Outliers Book Report

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 4.45.29 PMI (Bob) was on vacation last week. I got time to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. While it focused on people, I kept thinking of it in terms of the attributes of success as they related to RunSignUp. A key quote I liked was:

My wish with Outliers is that it makes us understand how much of a group project success is.”

Clearly, we have a great team here. We could not achieve what we have done or plan without this combination of talents, experience and dedication. I thought some of the other points he made were also interesting implications for us and anyone (or company) who has some desire to succeed.

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Bill Joy

One of my favorite was the “10,000 Hour Rule“.  He gives a number of examples like Bill Joy and Bill Gates in technology, the Beatles playing thanklessly together in Germany for several years before they hit it big and others. If an average work year is about 2,000 hours, that means you hit your stride when your company 5 years old.  That feels about right for us. We hit 5 years old in early 2015 – about the time we had completed our first year of over 1 Million paid registrations and had begun to win some larger customers and grow quickly at scale. We had done the hard work of learning our market, refining our technology, building a foundation for customer support, investing heavily in our payment infrastructure, etc.

Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”

We also hit the market at just the right time. Cloud computing and Amazon AWS matured just at the right time. When we designed our scalability in 2012, it was available and gave us huge cost and time to market advantages. Earlier entrants in the market had to build their own server and software infrastructure at much greater cost and often presented too high of a cost to move.

We also hit the market with good technology just when there were a number of customers were reaching a frustration level with the existing market leader. Many of those races were ready to move and were looking for a place to go.  If we had an alternative 5 years earlier we never would have gotten the chance to talk with many races because they would have had no reason to move. If we were just entering in the market, we would have missed the mass migration that has happened over the past several years.

Much like Bill Joy with UNIX, Networking and Workstation technology or Bill Gates with PC technology, we hit it just right when things had aligned to offer an opportunity.

“Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don’t. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky—but all critical to making them who they are.”

RunSignUp is on a great run (pun intended). We have great people. We work really hard. We have a good strategy and approach to the endurance market with clear focus. We are appropriately funded (not too big or too small). However, as Gladwell suggests, we are a product of a unique mix of timing, talent, work and luck.

I sure hope we are even better after 20 or 30,000 more fun, hard working hours!


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