He lacks the muscular physique of his peers in the National Football League. The guy doesn’t have much speed, and his arm strength for a quarterback is mediocre. Despite all that, he’s indisputably the most successful quarterback in the history of professional football. I’m talking about Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots, five-time Super Bowl champ, four-time Super Bowl MVP, and three-time league MVP…
From the get-go out of college, where he played for the Michigan Wolverines, Tom Brady’s lack of athleticism made others, namely NFL scouts, underestimate him. So he went late in the draft, very late, because of it. However, it didn’t take long for public perception to change, and for those who overlooked him to regret it. He’s been in the league for roughly twenty years, showing longevity virtually unmatched by any quarterback – ever.
What makes Brady such an incredible quarterback and winner, which provides today’s analogy for entrepreneurs, is his mental strength to ‘stay in the pocket’ – a trait I think is required for great entrepreneurs. Let me explain…
Tom Brady isn’t going to blow anyone away with his physical ability. That we know (see video below). However, he destroys defenses because of his mental strength to stay in the pocket created by his offensive linemen. He can tolerate the threat of danger (otherwise known as risk in the entrepreneurial world) very well. On the other side of his offensive linemen, which form the ‘pocket’ for Brady to pass from, a mere 2 feet away, are mean 300-pound hulks who want nothing more than to take Brady’s head off…
Most quarterbacks in the league will sit in the pocket so long as it’s comfortable. The moment they notice a break forming in that pocket (due to a 300-pound tank trying to break through), most quarterbacks get the urge to what is called ‘scramble.’ It essentially means they run out of the pocket because they believe one of the beasts could hit them. The problem is, while that tactic can sometimes elude the beasts, it often makes it difficult for the quarterback to accurately throw the ball because he is now running and trying to hit a moving target (receiver). As a result, quarterbacks who regularly scramble, throw more interceptions and their careers are often cut short due to the increased amount of hits they take while scrambling outside the pocket. Their desire to avoid that first and often scariest looking threat (300-pound beasts trying to get through the offensive linemen who form the pocket), leads to more turnovers and injuries later.
The key point for quarterbacks and today’s entrepreneur analogy is that the longer one can stay in that pocket, which is the ideal position to throw/operate from, and ride out the looming threat, the more likely it is they will find an opening.
This is relatable for entrepreneurs, as our ability to tolerate risk is what often makes or breaks if we are successful or not. I’ll give you a personal example:
Early on when I started investing in startups, especially when I had more capital invested than I was comfortable with, I got spooked rather easily. I would over-analyze even the minutia of companies day-to-day decisions, looking to read tea leaves. This behavior often made me hyper-sensitive to new risks the companies became exposed to (inherent in startups – there’s no shortage of new risks), driving me away from the investment as I looked to exit my equity position far too early. This tendency to ‘scramble’ in an attempt to avoid further risk led to many of the greatest disappointments in my career. I left much upside (and profit) on the table because I wasn’t willing to ride out the riskier/uncertain times with the early-stage companies.
Uncertainty in early-stage ventures, as with football, is natural. To reach the maximum reward, you have to stay in the pocket – stick to the plan. Set up and stand tall.
Early in my investing career, I wasn’t willing to let the play evolve, which is precisely what’s required in many instances. Just because there is a 300-pound threat staring at you, doesn’t mean your preparation and team aren’t ready to deal with it. Often, those threats/risks in business fizzle out or hit your company with a whimper. They look deadly in the heat of the moment, but you have to trust your practice will pay off. Don’t revert to scrambling. Stick to the script and don’t try to escape the current danger for an immediate fix, which is often far more dangerous over the long-term.
If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.
– Calvin Coolidge
Despite almost every quarterback in the league having more athletic ability than Tom Brady, his willingness to stay in the pocket has reaped the most Super Bowl victories of any quarterback in the history of the game. As an entrepreneur, recognize there are risks and threats every day, but stay in that pocket – your ideal operating place. Trust your initial decision to go with that idea or product launch. If you can ride out the threatening moments, there will likely be a massive opening for you to take advantage of.
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