Sunday, 19 February 2012

4 Things Startups Should Learn from Moneyball


Finally have some free time to go through this masterpiece. Just as the poster on the right said: "It's more than a movie...". Despite it talked mainly about how GM Billy fight the long way for his belief in statistical analysis for baseball, indeed, we have so much to learn from this old story in 2002.... particularly, startups.

[ kindly warning: spoilers alert. If you haven't watched this movie yet, skip to the end, quickly! :) ]

1. It's All about Talents

At the beginning of the movie, Billy quickly recognized Peter Brand, a fictional character based on Paul DePodesta, as Peter has been influencing the GM of Cleverland Indians in making decision even though Peter is just a graduate. Billy then talked with this young boy regarding his enlightening insights in analytical approach in baseball: "Buy wins, buy runs, but not players". While by that time Billy was planned to trade players with Cleverland Indians, but he turned out bought Peter, a player analyst instead. Throughout the rest of the movie, Peter proves his valuable supports to Billy and brings Oakland to the winning roads. All these won't happen if Billy haven't treasured Peter's ideas, and most importantly, treasured Peter himself as a special talent.

2. Always be Faithful to your Belief

Picking the right talents is one thing, treasuring them and have faith on them is another. But don't mis-understand this, Billy put his belief on Peter is not because of personal matters (or just a little), but Billy himself does have faith in that "statistical system", and even more he does hold his faith almost blindly even though when the whole scouting team plus the team manager Art Howe were all against him. But hey, if you think that it works then why bother how the other says? Billy then fire the scout lead and trade all the traditional players to force Howe to play as Billy wants him to. Yes this won't please everyone, and it never does, yet if you do believe it will be successful, stay on your track, knock them off your way and keep moving. Please them with your success at the end and thanks them to motivate you negatively all the way long.

3. Have Balance between Intuitive and Analytics

People usually believes that startups are all about guts feeling and intuitive on certain visions, and often, they against analysis, just because they think that it's an art of big enterprises and should never be used in startups as a key role or even as a culture. Billy in the firm dose drive the whole movie based on his guts feeling on Peter's theory initially, but fundamentally, he is indeed convinced by how the stories that could be told within those data, and decide to pick under-value players solely based on his KPI, the On-Base Percentage (OBP), as well as other sabermetrics, as the key of his later scouting strategy, which, has been proven to be correct. In fact, some startups nowadays have already embracing lean analytic approach for quick pivoting and MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Some of them, like Buffer, which used a set of three-pages as MVP to test for customers validation based on click through and turns out to launch their apps in 7 weeks from idea with paying customers and funding from Guy Kawasaki, simply proves that startups do need objective analytic for better survivorship in this bloody red-sea competition on innovation. Don't say that gathering data is slow and sample size is too small for analysis, it's only depends on how you leverage and tell stories from those data.

4. Keep Evolving and Staying on the Edge

The movie ends by 2002, after Oakland Athletics wins their 20-in-a-row match, and Peter rejected the offers from Red Fox as the highest salary general manager, however, the story hasn't ended yet. By 2002, the book Moneyball (ISBN 0-393-05765-8), which the movie is referring to, has been published because of Billy's stunning success on his strategy, and this has made quite a lot of baseball team by that time started using his system to optimize the ROI of their team, and of course, casing Athletics starts losing their edge. But in reality, Billy hasn't given up his belief, instead, kept evolving it. After a few years of low winning %, he slowly shifted their scouting strategy to other under-value players based on defensive skills and even choosing high-school players, which he considered as usually-undervalued ones, to, again, optimize the winning chance of Athletics. As it turns out, by emphasizing defense they managed to reach back 50% winning chance. Although they still miss the playoffs, but their strategy is evolving, and always trying to stay on the edge with their style. Billy is continuing his new contract till 2019, and this we can obvious see that his legend keeps going on, and on.

Now it's your turn, what do you think about the firm? Have you learnt anything from it (apart from Brad Pitt is sooooo cool)? Share with us in the comment!

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See you next time.


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