Start-Ups, Hockey, and What We Can Learn from Kadri

kadri-tampaThis past week I escaped the cold and took a trip with some friends to Florida; we followed the Toronto Maple Leafs on their swing to Miami  then Tampa and cheered on our hometown boy Nazem Kadri. I’ve known Naz since he was two years old and his family is like my own so I know all that he’s been through to get where he’s at now. It got me thinking, his road is not that different from the journey of our star tech companies. Promise, adversity, success. It doesn’t come easy.

Naz was selected 7th overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, a highly touted “offensive playmaker with hands of silk” is who the Leafs landed with their pick. Since he first put on skates he was a stand-out, the consummate all-star, and now a massive picture of him was hung at the Air Canada Centre even before training camp began. All the pressure was on. He was 19 and supposed to take on the world in the hotbed of hockey (for non-Hockey fans, the scrutiny and pressure playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs is like playing for the NY Yankees).  Success didn’t happen right away. Many believed he should have been playing in the NHL day one (myself included) but instead he spent 2009-2012 mostly with the Toronto Marlies, the Leaf’s development team, with only limited NHL time. He got stronger, got smarter, matured, and dealt with a massive amount of adversity.

In our industry we read, hear, and see young founders and companies touted as the next big thing all the time. They capture our attention and become mainstream seemingly overnight. How many aspiring entrepreneurs, who work to emulate that success take the time to understand and appreciate the back story of the companies like LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Apple? None of these companies hit it big day one, their success was years in the making and born of hard work. What we should put more emphasis on is the road to prosperity so that aspiring entrepreneurs can get a realistic picture of what to expect and how even the mighty were once the wanting. Twitter was born as a project inside a struggling company named Odeo. LinkedIn was founded in 1999 and took ten years to hit it big. Apple’s near bankruptcy is well documented and it was only until the iPod then the iPhone that the success story was born.

In Nazem’s case he kept his head down, stayed respectful, and worked hard to keep developing. Just like a start-up staying focused on the goal and working to make it happen. He changed some aspects of his game and got better; like when companies need to make a pivot. He heard all the pump and all the dump from the media in a hotbed of his industry (Toronto sports radio = Silicon Valley blogosphere).

Now, it’s all paying off. He’s not only playing for the Leafs, he’s leading the team in points. He has earned his success and he’s just getting started. He’s still only 22 years old.

To succeed you need to believe, work hard, and fight like hell. It doesn’t matter what you do, success doesn’t come easy. It all comes down to understanding that it’s not easy and having the fight in you to keep going to make it happen. Then, if/when things are going your way, to understand that you need to keep fighting to stay on top.

Naz has fight. He knows what it takes to succeed and he’s willing to take on anyone no matter how crazy it seems. Below is a video from the Tampa game we watched. Naz is the playmaker on the team not the fighter (6′ 0″ feet, 180 lbs) but check out the nasty cross check he takes to the back (at 0:03) from the biggest player on the other team (6′ 6″ and 230 lbs).

Naz, I’d rather see you using those hands to put pucks in the back of the net (see second video) and let the big boys throw the punches but like you said “you had to do what you had to do”. Proud of you buddy. Keep swinging.



Hands of silk…