The lead off batter is arguably the most important offensive weapon on a baseball team.
The job is to get on base; it doesn't have to be pretty. A batter could make it to first with a lazy opposite-side hit that just outlasts the reach of the shortstop. He could get walked or bunt his way on base or make a mad dash for first base after the catcher drops the third strike. Success is measured not by number of home runs or even batting average but by "on-base percentage." If success is achieved four out of every 10 times, the batter is doing extremely well (Ted Williams holds the record for on-base percentage at .4817).
More powerful hitters follow the lead-off batter in the line up. The slugger, slotted in the fourth spot, has the task of swinging for the fences and driving home the players who got on base in front of him. As a slugger, your chances of hitting a home run are much lower than the on-base hitter has of getting to first. For a slugger, if he hits a home run every 11 times at bat he's doing well.
In baseball, your size and physical assets often predetermine your position in the bating line up. The fastest, most reliable and creative batter will hit first while the strongest will bat "clean-up" in the fourth spot.
Knowing your role is the key to success. Sluggers shouldn't try to bunt their way on and the greatest sin of a lead-off hitter is to go down swinging for the fences. Like baseball, I've noticed business owners can be divided into "on-base hitters" and "sluggers." Knowing which you are is critical to happiness and success.
"On base hitters" are the owners who have a series of successful start-ups. Like the on-base hitter, they would prefer small, regular successes over less frequent but larger wins.
Rene Lacerte is an on-base hitter. His latest business is called bill.com, which is a software platform he created after exiting PayCycle, an online payroll business he co-founded. He started PayCycle from scratch with his partner Martin Gates and once the business got going, he recruited Jim Heeger to run it. Mr. Heeger is a proven manager, having done big jobs at Adobe and Intuit. One of the things I admire most about Mr. Lacerte is that he knows he's an on-base guy and he has no illusions of being able to swing for the fences by running a larger business. He'd rather get on base with a number of start-ups than run one business for his entire career. After bill.com, my bet is there will be another start-up right behind it.
Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, is a home-run hitter. He's owned one business in his professional life and he has had the patience, stick-to-itiveness and talent to grow it into a Fortune 500 company.
Both Mr. Lacerte and Mr. Smith are successful entrepreneurs who have built valuable companies but one is an on-base hitter and the other is a slugger. I'm not sure Mr. Lacerte would be happy running FedEx. He'd be bored and probably get bogged down in the complexity. Likewise, I'm not sure Mr. Smith could cope with the uncertainty and ambiguity of Mr. lLacerte's life as a perpetual start-up.
I think one of the most important decisions a business owner can make is whether he or she is a slugger or an on-base hitter. On-base hitters can focus on starting and exiting lots of smaller businesses in a career and not harbour second thoughts when they head for the exits. Likewise sluggers are best served making a single business their life's work.
Tomorrow: A quick personality test that can determine whether you're best suited to start lots of smaller business or strive to build one big one.
Special to the Globe and Mail
John Warrillow is the author of Built To Sell : Turn Your Business Into One You Can Sell. Throughout his career as an entrepreneur, Mr. Warrillow has started and exited four companies. Most recently he transformed Warrillow & Co. from a boutique consultancy into a recurring revenue model subscription business, which he sold to The Corporate Executive Board in 2008. He is the author of Drilling for Gold and in 2008 was recognized by BtoB Magazine's "Who's Who" list as one of America's most influential business-to-business marketers.