“No one is more important than the team, no coach is more important than the team. The team, the team, the team!” — Bo Schembechler, slightly paraphrased.
In many ways, joining Matter will be a convergence of all my past experiences and interests. As an English and Journalism double major at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, I learned about and participated in the future of media, eventually leading a weekly campus magazine, forming a close-knit team that delivered excellence on deadline.
Next I turned to daily and then weekly newspapers, learning the challenges and opportunities of print publications in the digital era. In parallel, I wrote about Apple for Wired.com at the exact moment we were all beginning to realize the turn-around there was much bigger than a few million iPods. At that moment, I went from chronicler of innovation to facilitator of it, as I joined the team at Jump Associates, using design thinking and strategy methods to solve large company’s most ambiguous challenges.
I also tapped into the family industry of teaching, working as a lecturer in design thinking at Stanford. I’ve had a taste for entrepreneurship as part of the all-star team at Jetpack Consulting, seeing firsthand what it takes to grow a business from scratch.
At Matter, I’ll be able to blend teaching, journalism, design thinking, and entrepreneurship. How could I possibly say no?
But there’s a bigger story here, across all these experiences, that has directed me here. I’m joining Matter because I believe in the power of team. I’ve seen its power to build and to destroy value in my years as a journalist. I’ve seen three or four ordinary people achieve the extraordinary in my decade in design strategy. And at Matter, I can’t wait to get started in helping to create value through our team — as we help teams of entrepreneurs to find themselves and reach their potential.
It’s a cliche in entrepreneurial and investing circles: the team matters more than the product. In practice, though, this principle is practiced in a way that misses the forest for the trees. Start-ups are evaluated as the sum total of the skills and experiences of the individual founders.
But this simple math fails to account for how teams work, whether in sports or in business. If it were accurate, the Miami Heat squads featuring LeBron James would have won five or more titles instead of two. Simply assembling the greatest collection of talent does not guarantee success, nor does having a charismatic and visionary leader who inspires great effort. Real teams are about the magic that happens when like-minded people play well together. And real excellence is about making your teammates greater than they otherwise would be.
We’re much worse at measuring this talent for teamwork. Notions of “chemistry” or “heart” or even “intangibles” have been thrown around for decades. It’s only been in the last few years, in basketball, that something approaching a metric for great teamwork and great teams has coalesced: Plus-Minus. It’s a simple concept: how many more points does your team score than its opponents when you’re playing on the floor than when you’re sitting on the bench? Basically, if the team as a whole does better without you on the court, you’re probably a net-negative, regardless of your statistics. And if the team does better with you there, you’re a real asset even if you never score a point.
Want to know exactly what makes the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors such a transcendent team? The top five players in the entire league in Plus-Minus make up the five members of the Warriors’ starting line-up. Every single one of their top players is world-class at magnifying the success of the others around them, which has cascadingly positive effects. That’s how you go from winning just 51 games in a season to 67 wins and the world title the next.
This is the sort of team — unselfish, aligned, driven, fun — we aim to identify, accelerate, and back at Matter. It’s also who we’ll try to become ourselves in the process. And the reason is simple: everyone here is all about the team. The team. The team. Great teams play their best together. I couldn’t be more excited to be the fifth member of this starting line-up.