Startup Lessons From 17 Hard-Hitting Quotes In "Moneyball"

By Dharmesh Shah on February 2, 2012

I'm an idiot. Not all of the time, mind you, not even most of the time, but every now and then, I'm an idiot. Like the time my friend and co-founder Brian Halligan asked me to read the book “Moneyball”. This was back when we had first launched our startup, HubSpot. “But, I'm not a baseball guy,” I said. “It's not about baseball. It's about data.” And, I put it on my reading list, and then still failed to read it. I even bought the book, but still failed to read it That was a mistake. moneyball

I just got done watching the movie “Moneyball” for the second time. The first time I watched it was last night. It's the only time I've watched the same movie twice in two days. It's not just because it was a great movie (it was), but because I felt I missed so much the first time, that I had to watch it a second. If you haven't seen the movie yet, you should stop reading this article and go watch it. If you get distracted and never make it back to this article, I forgive you.

So, without further ado, here are some great quotes from Moneyball

Brilliant Startup Lessons From Moneyball

1. He passes the eye candy test. He's got the looks, he's great at playing the part.

Spectacular startup success often becomes a game about scouting and recruiting. A common mistake entrepreneurs make is recruiting team members early on simply because they look the part. In the long run, it doesn't matter if on paper, someone's perfect. You want people that can actually do the job. That VP of Sales candidate that has 15 years of experience at Oracle? Likely not worth it for you. They'll look the part, but they're not guaranteed to be able to actually do the job. And, like Johnny Damon, they're going to be expensive. Get good at seeing talent where others don't.

For example, at HubSpot, most of the early team did not look good on paper at all.  Most of us had little or no prior background doing what we were setting out to do.  

2. You're not solving the problem. You're not even looking at the problem.

Identify a fundamental problem and then focus, focus, focus on solving that problem. Don't get distracted by all the the things that are swirling around the actual problem. Don't listen too closely to those that have deep industry expertise and are emotionally attached to the status quo — it's possible that they're part of the problem. Figure out what the actual issue is, and solve it.

For example, look at Dropbox.  Drew set out to solve a really hard problem -- getting data to synch across different devices.  He had many people (including me) that were telling him that this particular idea had been pursued so many times before.  He didn't get distracted by all that noise.  He dug in and fixed the problem.  Today, Dropbox is valued at billions of dollars and has millions of happy users.

3. We've got to think differently.

Reminds me of Apple. Only, Steve Jobs wrote it as ”think different” (intentionally going with the grammatically incorrect version because it “sounded better”).  Like the Oakland As, your startup too is working under constraints.  Often, big constraints.  Often, unfair constraints.  If you're trying to disrupt the status quo and beat competitors that are much bigger and better funded, you're not going to do it by playing their game.  You'll need to think differently.  Playing the old way when you're at a disadvantage is a sure-fire way to lose.

This is one that I'm personally very passionate about.  When we started HubSpot, everything we had learned about startups -- and the convention wisdom was "do one thing, and do it very, very well."  Generally, that's really, really good advice.  Except when it's not.  Like in our case.  The problem we saw was not that there weren't great marketing apps out there -- the problem was that none of it was integrated or worked well together.  So, we thought different.  We decided to do the crazy, crazy thing of doing it all.  Why?  Because that's what we believed the problem was.

4. First job in baseball? It's my first job anywhere.

Experience is often over-rated. Some of the most successful startup teams consisted of people that lacked relevant experience at the time they joined. But, what they lacked in experience, they more than made up for in sheer talent and hunger. In the early days, hire athletes. People with raw talent and a propensity to get things done. Don't be resistent to recruiting people that are early in their careers.  You're looking for arbitrage opportunities.  You're looking for the future stars -- because you likely can't afford or convince the current stars.  

5. Your goal shouldn't be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins.

I'm going to illustrate this point with a quick paraphrasing with a conversation I had with an entrepreneur last year. It went roughly like this:

Me: What do you need?

Them: We need to build a management team.

Me: No, what do you actually need right now?

