Ryan Sweeney is a partner at Accel Partners, and is an active startup enthusiast (and huge soccer fan). He sits on the board for numerous companies across three countries.
This article initially posted on Entrepreneur.com, and can be found here.
All eyes are on the World Cup, the world’s biggest sporting event. Thanks to social technologies and digital media, the global soccer (or fútbol, depending on your location) community shared millions of pieces of content, including more than 140 million related Google searches, before a single match was played.
World Cup fans are no longer confined to experiencing the games within their direct community. Rather, this audience taps social platforms like Twitter to share real-time reactions, VSCO (full disclosure – VSCO is an Accel-backed company) to share beautiful images of the sport and Facebook to express patronage with other fans (and foes) on a global scale.
Entrepreneurs can learn a lot from how the World Cup has brilliantly navigated the evolving media landscape in support of a more technical audience. Soccer’s global governing association FIFA, advertisers, teams and fans are brought closer together as information transcends borders and demographics in real-time. That brings big opportunities for companies small and large.
Globalization has impacted the FIFA fan community and entrepreneurship at large. Soccer talent has long come from all corners of the world. Teams from dozens of countries compete at the World Cup. Similarly, entrepreneurship has broken through geographic boundaries, thanks to social media, venture capital investment and technology. Entrepreneurs with winning startup ideas are surfacing from nations big and small.
Here are five specific lessons that the World Cup can teach us about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
1. Embrace change
This year, FIFA integrated new digital media and technology to promote the event and increase anticipation. When compared to the last two World Cup events (2006 and 2010), mobile adoption has skyrocketed to become the primary means of communications for the “mobile-first” generation.
The World Cup's adaptation to new technology and consumer trends is an example for entrepreneurs who must continually understand customer behaviors to remain relevant. Startups must be prepared to iterate a product, service or entire business roadmap based on new trends and customer trends.
2. Utilize engaging content
We’ve seen outstanding content from the World Cup and its advertisers. A steady cadence of visual, engaging content that solicits deep emotional ties to the event and individual teams amplifies anticipation. Ideas that spread are emotional. Only companies that touch a person’s heart will touch a customer’s pocketbook.
If you haven’t already, watch the “Game before the Game” video from Beats (below), which solicits an emotional connection to the World Cup and the Beats brand.
Start by understanding which channels your customers acquire information. Develop content that appeals to their needs. Determine the real pain your widget solves and base your company’s content strategy on that, not what you think will work. Beats found a way to add value to the World Cup conversation through entertaining content, not the other way around.
3. Build a community.
Soccer fans are among the most passionate sporting enthusiasts in the world. They eagerly come back with more energy and enthusiasm than ever, even after waiting four years between World Cup events.
Similarly, social media enables young companies to build devout communities through a shared passion around a product or service. Entrepreneurs who focus on individual customer desires will build a long-term social following. This following fuels the growth of passionate online and ‘offline’ customer communities.
4. Leverage the ecosystem
FIFA recognizes the vast community of people who are passionate about the very sport its organization represents. Similarly, major sponsors like Nike and Kia Motors view the World Cup as an opportunity to position their brand in meaningful way to soccer fans worldwide.
Entrepreneurs typically have a much smaller community but keep in mind that other stakeholders - think complementary businesses, media, analysts, customers from your competitor - exist in your startup’s ecosystem.
Identify those within your community who share your vision. Develop mutually beneficial and creative partnerships. Expand your influence by supporting your industry’s ecosystem.
5. Expand your network
The World Cup is a global phenomenon linking a global community drawn from every nation and demographic. Entrepreneurs often find themselves surrounded by like-minded people. That often jeopardizes growth opportunities by leveraging a small eco-chamber. The best startups think outside of their direct surrounding, and understand how, where, when and why people value their company. While not always convenient, embrace an unfamiliar community and find a way to get true product feedback.
You may never make it to a World Cup game, let alone play for a professional soccer team, but the lessons that have made the event a global spectacle for nearly 90 years can help guide an entrepreneurs’ growth, influence and success.