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Jonathon Youshaei

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Learning From LeBron? Five Lessons Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From King James

Posted: 12/26/2012 11:08 am

LeBron lovers and haters alike, this one's for you. Every entrepreneur can learn a thing or two from the NBA's most controversial athlete. Get ready for a few surprises.

1. Always Tell a Story

LeBron is not just some one-dimensional ball player. He tells a story, exudes personality, and people absolutely love watching him -- whether on the court, the set of Saturday Night Live, or hosting the ESPYs.

One of the smartest things LeBron did for his career was launch an inspirational documentary called More Than a Game. The film told the story of LeBron's upbringing in Cleveland. Pictures from his childhood and interviews from loved ones showed a side of LeBron we rarely see. The reviews came in strong -- commentary hailing James as a "positive role model" and the film as a "soul-stirring documentary" grew rampant. Justin Bieber actually did the same exact thing with his documentary, Never Say Never.

As an entrepreneur, your story can oftentimes be as interesting as your product. We want to see your human side. Any business you start should have some personable aspect to it, perhaps an ongoing blog or an "our story" page. How did you come up with the idea? What were the struggles? What does your office space look like? Bring us along for the ride.

Jason Goldberg, founder and CEO at Fab, provides a terrific example with his blog. He's incredibly candid, sharing everything from Black Friday revenue numbers to insights on company strategy. While not every startup can be this transparent, it goes to show how sharing behind-the-scenes stories can make a company more memorable, lovable, and personable.

2. Relate to Fans & Create a Flat Universe

Would you rather impact a million users or have a million dollars? For some, money is the byproduct of doing what you love and shaking things up. They want to make people happy and interact with them. They want to bring added value, entertainment, and convenience to people's lives.

I don't know if we can necessarily say the same for LeBron when it comes to his fan base. Look no further than LeChoke's statements after losing the 2011 NBA Finals.

All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live... and be happy with that.

Great PR move, man. What a LeJoke. You should never feel above your fans.

If you're starting a business, it's best to interact with your consumers as much as possible. Be on the same level. Try to respond to comments, inbox messages, and email. Give shoutouts whenever possible. Thank them. Twitter is especially great for this. I also highly recommend a brilliant service called Olark. It gives instant chat capabilities with your site visitors.

3. Join, or Create the Strongest Team Possible

For all the scrutiny LeBron endured for his decision to "take his talents to South Beach," it was actually the right decision. He joined forces with some of the most talented players of our generation instead of staying around a losing team in Cleveland. In Miami, LeBron has already brought home an NBA Championship and positioned himself to win many more.


Especially for startups, having the right core team is everything. Join forces with people you like being around and have different strengths than you. In many cases, I've found that best startups begin with their own Big Three -- someone with computer science expertise, someone with amazing graphic design skills, and another willing to lead, market, and move the product in the most creative way possible. Having strengths in different areas is key.

4. Get your College Degree

While LeBron won a championship without a diploma, he could have arguably avoided some massive "me first" blunders had he been a part of a college program that emphasized team, discipline, and selflessness. Duke, or another elite program, could have provided him with more mentorship and guidance that he didn't necessarily find in Cleveland. When LeBron and Duke's legendary Coach Krzyzewski finally linked up on Team USA, he had this to say:

"We have a great relationship... I've grown from a young man into a man into a leader of that team. He's helped me develop that. I give a lot of credit to him."

Imagine if LeBron met Coach K earlier in his career. Still, LeBron averaged stellar numbers during his rookie year and was ready to play in the big leagues. But for every LeBron, there are thousands of Kwame Browns, Eddy Currys, and DeSagana Diops who didn't make it big.

By the same token, we all know the list of uber successful college dropouts -- Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg. But have you ever read a list of college dropouts who didn't make it? It's too long. How about the list of successful entrepreneurs who did finish college? That would be too long too.

Your degree always carries weight. It's an immediate token of respect, especially if your first startup doesn't make it. More importantly, having a college diploma is also the ultimate safety net and confidence keeper. It makes a failure seem like more of a stepping stone to success than a destination. Plus, college is such an amazing time to meet people, find mentors, and grow. It's a time to make yourself as versatile and indispensable as possible.

Then again, life is all about seizing the moment and if you see a special opportunity, then chase after it before the window closes.

5. Lose the Ego

There's probably never been a sexier time to be an entrepreneur. Yes, sexy. The beanbag office space is in. The cubicle is out. We all want to know what it's like to be a part of Google, Facebook, or Apple -- or better yet, start one. We all want our story to be The Social Network.

A taste of startup success - initial traction, venture backing, media coverage - can create a LeBron out of all of us. It's important to stay humble, seek out advice, and own up to mistakes when they occur. One of the things I respect most about entrepreneurs like Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is the willingness to admit imperfection and genuinely listen to feedback. While mistakes are never ideal (in Hasting's case, he caused the company stock price to plummet from $300 to under $100), they are inevitable in fast-moving environments and it's important to embrace them as learning opportunities. But that can only happen once we lose our egos, open ourselves to constructive criticism, and strive to improve.

Unlike LeBron's infamous hairline, we can all hope to move forward by applying these five lessons in the world of entrepreneurship and beyond.

 

Follow Jonathon Youshaei on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JonYoushaei

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