The Key to Startup Success? Bend it Like Beckham

20 years ago, in the summer of 1996, a young David Beckham electrified the crowd at Selhurst Park. He’d noticed that Wimbledon keeper Neil Sullivan was off his line, which left him with an opportunity. It was a long shot — 50 yards long, to be exact. But Beckham went for it.

And Beckham scored.


It was an iconic moment that launched the fresh faced soccer (football, for the rest of the world) player into superstardom. It was also, arguably, ill advised. The odds of making a shot like that are astronomically low, particularly with that caliber of competition. But Beckham knew that sometimes you’ve got to take a chance to win big.

You don’t have to be a Beckham or soccer fan to appreciate what happened in that moment, and you don’t have to be a Beckham or soccer fan to learn from and emulate the gumption Beckham showed that day. Because at some point, you’re going to be at the 50 yard line facing a long shot, and you’re going to need to take it. This is especially true for startups.

One of the biggest mistakes a young company will make is waiting to get closer to the goal line before launching. Of course, no one wants to launch something that they don’t feel is at 100%, but this “safe rather than sorry” mindset can mean you miss scoring altogether. As storied computer scientist, venture capitalist, and essayist Paul Graham wrote in 2006:

Startups make all kinds of excuses for delaying their launch. Most are equivalent to the ones people use for procrastinating in everyday life. There’s something that needs to happen first. Maybe. But if the software were 100% finished and ready to launch at the push of a button, would they still be waiting?

One reason to launch quickly is that it forces you to actually finish some quantum of work. Nothing is truly finished till it’s released; you can see that from the rush of work that’s always involved in releasing anything, no matter how finished you thought it was. The other reason you need to launch is that it’s only by bouncing your idea off users that you fully understand it.

Several distinct problems manifest themselves as delays in launching: working too slowly; not truly understanding the problem; fear of having to deal with users; fear of being judged; working on too many different things; excessive perfectionism. Fortunately you can combat all of them by the simple expedient of forcing yourself to launch something fairly quickly.

In other words, sometimes you need to take that 50 yard shot. It’s scary and comes with no small amount of risk, but it can be exactly what you need to jump start your latest great idea into reality. And if you’re serious and passionate, the pressure added by laying it all on the line can motivate you to really deliver something high quality.

So as we all work on our respective projects and smile at the memory of a young David Beckham making his mark, ask yourself: am I going to throw away my shot?

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