If you’re a fan of American football, you probably know all about Tom Brady. Even if you’re not you’ve probably heard his name, seen his picture in the news or a magazine, or know about his supermodel wife Giselle. But let me take a second to explain some details about where Tom Brady came from before becoming arguably the premier NFL quarterback (3 Super Bowl rings, NFL MVP, etc). And I’ll explain why as an early-stage investor, I’m looking for the entrepreneurial equivalent of Tom Brady.
Tom Brady went to college at Michigan, one of the top football programs in the country at the time. He then proceeded to play exactly zero NCAA football games in his first two college seasons, because he was #2 behind the top quarterback Brian Griese. Griese went on to win the national championship for the Wolverines. Brady got his chance to play later in his Michigan career and distinguished himself to some extent, but he wasn’t a national star. Brady was then picked #199 in the 2000 NFL draft by the New England Patriots… in other words, he was considered a fairly mediocre choice that year and teams picked 198 college prospects ahead of him.
After entering the NFL, Brady was once again a backup to the Pats starting QB Drew Bledsoe. But then in 2001 when Bledsoe went down with an injury, Brady got his shot as a starter and has never looked back. Even after suffering a heartbreaking Super Bowl defeat at the end of the 2007 season, and a career-threating injury himself in 2008, Brady has consistently returned to the top of the sport.
So what does any of this have to do with startup investing? Well, I have invested in companies started by first-time entrepreneurs, successful repeat founder/CEO’s, and everything in between. But one of the entrerpeneur “prototypes” that I’m most enthusiastic about are guys and gals that are like Tom Brady in all of the following ways:
1) Have Seen the Playbook of Success – Tom Brady won the 2001 Super Bowl, and was named the game’s MVP, in his first season as a starting QB. This is the functional equivalent of a first time founder/CEO building a $1B+ company on the first try. But while Tom Brady had only limited playing opportunities at both Michigan and then initially with the Patriots, he had been an integral part of winning organizations so certainly wasn’t your average first-time starting QB. Similarly someone who’s previously been part of a great startup or two has seen the playbook of success, even if they weren’t very senior or a founder. When these folks start their own company they begin with a massive advantage.
2) Ambition & Something Yet to Proove - I suppose most professional athletes would claim to have ambition. But clearly Tom Brady could have rested on his laurels after his early NFL success, his season ending injury in 2008, or even had his off-field dream life blunt his professional aspirations. A similar deep-seated drive to win is one factor that propels the best entrepreneurs to continue on the startup path, with all of its challenges, even if they’ve already achieved some level of professional and/or financial success.
3) Patience for Excellence - Just as a pro sports career plays out over many years, the creation of a great company is a long term endeavor. An impatient Tom Brady would have prioritized a starting job on a mediocre team, either in college or the NFL, rather than waiting for the right chance to be the leader of something truly exceptional.
So to all you who are entrepreneurial equivalent of Tom Brady… the #199 draft pick, not the famous one of today… please give me a call when you start your first company.