Each year at the ESPYs, some of the biggest names in sports are seen fraternizing with some of the biggest names in music. As Grammy winner Drake says in his song "Thank Me Now": "I swear sports and music are so synonymous 'cause we wanna be them and they wanna be us."
What's not as evident is how sports and music are also closely aligned with today's technology entrepreneurs. The mentality that leads athletes and rappers to championships and platinum records, respectively, is often the same mentality of technology entrepreneurs en route to IPOs.
For instance, after the Miami Heat won this year's NBA championship, Drake rapped and partied with the team. The rapper who "started from the bottom" is likely to relate to LeBron James, who was raised by a single mother in Akron, Ohio. But Drake's words also resonate with hordes of technology entrepreneurs hoping to emulate Steve Jobs, the orphaned college dropout who started from a garage and went onto create the world's most valuable company.
One notable Silicon Valley investor is keenly aware of this correlation. Venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, of Andreessen Horowitz, opens each of his blog posts with rap lyrics that reflect his topic. Most venture capitalists don't utilize rap lyrics in their marketing collateral but perhaps more of them should. As with athletes, rap lyrics often resonate with entrepreneurs because in order to be successful, one must possess conviction and be unwavering in bringing a dream to fruition, which rappers frequently describe in their prose.
Looking even more closely at rappers, athletes, and tech entrepreneurs, there are three central themes that unite these seemingly unique groups.
1. Grand Vision
Successful people in these groups all tend have a grand vision. This higher purpose compels them to pursue opportunities where statistically very few people succeed. By reaching for something greater, they are able to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
As rapper Jay-Z says in the song "Mr. Carter," "Go farther, go further, go harder. Is that not why we came? And if not why bother?"
Baseball legend Jackie Robinson famously showed the world that skin color would not be a determinant of where athletes are allowed to play in professional sports. He helped blaze a trail that millions have followed.
The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, nearly went bankrupt not only proving that people would buy shoes online but also convincing the world that corporate culture and customer service were critical components of business operations.
Very closely tied to a grand vision is the power of will. Successful people in these groups forge ahead when others quit. They believe when no one else believes and tend to convert negativity into positive energy. They make sacrifices and do things others are simply unwilling or unable to do.
In his song "Ambition," Wale says, "Ambition is priceless. It's something that's in your veins."
In addition to attending school and playing football at the highest levels, Seattle Seahawks running back Robert Turbin has helped care for his sister, Tiffany, who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Turbin has done this since he was eight years old and has now made it to the NFL.
Needing a big name partner for his startup, serial entrepreneur Brian Lee cold called Robert Shapiro late at night and sold him on the LegalZoom concept. At the time, Shapiro was one of the most famous attorneys in the world, but Lee was undeterred. LegalZoom is now slated to go public.
3. Niche Domination
Successful people in these groups are able to dominate a niche and then expand. They often focus all of their efforts on accomplishing a single goal or milestone; from there, they are able to replicate their success and ascend to new heights.
Rappers almost always rise up through a hit song or album. In the song "Forever," Drake describes his ascent as, "dropped the mix tape that...sounded like an album. Who'd a thought a country wide tour be the outcome."
Athletes move up incrementally, as they prove their merits consistently at each level. Starting small in high school, they usually overwhelm their local competition. Then, they expand to compete nationally in college. The select few then make the transition into professional sports, enabling them to compete against the world's best.
Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook at Harvard University and overtook the school before expanding to other college campuses and later the world. Facebook's $16 billion IPO was one of the largest in U.S. history.
In high schools across the country, there are computer whizzes pounding out lines of code, ball players shooting free throws in darkness, and young "MCs" spitting lyrics in hallways. While they may appear different, they share the same mentality. They are betting on themselves and using their skill to create value for others. At their core, they are all entrepreneurial.
The ones who succeed tend to view the world differently and have ambition in their veins. If you're their competition, good luck.