“Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.”
~ John Wooden
Much has been made about overcoming and learning from adversity when starting-up and building companies. When you are building something significant, it’s generally a process of applying a mind-crushing amount of work to inventing, establishing, failing, recovering, adapting, constructing a beach-head on a precious success, and then doing it all over again.
Virtustream is my third lap around the entrepreneurial track (Adjoined and Kanbay, NASDQ: KBAY). While these prior ventures were ultimately very successful due to the extraordinary efforts of many, at some point during the course of each of them, I was relatively convinced we’d fail. Spectacularly. It’s nice now to be able to talk about those experiences given the certainty of their outcomes, but going through the low-points were gut-wrenchingly miserable. In our first three years at Adjoined, we had to build a brand new technology company through the 2000 tech market crash, the tragic events of September 11th 2001, and the subsequent 2002 recession. We conceived and founded Virtustream in the midst of the 2008-2009 Credit Crisis. As an entrepreneur/CEO, one of my favorite adversity-related blog posts is The Struggle by Ben Horowitz. I can tell you from first-hand experience that Ben’s post is so incredibly accurate. There is no relief when you are going through The Struggle. None.
This blog post is not about The Struggle, per se. It’s about Virtustream’s relationship with Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), a sport that is primarily a combination of wrestling, boxing and jujitsu. It is a sport that, in my opinion, epitomizes The Struggle for the fighters in its own unique way. The need to overcome adversity in this sport is present in virtually every aspect of it.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” ~ Mike Tyson
A very long time ago, I played football and wrestled. I truly loved everything about the game of football: the physical and competitive intensity, the locker room camaraderie, the crowd, even the smell of the grass on game day. I loved it. All of it.
Wrestling was different. While I enjoyed wrestling, I respected the sport more than I loved it. It’s a physically grueling sport. It’s an individual sport and there is nowhere to hide when you make a mistake. There are no other players to lean on when you alone are getting your ass kicked out there on the matt. When you are cutting weight, you alone are the one sucking on ice cubes after a 3-hour workout in a plastic suit. Mistakes are punitive and they are all on you. When things go badly, it is adversity in its purest form.
In my experience, many of the strongest start-from-scratch entrepreneurs and business leaders I meet come from some sort of meaningful team and/or individual sport background. While I have no statistical correlations to offer, I do believe it gives one a certain advantageous context for dealing with the inevitable adversity one must face when building and/or running a business. It takes courage to deal with adversity, and, for most of us, it takes some time to be able to embrace the combined emotions of fear and doubt so as to channel them effectively into productive solutions, and ultimately positive outcomes.
“I was a baseball fan myself, I wanted to play baseball.” ~ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Yes, I’m a big MMA fan. This is the kind of stuff I’ll find posted on our intranet from time-to-time, courtesy of my awesome Virtustream peeps:
So it’s probably not a huge surprise that we sponsor MMA fighters from time to time, mostly in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events. We are a young venture-backed technology firm and spend a very modest amount of money on marketing each year (~2% of revenue), so we are careful where we place our precious dollars and utilize avenues like social media and various forms of on-line interaction extensively. I think we do pretty well in terms of return on investment in this regard. Sponsoring an MMA fighter on prime time PPV or national TV (FOX) is not as expensive as you may think, if you follow the right process and know the right people. The primary reason we do this is to reach the 18 – 34 age demographic (loyal UFC viewers) for brand awareness, as this is the group our software engineers primarily come from. It has indeed helped us in a highly competitive market.
As importantly, we do it because we think it reflects the personality of our young firm and because of the great respect we have for athletes in the sport. I have gotten to know a number of the fighters we have sponsored. To a man (and woman), these people work incredibly hard in their pursuit of greatness. They experience The Struggle. All have faced adversity in their fights and, win or lose, have come out on the other side better at their profession.
I have also found many of the athletes in this sport to be uncommonly good people. They conduct themselves with honor and generally all give back to their community. They are pretty amazing people, really. These characteristics are the ones that we hope to embody as a firm.
UFC Fight For the Troops
This Tuesday November 6th, Virtustream and KOreps have teamed up for a special promotion surrounding a UFC ‘Fight For The Troops’ event at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. We have put together a limited edition shirt for the event, and UFC fighters George Roop and Jim Miller will be on site at Fort Campbell to hand out these shirts free to military personnel while supplies last. In addition, Virtustream will donate $1 to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund for every Facebook ‘like’ or Twitter ‘re-tweet’ of a photo that features a military member with this shirt.
As we like to say at Virtustream, Boom!