What startups can learn from Dr. Jerry Buss

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Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, 34 years as owner of the NBA team, died at the age of 80

Dr. Jerry Buss’ legendary status on the basketball court can be attributed to a keen sense of business vision and an even greater taste for talent. The sequence of events that lead the Los Angeles Lakers brand into, arguably, the largest sports franchise in history was not luck but a vision of investing heavily in talent early on. Many of the high-stakes moves created by Jerry Buss’ ownership career can be applied to the thriving world of startups.

Do what you love, everything will follow

Born Gerald Hatten Buss, he hailed from Kemmerer, Wyoming. Earning a M.S and Ph.D in physical chemistry by age 24. Following graduation, Buss began teaching at USC to share his knowledge with students. His desire to continue teaching led him to make an invest $1,000 in a West Los Angeles apartment building. It has been reported that Buss believed that the passive income would supplement his teaching income. Realizing that the real estate investment was a good one, Buss began investing more of his attention in the booming real estate market. This small investment eventually turned into a fortune that allowed him to purchase the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Kings, and the Los Angeles Forum.

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Many times a start up is created with the sole pretense of earning mountain piles of cash. Although sustainability and earnings are important, we’ve seen that startups founded with an undying passion for meaningful change – not cash flipping machines – to be the most successful. When a founder creates a business under the pretense of changing the world- success, traction and money will follow. The challenging part of a startup is not how you spend money when everything is going great but how individuals and teams deal with difficult times. In looking at Dr. Jerry Buss, one can clearly see how an investment to keep doing what he loved, teaching, resulted in an empire being born. A lesson for startups everywhere, following a passion or a meaningful goal assures that your business stays afloat even when it feels like it is sinking.

Build it and they will come

Dr. Buss had an incredible ability to build excitement. He knew that by building the stadium, building the buzz around an all-star team – that fans would follow. In other words, he was excellent at understanding the fans and building traction. Jerry Buss made the world’s jaw drop by paying Magic Johnson a 25-year, $25 million contract. In retrospect it was a great deal but many at the time balked at the price tag. Dr. Buss understood the mechanics of investing in the lineup and turning heads as a result.

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The same mechanic often happens in startups and during the hiring process. Many founders find themselves hoarding control or cash during the most important phase of a startup – its creation. Often times, a startup never makes it off the ground because cofounders and early team members can’t agree on a fair share.

An important example from Jerry Buss’ career is to invest in what matters – your team. Buss identified dozens of greats that included Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Although price tags were steep, Dr. Buss invested in top players to ensure his team’s performance.

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Dr. Buss said, “I don’t just want winners. I want champions” and these same philosophies bloom from winning startups. The startups that win are the ones that share the pie accordingly, invest heavy in talent with the intent to win.

As people around the world mourn the loss of Hall of Famer Dr. Jerry Buss we also pay tribute to the lessons learned on and off the court. How Dr. Buss built a business, loved by millions, by following his passion and investing heavily in team.

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