Them: Well, right now we need a VP Engineering.

Me. What for?

Them: Well, we need head up our product development effort.

Me. No, you actually need to write code and release a product. You need to respond to customer issues. You need to iterate quickly so you can learn quickly. You don't need a VP of anything, you need a doer of stuff that needs to get done. Don't think about buying titles — think about buying outcomes.  Think about plugging gaping holes in the company.  Signing up customers so fast that you can't respond to all the support emails?  Don't hire a head of support, hire someone that helps you tackle the support issue.  Someone that's maniacally committed to customer happiness.  They can become your head of support some day.

6. He really needs to accept this as life's first occupation, a first career.

This statement was made to the young Billy Beane when he was trying to decide between the full scholarship to Stanford and a career in Major League Baseball. Billy's mom asked if he could do both. The answer was, he couldn't. And, that's true in baseball, in startups and just about any hyper-competitive activity. You can't straddle the fence, because you will get your ass kicked by someone who's almost as good as you, but much more committed. You can't take that investment banking job and do a startup. You can't maintain two feet firmly planted on the ground and take the leap of faith. You have to pick. It's not an easy choice, but you have to pick. And, if you're in school, my personal (and unpopular in some startup circles) advice is stay in school . Make learning and building connections your “first occupation”.

But whatever you do, don't sit on the fence.  Commit to something.  Don't hedge.  Give it all you have.  Make it your life's first occupation.  If you can't get excited about it -- find something else.  I've made lots of stupid mistakes in my professional career -- the stupidest was trying to run two startups at the same time.  That's a story for another day.  I'm going to close with a quote from my co-founder at the first startup: "If you sit on the fence too long, your genitals are going to hurt."

7. Why do you like him? Because he gets on base.

The startup world is filled with superstars that get overlooked or don't quite make it because they're "quirky" or otherwise don't fit preconceived patterns of what you think a person in a given role should look and feel like.  None of that matters.  When recruiting engineers, find brilliant people that write code that solves the problem simply, effectively and can be maintained without brain damage.  When hiring sales people find those that have high emotional IQ and care about truly understanding customer problems -- and selling them a solution.  Figure out what success looks like for a given role, and ignore the irrelevant details.  (Note:  Culture fit is not an irrelevant detail.  Things that are irrelevant are age, nationality, gender, etc. -- things that have no bearing on the outcome).

10. Hey, anything worth doing is hard. And we're gonna teach you.

Your ability to teach is one of the single biggest levers you have in a startup.  Why?  First, because it's one of the biggest benefits you can deliver to your team members.  They can get a higher salary somewhere else.  They can get better perks somewhere else.  But, at your startup, they can learn things.  Second, it's unlikely you're going to find the "perfect" 5-tool player.  Even if you found them, you likely couldn't afford them.  If you're willing to help people with a specific super-power fill in gaps in their knowledge/experience, you create lots of value.

12. It's day one of the first week. You can't judge just yet.

Be a little bit patient.  Often, your best people will take a little time to really shine.  Don't judge too early. Determine the context.  If someone's not cranking yet, is it because getting up to speed is hard?  Everyone's too busy to show them ropes? Their lack of early performance could be the context, so be patient

But, don't be too patient.  If someone isn't at least moderately productive in the first month or two, it's unlikely they're going to be super-productive in the following year.  The really great people tend to deliver some value almost immediately.

14. Where on the field is the dollar I'm paying for soda?

It is good to be budget-conscious in an early-stage company.  Instills the right kind of discipline that will help long-term.  But, don't be a penny wise and a pound foolish.  There are little things that don't cost that much, that makes people happier.  It's not about the money (they can all afford the soda), it's about the inconvenience and the principle.  Remember, deep down inside, people are human.  [smile] 

One quick example from HubSpot:  We launched a book program whereby any employee can request any book they think makes them a better HubSpotter.  I personally handle all requests and send out a Kindle version of the book immediately.  It's not that expensive, but it's been super-well received.  

