The Tim Tebow phenomenon has become the biggest story in the NFL, exceeding the routinely remarkable perfection of the Green Bay Packers and the quietly dumbfounding turnaround of the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh.
For those who aren’t sports fans, Tim Tebow is the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. That in itself isn’t that remarkable; Tebow won the Heisman Trophy while playing at the University of Florida, and was a first-round draft pick.
What is remarkable is that nearly all football experts agree: Tim Tebow does not have the skills required to be a successful NFL quarterback. His throwing motion is slow. His accuracy is poor. He has only completed more than 50% of his passes in two of his games, an atrocious figure considering that the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers has completed 70% of his passes on the season. Last month, in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tebow completed just two (2!) passes. By many conventional measures, Tebow is *historically* bad.
(Note that he does perform reasonably well on some conventional measures such as touchdown to interception ratio (11:2) and quarterback rating (83.9))
Even more remarkable? Despite the judgment of the experts, Tim Tebow has led his team to victory seven times in his eight starts, including six in a row. In each case, the Broncos trailed at the end of the game, only to rally to victory at the last moment.
Compounding the Tebow-mania is the fact that he is a devout Christian and avowed virgin, but even without these factors, his story has been remarkable.
So, you’re probably asking yourself, what does all this football talk have to do with startups?
Here’s my point:
A lot of entrepreneurs focus their energies on looking good for the experts. Even if they won’t admit it, investors like startups that fit certain stereotypes. A team of 20something Stanford CS grads with the right connections are the football equivalent of a 6’4″ quarterback with a strong and accurate throwing arm.
Yet these stereotypes are heuristics, not laws. We use them because they help predict success. The one thing that trumps them is success itself.
If Tim Tebow wasn’t winning football games, we wouldn’t hear much about him, just like you probably don’t hear much about Blaine Gabbert or Colt McCoy (two other young quarterbacks who aren’t winning games).
In fact, many journalists have argued that the Broncos started playing Tim Tebow at quarterback because they expected him to fail. The Broncos started the season at 1-4; a poor finish might give them the ability to draft Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley, two collegiate quarterbacks who do fit the classic mold that football experts prefer. Playing Tebow and watching him struggle would have killed two birds with one stone–it would quiet the fans who were clamoring for Tebow to play, and increase the chances of getting a high draft pick that would allow the team to select a “real” quarterback.
During the early stages of his professional career, Tim Tebow tried to mollify the experts by reworking his throwing motion to better fit the classic stereotype. This failed miserably. Instead, Tebow has become successful through the simple expedient of winning football games.
In the startup world, as in pro football, winning ugly is better than losing pretty. Even if investors don’t swoon at your hip team or hyped up space, just keep racking up the wins, and you’ll be a success.