. Many leaders have trouble accepting their own mistakes, even if they can accept those of the team. This is a great opportunity to model resiliency: admit the error, propose a fix for it, and implement it cheerfully.

posted on Friday, December 10, 2010 at 4:39 AM by Dave Perlman

Good stuff. Maybe you'll enjoy my Blog on "Business is like Golf". Similar lessons from another sport for the entrepreneur.

posted on Monday, December 13, 2010 at 3:16 PM by Del Chatterson

Excellent Point of View. Appreciate the value provided.

posted on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 5:02 AM by Julius Po

Tips are great, some are quite practical, read twice, glad to find out this post :) Pls keep raising your true voice, Jason ^^

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 2:00 AM by sandy

Be motivated by your pain... that's a great lesson and one you should live by if you want to succeed.

posted on Monday, December 20, 2010 at 3:50 AM by Rosendal

I agree with Cris "As an entrpreneur, I can relate to each of your's all true. But tenacity is the key...keep on keepin on! The Rotater is just shy of the tipping's a wild crazy ride and I love every day of it! "

posted on Monday, December 27, 2010 at 3:51 AM by lig radyo dinle

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