A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.
I recently had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kobie Fuller, current Partner at Upfront Ventures and former All Ivy, Top Ten Nationally Ranked track star at Harvard. I spoke with Kobie as part of UC Santa Barbara’s Distinguished Speaker Series.
Kobie made a number of interesting points during our discussion, including the fact that not all sports are created equal. While every sport contributes to the development of each participant’s character, objective sports distinctly hone people for success, because they instill the unambiguous correlation between preparation and results.
From this reality, it is not a leap to conclude that people who are drawn to objective sports are also typically better suited to the stark measurement of success and failure in the startup world.
Objective sports are measured in ways in which success and failure are indisputable. They include those involving a clock (e.g., racing sports such as track, swimming, cycling, skiing) and individual sports measured by clearly delineated points (e.g., golf, bowling, tennis, wrestling, chess).
Team sports obviously impart many important life-skills (including: camaraderie, sportsmanship, leadership), but winning and losing is a group effort. Thus, team athletes are usually not judged under the same winner/loser rubric as their subjective athlete counterparts. For instance, a baseball team might seemingly lose because of an ill-timed error by the third baseman, but in reality, the game could have been won if the team had collectively scored more runs.
Running The Crimson Oval
Kobie’s athletic career was pivotal in shaping his belief that there is no substitute for focused efforts in business and in life. His participation in objective sports reinforced the direct correlation between efforts and results.
According to Kobie, “What I loved about track was the purity of the sport where… you had to put in the work and effort to get the returns on the oval. If you didn’t do that, it showed. There was a very clear outcome with regards to whether someone else was better than you or not.
When you won the feeling was great and when you lost, there was no one to blame but yourself. That is so much of business and life in general. So much of what you have to do to achieve success is directly correlated to what you put into it. If you put in 50% you will get 50% out of it. I feel like that overall (track) training and discipline instilled in me something that I carry into all facets of my life.”
“There were moments where I felt like there is no way I could run any faster and it was not until I got smacked around on the track where I was like, ‘That guy is not going to beat me ever again’ and I put in that effort and… (then I thought) ‘Wow, how did my time drop from this level to that level?’ It’s always that extra bit of effort you can put it, with focused energy because you can’t put effort in an untargeted effort and expect to get results.”
Below is a four minute excerpt from my conversation with Kobie. You can watch Kobie’s entire interview below.
I also discussed with Kobie the importance of maintaining a supportive peer group that challenges you to continually improve. Kobie experienced the power of this collaborative/competitive energy when a younger teammate joined Harvard’s team at the time when Kobie was the fastest member.
Kobie noted that, “Surrounding yourself with excellence and folks that push you will help you get the best out of yourself. If you don’t, it’s easy to be complacent and settle for mediocrity. He (Kobie’s new teammate) was an Olympic athlete, number two in the world for under 18 and (he) went on to win the UK 200. When he showed up on the track… it made me pick up my game. Honestly, it was an amazing, transformational experience having that level of excellence (on our team).”
The Objectivity Of Sales
During a recent breakfast with former All American & NCAA Division I swimmer and current SVP of Sales & BD at Rightscale, Josh Fraser said something that directly corroborated Kobie’s experiences at Harvard.
We were discussing the traits he looks for when hiring salespeople. It’s not surprising that as a former elite athlete, Josh appreciates a candidate’s participation in sports. However, like Kobie, Josh believes that objective sports are effective precursors of an individual’s future success, especially in sales.
Josh noted that athletes who are drawn to objective sports are typically well suited for the world of sales, which is similarly measured in a highly quantifiable manner. There may be many reasons why you didn’t succeed, but the fact you failed is evident to all.
“Competitive athletes always want to get better. That fire in your belly that always wants you to do your best time, get your best score, whatever it may be, is always there. In subjective sports, it is often unclear how your performance impacted the outcome. You can have the game of your career and your team can still lose. In objective sports, you look up at the clock and it never lies. Either you put in the top time, or you didn’t. Athletes who are willing to put themselves out there in a sport with clear winners and losers are ideal for the unambiguous measurements of sales success. Either you closed enough deals to hit your quota or you didn’t.”
Thus, the next time you interview a job candidate who enjoyed a successful sports career, consider asking them why they selected the type of sport they pursued. Their answer may provide some insights regarding their willingness to be judged by the brutally honest rubric of startup success and failure.
You can follow John on Twitter: @johngreathouse.
Image credit: UC Television