June 3, 2013

Five Lessons the Blue Jays’ Ricky Romero Can Teach Startups

One of the most curious stories within professional sports these days is Ricky Romero’s fall from ace pitcher to a player on the verge of washing out of professional basement after being dropped from the 40-man roster recently.

In his last start with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, Romero gave up eight runs on five hits and three walks while recording just two outs. This is a stark performance from someone who won 15 games in 2011 and finished in the top-10 in Cy Young voting.

For startups, there are five important lessons to be learned from the rise and fall of Ricky Romero.

1. Success can take time and patience. After being selected in the first-round of the 2005 draft, Romero struggled in the minor leagues. It wasn’t until 2009 that Romeo made the Toronto Blue Jays. Romero had the pedigree and talent but, for whatever reason, it look longer than expected for it to translate into major league success.

Lesson: Many startups have products offering lots of value but can’t seem to get much traction, while rivals have no trouble attracting users and revenue. One of the keys is having faith and confidence in your product. By working hard and staying motivated, success is possible down the road.

2. Success should be savoured and enjoyed. It’s tough to make the major leagues. You need to be the best of the best, and there are thousands of players trying to take your job. Only a few players have job security, while most players only get to spend a few years at the game’s highest level.

Lesson: Only a very small number of startups are successful to the point where they become viable businesses, let alone high-profile success stories that are acquired for billions of dollars. For startups that do attract enough users and/or revenue to become a business as opposed to a project, it’s reason for daily celebration and cause to enjoy the moment.

3. Carpe diem (aka seize the day). For Romero, two successful years were enough for him to get a five-year, $30.1-million contract in 2010. At the time, it appeared to be a great deal for the Blue Jays but now it looks like Romero made the right decision by signing a long-term deal when the opportunity came along.

Lesson: For startups that do have success, a takeover offer has to be something worth considering given the competitive landscape and the fickleness of users. One day, you’re king of the world, the next day you’re forgotten because someone new and shiny has come along. If someone offers you a whack of dough, it might be a good idea to take it.

4. Don’t rest on your laurels. Romero’s demise may be due to many reasons. Perhaps he forgot the things that made him successful or maybe he started to enjoy the good life too much. Between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, something changed for Romero, and he’s never been the same.

Lesson: For startups, success can be fleeting. Don’t take your business or customers for granted. Never forget hungrier and better companies are battling for business and your customers. Even if your startup is humming along, you need to maintain a sense of healthy paranoia to prevent yourself from letting your guard down.

5. Never give up or, at least, never give up without a fight. Romero may appear to be finished but baseball is a funny game. As fast as you can lose it, the magic can reappear. At some point, Romero was among the best in the game but somehow lost his way. With new mechanics or a mental refresh, it’s not impossible for Romero is make his way back to the big leagues.

Lesson: Even when times get tough, startup needs to stay optimistic and realistic. They need to understand the market can behave in strange ways but you need to keep going to live for another day. Just when you think there is no light at the tunnel, a big customer could come walking in the door.

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