15. These are hard rules to explain to people. Why is that a problem, Pete?

One of the best segments in the movie.  Pete is troubled at how different what they're doing is, and why it's hard to get others to understand and accept it.  But, the point was, when you're transforming something and making massive change, not everyone is going to understand.  The important thing is to be right -- and then make the change happen.  The best way to convince people that your theory was right is to be right and show them (not tell them) you're right.  Most people will never be convinced otherwise.

16. I'm not paying you for the player you used to be, I'm paying you for the player you are right now.

Hard-hitting advice.  I'd extend this to say:  Recruit on potential but reward on performance.  Customers are not going to be delighted by the code a brilliant engineer could have written.  On a related note is the quote "If he's a good hitter, why doesn't he hit good?" Or, "If she's such a good sales person, why can't she sell?"

17. We're going to change the game.

And really, that's what it's all about.  It's not about exiting for millions of dollars or going public.  It's about changing the game.  It's about seeing something that's not quite right in the world, and deciding you want to fix it.  For me, personally, it was observing that marketing is broken.  Most people hate marketing.  we want to transform marketing into something people love.  It's hugely ambitious, but I have this feeling, deep-down inside, that we're right.

How about you?  What is the flaw (big or small) that you're seeing in the universe that you're trying to fix?  Any favorite lines from Moneyball that you'd like to share?

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Startup Tribes: Tips on Roles and Recruiting

By Dharmesh Shah on January 27, 2012

The following is a guest post from John Greathouse. John is an entrepreneur and investor.  He currently blogs at Infochachkie where he provides practical startup advice.

You may not realize it, but your adVenture's Core Team, the senior executives who make the key decisions which drive the company's strategic direction, is akin to a primitive tribe.

Primitive tribes and your startup both entail a small number of people banded together to battle an uncaring, hostile world. Like the tribe, your company's survival is always in question and never guaranteed. Success depends upon everyone pulling together for the common good and striving to accomplish common goals. Everyone's efforts must initially focus on survival

tribe ideabefore the tribe can prosper and eventually evolve into a thriving, self-sustaining community.

Tribes are effective societal structures, as evidenced by man's ascension to the top of the food chain. Understanding the tribal organizational structure is vital to gaining an appreciation of the various roles played by your Core Team.

In partnership with Docstoc, I created the following video, in which I discuss the various roles in a tribal startup. You can watch the embedded video below or at YouTube:

Tribes and startups thrive when labor is efficiently divided. Long before Meyers met Briggs, people in tribal communities migrated to those roles which best suited their personalities, proclivities and skills. The key roles in tribes and startups are identical: Hunter, Skinner, Shaman, Chief and Tribal Elder.


The Hunter provides for the tribe and literally brings home the bacon. These individuals are highly autonomous, independent and thrive on frequent recognition. When they have a successful hunt, they want everyone to know about it.

The Hunter is generally not a visionary. However, once they are pointed in the right direction, they are clever enough to improvise a tactical plan to achieve a strategic objective. They do not want to be told how to take the hill, just which hill needs to be taken.

At your adVenture, the hunter is the rainmaker, in the form of a Business Development Executive, VP of Sales or Corporate Development Officer. Once they are told the type of deal that is needed, they are capable of autonomously devising the appropriate tactics to get the deal done.

A typical Hunter's characteristics include:

  • Work hard
  • Driven to do right thing
  • Fast and furious
  • Under communicate - do not like to confer with or answer to the group
  • Excel under pressure
  • Emphasis on achieving goals - second guess their tactics at your peril
  • Deliver quantity over quality - close enough is okay
  • Work well outside the box


The Skinner makes the Hunter look good. When the Hunter brings back the kill, it is the Skinner who dresses the meat, tans the hides and preserves whatever is not initially eaten for the tribe to subsist upon during lean times.

The Skinner at your adVenture will likely take the form of the VP of Operations, VP of Professional Services or Chief Operating Officer. They ensure that your company delivers on the Hunters' promises by exceeding your partners' and customers' expectations.

