What Every Company Can Learn From the Golden State Warriors

What Every Company Can Learn From the Golden State Warriors

By Sara Pallas

(Note: this is not a love letter to Stephen Curry)

You don’t need to be an NBA fan – or even a sports fan, really – to have heard about the Warriors’ rise to the top of the NBA and the record-breaking season they’ve put together. And while many of the headlines surround their starting point guard and how he’s (quite literally) breaking the rules of basketball, what’s even more notable to me (a player of the game – and coach for the Detroit Pistons Academy) is the story behind those 73 wins and ridiculous statistics to match. (And those celebrations basically made to be GIFs):

via giphy

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I’m not just talking what’s happening on the court. There’s a reason – many of them, actually – the Warriors have become the most dominant team in the NBA today and are now the clear frontrunner for the title in 2016.

Why am I writing about this for a PR company? Their story is not much different from many of the companies and entrepreneurs with which we have the good fortune to work. We can also learn a few things from this team (the players and the back office) and apply them to how we work:

F*ck the Haters: I stole this from one of our partners at our annual offsite in December. It rings true for our business and is also consistent with how the Warriors hold onto “billboard material” to fuel them. There are so many examples to choose from – whether you remember Draymond Green yelling, “Mom! They said I can’t play in this league!” after winning the title, Bogut pinning every negative article somewhere in the locker room or the entire team going nuts about the “W’s got lucky” storyline that showed up across all major media throughout the playoffs and after. How this team has embraced these critics is arguably what has fueled them throughout this dream season and showed that last year was far from a fluke.

It’s true in the entrepreneurial sense, too. Whether you’re talking about well-known innovators like Uber, Apple, Airbnb and Amazon that have come under fire from rivals, regulators, analysts and media alike – and lesser known stories behind the rise of companies like Under Armour (speaking of which, here’s a must-read on how Nike lost Stephen Curry to the brand) – naysayers come out of the woodwork when companies show signs of success. The best teams wake up to prove them wrong.

Play To Your Strengths: The New York Times’ Bruce Schoenfeld recently published a story detailing the management approach to building the team and how majority owner (and Kleiner Perkins partner) Joe Lacob applies learnings from his role as a VC partner – creating boards of directors, hiring teams, designing financing – to this one.

As Schoenfeld put it, “Lacob was not the first venture capitalist to buy a franchise, but he is the first to operate one according to what might be called Silicon Valley precepts: nimble management, open communication, integrating the wisdom of outside advisers and continuous re-evaluation of what companies do and how they do it. None of that typically happens in professional sports.”

When push comes to shove, Lacob is optimizing around what’s best in the long run – building a team that’s going to crush the competition for years to come – instead of what’s best for shareholder pocketbooks, a much more popular option in professional sports. And if you look at the moves made over the past few years (signing Kevon Looney even when he can’t play a minute this year, becoming the frontrunner for Kevin Durant should he leave the Thunder, choosing Steve Kerr to be a first-time coach), you’ll see they’ve all been done with an eye toward the future.

What are the lessons learned? Buck the trends and never be complacent.

Strength in Numbers: Humility is not something that comes naturally to elite athletes. No matter the sport, we see endless examples of players taking credit for their talent (said nicely) and also throwing teammates and coaches under the bus after a poor performance or losing season (ahem, Cristiano Ronaldo).

Brand is important, but it’s not everything. Teamwork and sacrifice are core to success and what the Warriors do. The team’s recognition of each other is refreshing – and a reminder that leadership is much bigger than your own accomplishments. (And for a Bay Area native who has followed this team for 15+ years, let’s just say that type of leadership is a nice change of pace from previous Warrior regimes.) Think about Bogut – who got paid nearly $13 million last season – not even starting in the NBA Finals. Think about how Stephen Curry, who wasn’t the NBA Finals MVP, celebrated the hardest of everyone for his teammate. They’re just a few examples of many that show their belief that the team’s success is much more important than egos or individual brands. When you’re a true team, whether in sports, within a company or a company as a whole, the results are the only thing that matter.

It also shines through in other ways. There’s that great little story from the playoffs when the Warriors were trailing the Cavaliers in the series 2-1 when Nick U’Ren, one of the team’s video coordinators, suggested replacing Bogut with Andre Iguodala to more aggressively challenge LeBron James. Steve Kerr took the suggestion, the Warriors didn’t lose another game and the rest is history. (Of note, Kerr also publicly gave U’Ren the credit for the change). It’s akin to letting an intern lead strategy for a client. Where else does this happen? It shows that great ideas can come from anywhere.

Create Relationships: The Warriors believe they’re in the business of creating great experiences. As vice president of marketing and digital told VentureBeat, “It’s not just about basketball, but about being an entertainment company. People want to be entertained. How will their lives be better with the Warriors in it?” It’s no longer just about having a ticket to sold-out Oracle Arena, but how each touchpoint a fan has with the Warriors brand – whether making a purchase in the store, following @warriors on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook, or sharing excitement about last night’s win with the world – creates and informs a relationship with the team. (More on their broader technology strategy here via VentureBeat.)

As someone who’s maybe only caught a handful of games over the past few seasons combined (I’m on ET and value a good night’s sleep), I can’t really speak to the live experience, but I can say the Warriors have nailed how they extend the brand on social channels to create an emotional connection with fans. And doing some homework on how they’ve approached it, it’s clear they’re ahead in the ways they data to make sure their investments pay off. (I’d recommend this Q&A on SmallBizTrends to learn more.)

The short version when it comes to digital strategy is that the Warriors have figured out how to use social media to build real relationships and create advocates that last long after the final buzzer. That kind of engagement is important for almost any business today, but for a organization that only sells its flagship product for at most seven months of the year, it’s a must-have.

Image c/o: 360b / Shutterstock.com

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