I played softball last night with a team I've been on for over 6 years. Most of the core of our team has been together for at least 3 seasons now and we're one of the top teams in Zogsports.
One of our guys went the other way on a tough pitch and drove a line drive to right field and I commented to Jeremy that this was the best I've ever seen our team hit. The funny thing was that the score was only 8-5 at that point and we had just racked up 19 runs the game before.
Will scored on the play and immediately came up to me, saying "This is the best we've ever hit."
"Dude, I just said the same exact thing to Jeremy!"
Yet, we didn't even have half the runs we rang up last week--so what was the difference? Isn't out come the only thing that counts?
The week before, I homered off the top of the right fielders glove--she had gotten all sorts of twisted around and couldn't make the play. For every home run we had, we popped the ball up the batter before. We swung at a lot of bad pitches--and while some of those turned out to be hits, nine times out of ten, if we hit like that, we wouldn't win against a good team.
But last night was different. Every shot was hit hard--even though many of them went right to one of the fielders.
There's a stat in baseball called "Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP)". In a way, it's a measure of luck. Usually when you hit the ball, something good happens a certain percentage of the time. Sometimes, the balls just always seem to wind up in spots where there are no fielders. Other times, you're hitting it right at where the fielders are. A lot of this is just dumb luck--or the randomness of a small sample size. Over the long run, these things balance out. I would take the way we hit last night over the way we hit the week before anytime, no matter what the run total is.
Outcomes are often disconnected from effort and skill. Sometimes the ball just drops in the right place. The same thing happens in startups. A small team working for a year or so with little to no revenues normally doesn't produce multi-hundred or even billion dollar outcomes. Sometimes, you find a hole the same way someone swings at a bad pitch and pops it right over a misplaced fielders head. Normally, that's a hit, but it's not usually a home run. It's not to take anything away from companies that have gotten there like that--many of them have built great products--but there are a lot of companies working their asses off growing revenues month by month, and they'll never ever get to a billion dollar outcome.
I've had a couple of people pitch me and say, "We're not an Instagram", because their business wasn't a viral consumer play. They built something, sold it to someone else, etc. You know, old school. As an investor, I'll take those all the time.
A billion dollars is awesome and so is 19 runs in a softball game. That doesn't mean that someone built a better or more sustainable business. I'd rather get a good swing on a pitch and hit it right at someone, because if I come up with a swing like that every at-bat, good things will happen. When it comes to building companies, you want to work hard, build thoughtfully with a business in mind, and move towards goals. Do that well and you'll be fine. You might not be the next Twitter that way, but neither will most of the people who tried to be the next Twitter.