In Business, ceopinions

Ceopinions: Tips for Winning at Basketball and Business

By Matthew Zeiler

In this month’s “CEOpinions” blog series, our CEO Matt “Michael Jordan of Canada” Zeiler talks about his former basketball glory days and the parallels in running a company. Catch up on the full “CEOpinions” blog series here.

It’s always fun for me to learn about people’s passions outside of work – like our legal counsel’s pro-skiing history, or our developer evangelist’s obsession over chairs, or our general manager’s penchant for doomsday prep, or our marketing director’s secret gamer identity. So, I thought I’d use this blog post to share my passion outside of work and what it’s taught me about running a company. What am I talking about? Basketball, of course.

Practice > talent

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I’ve played basketball since I was a kid. In high school, I was pretty damn good – not NBA good, more like kid-in-suburban-Canada good, but still. I could never dunk a ball, to my endless frustration, but I practiced hard and played to my strengths. Even though I couldn’t do the flashy slam dunk, I still managed to score 77 points in a 125 to 75 point win for our team. This parallels my approach to business – flashiness only takes you so far. Great execution, especially when it comes to the less sexy aspects of running a business, is the key to winning.

Practice individually and as a team

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In basketball, individual practice is just as important as team practice. Steph Curry spends seven hours a day practicing on his own to perfect his skills. At Clarifai, we have plenty of team practice in the form of hack days and day-to-day task forces, but I try to encourage everyone to grow on their own, too. Whether it’s a conference or a seminar or an online course, everyone should be continuing their education and honing the skills that make them great at their jobs.

The team that plays well together works well together

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When a coach is picking his starters in a basketball game, it’s not always about having the five best players on the floor. It’s about having the five players that play best together. When I hire, not only do I look for the best candidate with the right skills but also their ability to fit into our culture. In business, a great way to facilitate a team working well together is to give them opportunities to play together. We do team-building exercises like fire building and Escape the Room to create bonding experiences and have fun!

The season matters as much as the playoffs

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During the regular season, every win counts and determines your ranking in the playoffs. In many ways, the regular season is more important than the playoffs because it’s your opportunity to demonstrate a pattern of winning. The same goes for startups – the playoffs are like fundraising, where you compete with all the other startups out there for money from investors with a fixed amount of capital. But your consistent pattern of success day-to-day is what will put you in a winning position with investors and make them want to place their bet on you.

Metrics matter but they’re noisy

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Anyone who follows sports knows that there is an endless supply of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) associated with each game and each player. It’s hard to know which KPIs really matter and which are just noise – like in the NBA playoffs, the team with the most points scored per night might not necessarily win the playoffs. Business is similarly filled with noisy stats. The important thing is figuring out the underlying signal from those stats and using that information to make your team better.

Build your fanbase

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There’s a reason why basketball teams have logos and mascots and cheerleaders – to get fans even more excited about supporting their team. As a company, we try to make repping Clarifai as fun as working with Clarifai with creative swag, fun promotions, and community-driven activities! There are a ton of ways you can get Clarifai swag from us – all you have to do is ask(and sometimes, compete for it).

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