A long time ago, I sat next to a professional tennis coach at a dinner. This guy had coached at every level from little kids at summer camp to touring players. He had a lot of good stories and he said something to me that I’ve never forgotten.
When you’re at the early junior levels, he said, the winners are the kids who are the best all-around players.
But at a certain point, that changes. Those kids, the all-around players, they stop winning tournaments unless they evolve to the next level.
The next level is having a weapon.
By the time the competition gets real, you need a serve or a forehand that puts your opponent in a tough position. You can’t just not lose. You have to win. You need a weapon.
I think sometimes about how this applies to startups. It’s an analogy, so mostly just a tool for digging into things from maybe a new angle. But my take is that “you have to have a weapon” is related to some other rules of thumb that get talked about pretty frequently in tech.
Like, your product has to be 10x better to dislodge an incumbent. And, VCs want to invest in companies that sell painkillers, not vitamins. I find all of these helpful in terms of keeping in mind the forces at work in a competitive environment and how building a good product isn’t usually enough for success.
At a startup your product has to be good in specific ways and often has to be sold in specific ways for your company to succeed.
You need a weapon.
Today’s music is “If I Were a Bell,” live in Tokyo in 1964. This is the band just before what is often called Miles Davis’s second great quintet. Sam Rivers on saxophone rather than Wayne Shorter. Herby Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. This was released in the US in 2005 as the “Miles in Tokyo” album.