Gosh, I miss sports. I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. Watching the ESPN documentary of Michael Jordan in my basement is good, but not great. I want to play again, and soon. The inability to play or immerse myself in live sports right now, however, has made me reflect on the role ice hockey had on my life and the lessons I learned on watered-down, frozen soccer-fields-turned-hockey-rinks, seeing the sun go down and the temperature plunge further and further, until all senses were dulled to the point of nothingness.
I spent my formative years in Edina, Minnesota, an ice hockey mecca, where I lived and breathed the sport September through July. As a goaltender, I thrived on my own in the net — the chance to be the hero or the goat on each occasion. In thinking more closely about it, goalies live with the fundamental challenges inherent in entrepreneurship: forced to make real-time decisions with often incomplete information, solving for probabilities and strategies outside of their immediate control, even the simple mental and physical spatial isolation inherent in the position itself. The best NHL goalies of my era — Felix Potvin, Marty Brodeur, Patrick Roy — were true innovators. They combined deeply ingrained muscle memory refined through daily repetition with an innate, instinctual ability to alter the game in a split second with the mere synapse of reflex. At the end of the day, nothing fazes the best goaltenders. Or, at least, you’d rarely know it. Man, I wanted to be like them.
Related: What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Pro Hockey
Thinking on my off-ice career to-date, I was behaving like an entrepreneur before I had the guts to call myself one. Until I took the plunge, I didn’t think I had it in me to build a company. I am the son of an ex-Naval Officer turned Procter & Gamble Brand Manager — a key cog in the blue-chip of blue-chip consumer companies. If anyone was supposed to follow the rigorous, best-practice mindset of the times, it was me. But it wasn’t for me. And, not uncommon for athletes, it was in the world of sports that I began to find my true self. It was goaltending that taught me to be comfortable with the unknown and gave me a lot of the tools necessary to lead a team through hurdles, heartbreaks and victories.
The global pandemic is uncharted territory for us all. It’s so much more than an isolated hurdle. And no matter how much we’ve planned or trained, it’s virtually impossible to be fully prepared for what we are all facing. But I’ve found clarity and strength by channeling the goaltending mentality: practical yet strategic, calculating and calm, intense yet focused, fearless and brave. I am doing it for my team and for my family. It’s not easy. It’s non-stop trial and error, but that mental training and toughness I learned growing up playing in preparation for “the show” is something I will never forget. It’s in my DNA. Especially now, in this unprecedented time, tapping into that goalie mentality has never been more challenging and, also, more important than ever.
Here are some netminder strategies I recommend any entrepreneur practice during this challenging time:
Th goalie mentality is a “make $1 work like $3” owner-operator approach. A goalie is practical yet strategic.
Whether your company is employee-owned or not, adopting the owner-operator approach will serve everyone well. A few years back, I learned the phrase “make $1 work like $3” from Under Armour Founder, Kevin Plank. It was all over the office; even taped to the printers. It was born from the company’s humble entrepreneurial beginnings and, as we grew, helped employees connect with the business roots as if they were an owner, as if every $1 spent was 3X more valuable — because it was theirs.
At my company, I’ve embedded this mindset into our core being, which has taken on added emphasis due to the changing landscape of Covid-19. For example, we haven’t stopped spending, but are putting even more emphasis on the question “would we bet our paychecks on this,” especially considering everyone at Aloha is, in fact, an owner. We approach every obstacle or opportunity with a “should we do this right now, all things considered” lens. If we don’t think we’ll be irreparably harmed by not pursuing a particular action this very moment, we take a breath and bench it for a shift, just like we would using our own paycheck.
Related: 10 Entrepreneurial Lessons From the Movie ‘Miracle’
Goalie mentality is “spartan” in approach and attitude. A goalie is calculating and calm.
The go big or go home mentality is really risky right now. Profitability matters. Free cash flow is king. A spartan approach is not sexy but it sure is effective. Look, that doesn’t mean stop spending; rather ensure you have a specific payback period, protect your margins and monitor your KPIs religiously. Like March Madness, “Survive and Advance.” The best goalies are the ones always putting themselves in the best position in the net to stop the highest probability of shots.
We’re still making investments. We’re accelerating business with an already rapid ascension; we need to keep moving forward. But instead of making bigger bets, we make tons of smaller ones. They come in all forms, some backed by case studies or benchmarks, some simply made by gut and experience. But they are all evaluated in some form or another; after we pull the trigger, we correct the course as we go. As entrepreneurs, great opportunities rarely wait for spreadsheets and committee-based analysis. But, we always reserve the right to get smarter and pull back, redeploy our resources, and attack again in a new way. Calm and calculating.
Goalie mentality is to single-mindedly attack the problem at hand. A goalie is intense yet focused.
Next to cash, our most precious resource is our energy. Use it and spend it wisely with intention, on the things you must get done — the things in which you must be excellent. There are sometimes hundreds of tasks to do at any given point. Step back to make sure the most important ones happen, not just the most urgent. Reaffirm reality and prioritize simplicity with small, incremental steps.
The retail and shopper landscape has changed for the foreseeable future. Period. But I am challenging my team to embrace new opportunities hatching from this shift with clarity of purpose. We are becoming more shopper-centric and investing in more omnichannel platforms to meet the shopper where they currently are (e.g. stuck in their house). We have great tasting foods but no ability to market them in-person to our audiences. So we focused on a solution — partner with a trusted provider like SnackNation to deliver bars and drinks to their audiences this summer. When in-store retail opportunities vanished, we quickly added cohesive digital overlays that could function just as easily to incentivize trial.
Goalie mentality is to never stop leading by example. A goalie “lives in the moment” — fearless and brave.
Companies that pull an ostrich and don’t deal with reality on almost brutally honest terms are likely to be irreparably harmed. This danger cannot be understated. You need to stay responsive, connected, identify and rework every problem, and embrace new approaches — especially omnichannel ones. During a crisis, bravery comes in dealing with reality.
Related: The Journey From Professional Hockey Player to Franchisee
Facing reality is aided by massive over-communication. We over-communicate with everyone. A supply shortage that will delay a retailer by weeks? We deal with it, tell them, and adjust our plan accordingly. A cash crunch coming up where we’ll produce more inventory but won’t yet get paid? We let our suppliers know we need time, and we let our employees know what’s going on so we don’t incur extra costs. As we navigate these times as business owners, communicating at every turn while trying to anticipate every puck that might come whirling towards you is the only way to stay the course and, ultimately, win the game.