A typical Skinner's characteristics include:

  • Work correctly
  • Driven to do things the right way
  • Slow and careful
  • Service oriented - want to meet stakeholders' needs within the organization
  • Over communicate - encourage meetings and agreement regarding goals
  • Quality over quantity - do things by the book
  • Work well inside the box


Shamans invent new tools and processes that improve the overall quality of life within the tribe. For instance, the Shaman will spend his days thinking of a better fishhook, a new tool for cleaning skins or searching for new medicinal plants to cure the tribe's ailments.

At your adVenture, the Shaman is often the Founder. They may also take the form of Chief Technical Officer, VP of Engineering or VP of Product. By whatever name, the Shaman is the person who devises and develops the innovations upon which your business is based.

A typical Shaman's characteristics include:

  • Work differently
  • Creative visionary
  • Communicate differently - requires careful listening
  • Seek a better way
  • Create quickly and freely
  • Tripped up by details
  • Prone to devise complicated solutions
  • Prize a solution's technical elegance over its functionality
  • Are unaware that a box exists


Every tribe needs a Chief, just like every adVenture needs a CEO. The Chief defines and communicates the tribe's strategic direction, such as a new valley to forage or a mountain retreat to escape the heat of summer. The Chief listens to the opinions of the other tribal members, makes decisions that impact everyone and ensures an adequate level of acceptance of such decisions to facilitate their ultimate success.

A typical Chief's characteristics include:

  • Work together
  • Shepherd the team toward its strategic goals
  • Slow and connected
  • Communicates clearly and supportively
  • Driven to maintain cohesion within the team
  • Indecisive
  • Prone to being railroaded
  • Defines the box

One of the best CEOs I worked with exhibited nearly all of the above characteristics. As a Hunter, I was frequently frustrated, as he was often slow to act. In his effort to keep harmony within the Core Team, he seemingly agreed with everyone, even people who held diametrically opposed opinions.

In retrospect, I now realize that his ability to sincerely empathize with everyone's respective positions, especially on difficult issues, was imperative in keeping our Core Team together during the numerous challenges we encountered on our road to a successful exit.

One of his favorite sayings infuriated me at the time, but I now appreciate its underlying wisdom, Some of the best decisions I ever made were the decisions I never made. Despite my Hunter-driven frustration at his hesitancy, more often than not, his resistance to making a snap decision proved to be prudent.

Tribal Elders

Tribal Elders spend their time sitting by the fire dozing and recounting the tribe's history. They cannot be counted on to do any heavy lifting nor are they in a position to execute the day-to-day tasks necessary for the tribe to thrive. However, they occasionally offer bits of sage advice that allow the tribe to avoid hardships and reap windfalls. As such, the wise Chief knows when to solicit their counsel and when to allow sleeping Elders to lie, as described more fully in Free Advice.

At your adVenture, the Tribal Elders are represented by your Board of Directors and Advisors. The Board Members likely have a varied and broad business history upon which to draw. They may be able to provide general guidance at certain pivotal points during your adVenture's journey. However, as noted in Your VC Is Not John Lennon, do not heed their advice blindly, as it is impossible for them to have your level of insight into the operational details of your adVenture.

Pop Quiz

Question: Which Tribal member is the most important?

Answer: All of them.

Without the Hunter, the Shaman's ideas would never be put into practice. Likewise, without the Skinner, much of the Hunter's efforts would be wasted. He might be able to feed himself, but he would not be able to sustain the tribe on his own.

Without the Shaman, neither the Hunter nor the Skinner would have the tools necessary to carry out their respective roles within the tribe. Without the Chief, the tribe would wander aimlessly, fighting among itself until the group eventually dispersed and the individual members were melded with other tribes with healthier cultures and a more focused sense of direction.

Balance is the key to a successful team. Thus, every member of your adVenture's Core Team is the most important member. Your Core Team is your startup's most important asset. Respect man's evolution and heed the tribal lessons of old. If you do, you may just end up on top of your industry's food chain.

So, what kind of tribal member are you? What types are you looking to hire and add to your tribe next?
Topics: guest teams
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