Call an Audible: Startup Plays to Borrow from Football

See how entrepreneurs are making football moves in the office

Football season usually means an office Fantasy League or the obsessive checking of weekly AP rankings. Although football is about friendly competition, and let’s face it, some quick-witted banter, startups have a surprising amount in common with the game of pigskin. For entrepreneurs and football teams alike, being successful isn’t just about having a star quarterback — although that helps. In fact, the founders of startups across Ohio have plenty of advice about how football essentials can bring a business to the next level.


A playbook is a useful tool, it helps coaches prepare their teams for new challenges while building on old favorites. The same is true for any savvy entrepreneur — lifting a business off the ground requires direction and strategy and having a playbook can help create the routes that will lead to success. Knowing which “plays” will be integral to a startup’s ability to grow and scale could be as simple as identifying a target market, streamlining communication or hitting key performance indicators. Though it seems obvious, having a grasp on the business basics and allowing them to become second nature allows a team or startup to become better at analyzing and responding to their environment. Of course, developing a comprehensive playbook takes time, which Tanisha Robinson, CEO of BrewDog USA noted, “People think if they begin a startup that they can make their own hours, be their own boss. But it’s harder than that. It takes a lot of time and personal sacrifices to get a business going.” Like a football team, entrepreneurs can count on strategies to overcome these challenges and drive their success.

Hail Mary

With the game on the line, sometimes the best move is to go big. The Hail Mary is known for its thrill — no other play quite commands the same attention and anticipation as this pass, lingering in the air, promising either redemption or defeat. For entrepreneurs, the Hail Mary doesn’t always look like a last-minute attempt to save a struggling team in the fourth quarter — instead it might look like the risk of entering a new market, building out technology or adding new positions to the roster. Even with a startup playbook, risk-taking decisions can be hard for entrepreneurs of all stages. Jeff Schumann, co-founder and CEO of Wiretap’s advice: “Take that first step. There are going to be highs and lows but once you make that first move, you’re already ten steps ahead of someone else.” As a wide receiver hustles downfield, so does the entrepreneur, right? Knowing when to call an audible and take the risk is one thing that can drive startup strategy and pay off down the road.


Unlike in football, fans don’t necessarily flock to new companies with painted chests. In fact, investors and consumers alike are often taught to approach with caution, unsure of banking on a business’ success. Luckily, most teams have a group of dedicated fans who show up rain or shine and startups, too, can develop and count on building these kinds of relationships. Organizations like 1 Million Cups are a great example of a network acting as entrepreneurial advocates that can help grow a startup’s fanbase. For the companies that get entrepreneurial support from groups like CincyTech, Rev 1 Ventures or JumpStart, all partners of Ohio Third Frontier, there are plenty of opportunities to create loyal fans that will make a lasting impact on the community. Carlie Key, co-founder and CEO of Losant recommended, “Look to startup accelerators as a way to quickly level-up your capabilities, skills and knowledge.” Some of the biggest fans of startups are the ones championing an entrepreneur’s ideas before they’ve even started. By securing these relationships, new businesses have the opportunity to build a fanbase as devoted as the mid-January superfan section.”

The similarities between startups and football are an opportunity for founders to revamp their mindset and approach their business with a new sense of strategy and fun. Ready for gameday? See how other entrepreneurs have shaped their companies and their game plans here.

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