Take-Aways from Start-up CEOs: 4 Core Values for Coaches & Athletes

November 5, 2015

Todd Grant

In August, 2015, SquadLocker, the nation’s leading provider of technology-enabled athletic apparel solutions for teams, announced that it had recently closed A-round financing securing $2.25 million in equity capital which the company will invest in software development and growth initiatives. SquadLocker is achieving breakthroughs in a stagnant industry by defining, developing and launching the easiest-to-use online experience for selecting, managing and purchasing custom decorated athletic apparel.

Investors, Slater Technology Fund, a Rhode Island-based venture development fund specializing in early-stage technology companies, and George Overholser, CEO of Boston’s Third Sector Capital Partners, a member of Capital One’s founding management team and an initial investor and former board member of VistaPrint, saw the promise of SquadLocker.  

In making the investment, Mr. Overholser said, “Just as VistaPrint made it easier for business owners to self-design and procure marketing materials, SquadLocker will streamline and optimize athletic apparel selection and procurement which remains a very cumbersome process for teams today.”  The company is building an incremental market where none existed before given that the new technology and innovative consumer experiences make it easy enable a solution that was fraught with time consuming challenges previously.

Can core values that drive performance for startup CEOs be applied to coaching? Definitely!

Competing and winning in the intensely fragmented $8 billion decorated team apparel market requires unparalleled dedication from the team.  Any great team, whether they be hitting the boards on the basketball court or presenting PowerPoint in the boardroom, requires a CEO or coach who can exemplify and espouse key values that help drive all employees and team mates to the common goal.  

4 Core Values: Integrity, Shared Vision, Adaptability, Resilience

For SquadLocker, the four core values necessary for the coach/CEO of fast growth start-up companies to be successful:  Integrity. Shared Vision. Adaptability. Resilience.  

It begins with Integrity. Super Bowl winner Coach Tony Dungy defines integrity as “what you do when no one is watching. It’s doing the right thing all the time, even when it may work to your disadvantage.” No words better exemplify our daily commitment.  

Most of our customers don’t have the opportunity to visit our apparel decoration and finishing facility in Warwick, Rhode Island, or appreciate the effort that goes into the logistics and production of their team’s custom decorated team gear.  Integrity for us at SquadLocker is more than just a money back guarantee; it’s a commitment that each order decorated and shipped meets each customer’s expectations for complete satisfaction.  If it doesn’t, we’ll do the right thing….make your order right EVERYTIME!  Integrity is elemental in many other aspects of our business as well. It also places a demand on the organization that we all do what’s right, even if it’s unpleasant or unpopular; it holds us all to a high standard of peer-to-peer expectation setting and consensus building and it aligns with a necessity for young companies to have accountability frameworks established and adhered to. 

Making sure that all gear is produced as ordered, with team logos in place and names and numbers applied accurately is an outcome.  Success starts well before the garment is decorated with a Shared Vision.  It’s not so much about processing orders flawlessly, it’s much more about communicating actively amongst the team, establishing a shared vision and communicating goals, building an environment for innovation and “best idea wins,” trying new things, perhaps failing at some and learning what’s working and what’s not and most importantly making certain roles and responsibilities are aligned between company goals, departmental KPIs and individual team member compensation and performance incentives. 

That’s alignment! The winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski once said, “Effective teamwork begins and ends with sharing common goals.”  This tenet applies to great coaching in that establishing a shared vision and culture occurs long before the team takes the field.

Just as important to establishing and exceeding mutually agreed to objectives is a commitment to the core value of Adaptability.  Each day, our team comes to work motivated by the promise ahead and the challenges to overcome.  Everyone MUST operate based on our work being a journey of continuous improvement.  We have to adapt as a company to whet we learn, then pivot fast based on what the data is informing us as the adjustments necessary to optimize results. Perhaps the best articulation of adaptability comes from two different sports celebrities.   

 “Failure happens all the time. It happens every day in practice. What makes you better, is how you react. Learning and rising above those trials and errors is what makes us great," stated soccer great Mia Hamm.

And from a different viewpoint, to succeed, you must be willing to risk failure.  Or as so well said by basketball great Michael Jordan, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games.  26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.”  

Just as important as adaptive continuous innovation, testing and learning is a relentless unwavering commitment to the fourth core value Resilience, which breeds innovation and a survival instinct into young start-up entrepreneurs to endure adversity.  It is resilience that led the Kansas City Royals to win the World Series championship this month. 

Every day, our team drives towards one goal: delivering the best possible customer experience.  More than just words, these four values represent our daily commitment to our employees, customers, strategic partners, vendors, our loyal investors, and even our competitors.   

I strive to live by these words each day.

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