When people ask me if I’m planning to go to the Super Bowl, I always make the same joke: “I only go to the Super Bowl when I’m playing.” I haven’t been to the game since 1995 when I was a rookie kicker with the San Francisco 49ers and we beat the San Diego Chargers 49-26.
That game was never close, in my opinion. Our team was loaded with talented veterans and future Hall-of-Famers like Steve Young, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders and led by an excellent coach, George Seifert. It was a heady experience for a 24-year-old who had never kicked in a high-level football game until a few years earlier.
The success from my athletic career, coupled with the challenges I needed to overcome to get there, were invaluable lessons for my move into the business world. And I believe these rules can be effective for other entrepreneurs as well.
Rule 1: Block out the distractions.
For the mental aspect of kicking, the Super Bowl presents unique challenges. It’s hard to think it’s just another game when there are dozens of police cars escorting the team bus to the stadium along a highway that’s been cleared. But you have to focus.
Distractions can sidetrack any entrepreneur, so ensure you develop a clear vision for your business. This can help you learn to ignore any distractions that come your way. When I co-founded Waypoint Homes in 2009, few believed that large numbers of single-family residential (SFR) made for a viable business. Many leaders hear the same doubts if they have an original idea, but the successful ones learn to block out the noise.
Rule 2: Hire a coach.
My kicking career almost ended before it started. I kicked poorly in California Golden Bears’ spring practice in 1991. The coaches had doubts about me. Although I could make kicks all day when practicing by myself, I was not performing well in competition. I had been waiting two years for my opportunity, and it was slipping away.
This was around the time Tiger Woods was dominating the PGA tour, and I had read that he had a mind coach. I figured if it worked for Tiger, it would work for me. And it did: my mental coach helped me learn to do what came naturally. Through this mentorship, during training camp later that summer, I kicked well, went on to become the leading scorer in Cal’s history and then got drafted in the third round by my hometown team. I came to believe that with enough focus and determination, I could do anything.
Those who start a business know this feeling. Oftentimes, they are creating something out of nothing, and so there is no playbook to copy. Putting the right team in place, one that will offer unfiltered feedback, is one path. Finding a mentor, or hiring an executive coach, is another effective way to stay on track.
Rule 3: Pay attention to the feedback loop.
When my partner, Colin Wiel, and I started buying houses in the depths of the 2009 housing crisis, we didn’t say, “We’re going to take this company public in 5 years.” But we ended up with some 17,000 properties, renovating them and renting them out. We saw an opportunity early on that nobody else did, and we built a company with more than 600 employees, $3.5 billion in assets under management and the second-largest single-family residential REIT.
That said, Waypoint was a risky venture, and we faced disaster more than once. But just as I did when I was kicking, I paid attention to the feedback loop. In sports, feedback is immediate. When running a business, the process is slower, and you have more time to recover from mistakes.
Business school case studies are littered with companies that failed to respond to the feedback loop. Kodak, which was founded in 1888, had 145,000 employees at its peak and an engineer there invented the first digital camera in 1975. Last year, it was estimated to have 4,500 employees and was a shell of its former self.
Kicking is hard on your psyche — the 49ers cut me in the middle of my second season and I ended up playing for seven teams in 12 years — but it did teach me that the sky’s the limit if you learn from the feedback loop and adjust.
Rule 4: Take a shot at the bell.
As an entrepreneur, I was just as hungry for success; ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange when your company goes public is akin to making it to the Super Bowl. When we merged with Starwood, pulled off our IPO and rang that bell on Feb. 14, 2014, we felt vindicated.
Colin and I saw another opportunity to ring the bell, so we founded Mynd in 2016. People ask me why I jumped back into the fray. I’m someone who has a real passion for building things, making things better. If I look at an opportunity, I think: “This should be a thing, this will be a thing.” If that’s true for you, your next question should be: “Why not me? Who’s going to do it better?”
And you have to refuse to fail. In any walk of life, failure is the crucible through which achievement is forged. A missed kick or a bad game is not a failure. The real failure is giving up.
These rules are the traits that drive entrepreneurs.
During NFL practices, my teammates crowded around me as I kicked, screaming to distract me. It was a way to prepare for a stadium with 80,000 people roaring. Business leaders are also bombarded with distractions and noise and face doubters. Those who are successful learn to block it out and focus on the kick — I mean the business.