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.  :)