[Originally posted on BuzzFeed October 4th 2013]
At NativeX, my colleagues and I are always looking for fresh perspectives on the mobile advertising business. Sometimes these perspectives come from unexpected places. As a lifelong Vikings fan, I wasn’t sure how much wisdom I’d find in “The Score Takes Care of Itself,” the leadership manifesto by legendary San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh. But the more I read, the more I similarities I saw between Walsh’s strategies and the strategies we’ve used to put NativeX at the forefront of innovation in native advertising.
Below are five winning business strategies based on tenets of Walsh’s philosophy.
“To Succeed, You Must Fail”
Innovation takes iteration. Most great businesses start with a great idea, but Walsh knew that even the best ideas need development and fine-tuning. Prepare to try out many different variants of an idea before finding a way to make it work. At NativeX, we never would have gotten into native advertising if we didn’t see for ourselves how standard banner ads flat-out don’t work.
“Be Obsessive in Looking For the Upside in the Downside“
Walsh’s famous West coast offense was born when he realized that though Cincinnati quarterback Virgil Carter couldn’t throw the ball deep like prototypical NFL quarterbacks, he could throw very accurately over short distances. Likewise, in business, supposed shortcomings can actually be clues about ways for you to set yourself apart from your competitors. This realization is often the outcome of the iteration and fine-tuning I mentioned in the first point.
“Control What You Can Control”
Walsh says 80 percent of football can be controlled. The other 20 percent comes down to referees’ decisions, bad bounces and so on. This is true in business as well, where politics, employees’ personal lives and even the weather can affect your business and your industry in ways you can’t predict or control. It’s important to think carefully about what aspects of your environment you actually exert influence over and focus your attention on them.
For the things you can’t control, recognize that you can at least make plans to keep yourself from getting caught flat-footed when they happen.
“Identify Problems that Need to be Solved, and Be Able to Solve Them”
Walsh recognized players that were negative influences on his team and took steps to remove them. Along the same lines, businesspeople need to be on the lookout for parts of their strategies or teams that aren’t working.
A big part of this is making sure you don’t fall into situations where you’re unable to make a necessary change even though you know it has to happen. This requires good planning and a lot of efficiency. At NativeX, even though we saw that native ad formats were yielding much higher results, most mobile ad networks didn’t allow for publisher based customization. It’s taken a lot of legwork and careful planning to get to a position where we’re able to build the ads we want to build without having to cave in to market pressure.
Walsh was constantly looking for ways to get a different perspective on his situation and outsmart physically dominant competitors. Along the same lines, in business, it’s important to keep looking for fresh perspectives that might show you opportunities other, bigger competitors are missing.
At NativeX, we put a lot of focus on ad mediation, but even after integrating with multiple ad networks, the ads weren’t working very well. When we finally surveyed the market, we found that other app developers using ad mediation were getting the same bad results. When we actually analyzed the overall picture, we saw that every ad network was running essentially the same types of ad campaigns. This allowed us to see ways for us set ourselves apart, like format innovation and targeted programmatic technology.