Startup Madness (Be the Underdog!)

The glory of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is the ability for any Division I team, no matter their record, to earn an automatic bid for the 68-team tournament by winning their conference tournament (except only for Ivy League where best record goes). Once in the tournament, every team has a chance to win the national title.

The thrill of a smaller school beating a larger school is the beauty of March Madness. The drama and excitement in my opinion is unlike anything else in sports. The first four days of the NCAAs, where all competing teams get whittled down to 16, is the most frenzied days of the sporting year.

Today, anyone can start a company (with a modest sum of capital) that has a shot at unearthing a large, staid global corporation. Everyday, startups take the court and compete to beat the incumbents at their game. One thing is for sure: the leaders of today will not all be the leaders of tomorrow.

Playing the role of the underdog should be relished for founding teams. Starting a company is hard work, but nothing great comes without sacrifice, and without pressure there is no diamond (ok done with pep talk).

Here are five benefits of being the underdog as a startup:

1. No one thinks you can win — to build something that lasts, you actually want some people telling you “it can’t be done” and “you’ll never beat [insert large company].” Bulletin board material for sure, and this only adds motivation for great founding teams.

2. Talent attracted to your company is sticky — the audaciousness of your vision will separate the wheat from the chaff. Wannabes only want the scene of a hot startup, but people who believe in your thesis even when others don’t are 10xers and will stay when the going gets tough.

3. Fewer distractions — attention brings distractions, and in the early days of a company the focus must be relentless. Proof of concept, building out the team, talking with customers — you are able to prepare for each game with a fervor that is more difficult for others with more on their plate.

4. Can iterate and test quicker and faster — With less busyness, teams can A/B test anything and everything without the scrutiny of many eyes. Be relentless in finding what works, and don’t be afraid to try ridiculous ideas afforded you. In theory, this style of iteration should never stop, but as companies grow, it is very difficult to keep institutional inertia out of every corner.

5. The victories are sweeter — life is not a linear line up and to the right. The valleys and hard work define the vistas at the top. Only you and your teammates and those in the trenches with you can experience the weight and sweetness of the win.

We are all born the underdog. Only a few choose to suit up and flourish in this role. Suit up, enjoy the view along the way and become a champion.

Long live the underdog!