Business Lessons From Baseball Cards

This post started as a comment on David Cummings' blog - he wrote a great post about his brief experience as a sports memorabilia dealer when he was in high school.  His subsequent ventures have been much more successful...and his blog should be required reading for SaaS start-ups.

I've written once before about my childhood obsession with professional athletes - their autographs, their statistics, and - of course - their trading cards.  I had a great time as a kid soliciting autographs via fan mail, which was often ghost written by my dad.

David's post inspired me to jot down a few business lessons I can recall from my incredibly nerdy time trading ball cards with my equally nerdy friends in the late 80s and early 90s:

Ask for what you want.  I was obsessed with collecting Wade Boggs cards because we share the same, unique last name, because we both batted left-handed, and because we were both doubles hitters - which was code for "too weak to hit for power" in my case.  I knew what I wanted and I made the trades to get it.

Know what the other guy wants.  Similarly, I knew what my friends wanted.  Drew liked Joe Oliver and the Cincy Reds, Joel was a sucker for Jose Canseco, Justin went for any trade involving a Washington Redskin, etc.  I made some great trades exploiting these weaknesses.  I fleeced my (admittedly younger) cousin for a Jerry Rice rookie card with a crusty Art Monk card that he didn't have - just because he was obsessed with the distinguished Redskin.  (Of course, I'm sure I gave up the farm to get an elusive Wade Boggs card on several occassions.)

Understand value.  I remember verly clearly chirping to my father:  "This card is worth $10!"  And he would invariably respond:  "Worth $10 to who?"  His response infuriated me when I was a youngster because I never had a clever retort and because I knew that the card was worth something to someone besides just me - but I didn't really understand how or why, that is other than it was listed in the Beckett Baseball Card monthly as worth $10.  Turns out that the market defines the value - not me, not my dad, and often not even the hallowed Beckett.

Take care of your childhood toys.  My father had several thousand dollars worth (in 1991) of baseball cards from his childhood - Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Willie Mays, etc.  He just made the mistake of clothespinning them to his bicycle so that his spokes would make a cool noise while he rode around the farm.  :)

The Importance of Homemade Words

My sister and I made up lots of words when we were kids.  (This is before my brother was born - when we stopped making up words and just taught Evan to repeat the silly things we said.)

The words made no sense whatsoever and I have no idea what in the world we were doing that made us come up with them.  But I'll never forget "chungum", "mezzali", "flowerdymane" and others - nor will I forget what the words mean!

Silly words and acronymns are fun and they're great tools to drive process for teams.  For example, we use the following at Argyle: 

  • Demopportunity - the combination of demo and opportunity reminds the sales guys that all demos should get converted as Opportunities in Salesforce.  And that they should think carefully about the prospects that they demo.
  • BLUW - this is an acronymn for Budget, Looking, Understands, Willing - which is Argyle's version of BANT.  We refer to leads as "bluw" - pronounced like the color blue - with regularity.  I ask "Is it bluw?" several times a day.
  • TWBAGMI - this is an acronymn for "This will be a great meeting if...".  It is pronounced as "T.W. Bag Me".  We don't use it internally, but I think about it when I run meetings to make sure that I'm working towards a goal - either mine or my colleague's.  My friend Matt mentioned the acronymn to me in passing in 2005 and it stuck.

Any homemade words or acronymns you'd like to share?

Bill & Ted On Start-Ups

I LOVE Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure - one of my favorite childhood movies.  I watched it for the umpteen millionth time this morning at Kelly's parents' house.  (One of the benefits of waking up two hours before everyone else is having unfettered access to the billion channels on the Stowe family television.)

This scene got me thinking:

My partner Adam and I are in the very early stages of something that we think has a chance to be big.  (Ahem!  Argyle - social media marketing software.) 

Much like Bill & Ted, we're really excited and certain of our eventual success.  Unlike Bill & Ted, we're not letting ourselves succomb to two classic start-up temptations:

  • Banking On Someone Else - Even though they seem to be pretty deadset on (and desperately need!) a new "hire" to elevate their performance, there's no way that Wyld Stallyns will get Eddie Van Halen to join the band.  Instead, they need to figure out how to start getting traction in their neighborhood, then on the San Dimas scene, and then on from there.  They're much more likely to recruit an "A" player like Eddie if they can show some momentum and a track record.
  • Hoping For A Big Win - Everyone dreams of a triumphant video and a quick rise to the top.  The reality?  That just doesn't happen.  The vast majority of overnight successes are the culmination of many years of pounding away in anonymity.

For now - the Argyle team is focused on learning to play our instruments and putting together a good set.  Everything else will take care of itself.

Party on, dudes.

MLK and Tar Heel Boys' State

I attended the American Legion Tar Heel Boys' State in the summer of 1997.  From the organization's website:

Tar Heel Boys’ State is a leadership action program. Qualified male North Carolina high school rising seniors take part in a practical government course designed to develop a working knowledge of the structure of the government. It is the aim of the program to impress the young citizens with the fact that the government is just what they make it.

At least that was their purpose.  Boys' State really just a weeklong rodeo of 16 year-old boys from all over NC terrorizing each other and the Wake Forest campus...with a smattering mock-government/educational events we had to attend.  As I recall, it was tons of fun for the most part.

I have no idea how it happened, but racial tension became a big problem toward the end of the week.  My hunch is that a vocal, inbred, redneck faction didn't like that the elected "president" of Boy's State was an African American.

Regardless, I had no idea that anything was going on until one of the adult leader's brought it up during one of our all-camp meetings.  The man said that we weren't the first camp to have issues with race...and that we would find the night's speaker to be extremely relevant.

Evidently, it was a tradition of sorts that one of the counselors - a middle-aged, African American preacher - deliver Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have a Dream Speech".  I can't remember the gentleman's name, but I remember his face and his booming, Southern voice.  He recited the entire speech from memory.

I wept and so did everyone around me.


Tyler Hansbrough and Fathers and Sons

A year ago, I was feeling pretty crappy. Today, I still feel pretty crappy (from the post-MBA Gala malaise), but couldn't be happier.

Kelly and I watched the game with ~300 of our closest friends at Spice Street in Chapel Hill. We screamed like idiots when Tyler made the game-clinching jump shots down the stretch and happily chirped "Carolina Victory" with my friend EJ after the game ended. And then I called my dad, as is the post-game custom.

When I called him, I felt a surprisingly startling emotion beyond the excitement of having just won the big game. I've written before how, when I was a child honing my game on the driveway, my dad would coach me by describing how Tar Heel legends Phil Ford and Bobby Jones did it this way or that way. I obviously knew who these people were, but I didn't get why he referred to them with such reverence.

For a split second after my dad picked up the phone, I remembered those times on my driveway and tried to imagine the touchstone Carolina basketball moments in his life, realizing that I was in the midst of one of my own.

And it made me realize how lucky I am to be able to call him after the game.

Dear Richard, You Are My Favorite Player

Check out the story about a baseball player that responded to his fan mail 15 years later.

I wrote similar letters to countless professional athletes when I was a kid. My dad and I used to pick a handful of likely prospects and reel off 10 letters in a single sitting. (Watching my dad write "My name is Eric Boggs. I'm 10 years old." in a simulated 10 year-old's handwriting was pretty darn funny...)

Just like the author, I - or we - always used the "you are my favorite player" line and expectedly realized a significant conversion on letters targeted to the mediocre players. Craig Worthington of the Orioles, Brian Noble of the Packers, and, especially, Richard Anderson of the Hornets are some of the no-names that come to mind.

Richard Anderson was a scrub for the Charlotte Hornets. I remember him as a complete stiff that subbed into the game for mop-up duty when the Hornets were getting slaughtered, which happened more often than not. My dad and I called him "Wrong Way Richard" for some reason - I guess because we thought he was so terrible. This seems kinda harsh after looking at his career stats and realizing that he stuck in the league for 6 years...

My dad jokingly suggested that I write one of my letters to Richard, so I did. I remember laughing my 10 year-old butt off writing a letter telling Richard that he was my favorite player and that - get this - I thought he should get more playing time. My dad and I thought it was an absolute riot.

As we hoped, Richard wrote me back using the SASE I provided. He wrote a gracious thank-you note, that I've lost, and autographed the card I provided. (I still have the card.) Surely Richard realized my ruse, yet he still replied. Nice guy, that Wrong Way Richard.

In addition to Richard, my efforts also netted some pretty big fish, including Don Mattingly of the Yankees, Kirby Puckett of the Twins, and Kevin Johnson of the Phoenix Suns. I also received a lame "join my fan club" packet from Dan Marino, which was the first in a long line of disappointments from my childhood football hero - including the "Ace Ventura" cameo, the Isotoner Gloves commercials, the Atkins diet commercials, and the awful commentary on CBS Sunday afternoons, not to mention the whole "no Super Bowl" ring deal. Another post for another time...