Load Management

I’m not a huge NBA fan, but I certainly appreciate the sport. From a business and growth perspective, there’s so much going on with the NBA that’s fascinating to me. And, this particular offseason with all the amazing free agents on the market makes for a dramatic scene. I am hooked.

If you’ve been following this drama, one term that’s used often now is “load management.” The brief context is: NBA players have 82-game seasons; for those who advance to the playoffs, those numbers just go up. The players are getting bigger, stronger, faster, and the pace of the game is testing the physical limits of even the most gifted specimens. Sadly, this year we witnessed tough injuries on some star players where their bodies said simply “no more, please.”

As NBA stars stand to make tens of millions playing and even more in big media markets, and as the seasons get longer, they and their management teams are growing more conscious of the idea of “load management,” such as limiting “back to back” games, having allocations for playing minutes per game, and so forth in an effort to preserve the body both for a longer post-season (to stay fresh) and for long-term career prospects.

Yes, I’m tying this back to the startup ecosystem.

Most people working in the early-stages of new business formation — founders, investors, early employees — are sacrificing income, time with their loved ones, etc. — to pursue something greater. It is common to see many of those people not conduct proper “load management” and perhaps become more likely to burnout or make suboptimal decisions.

But as private markets expand, as startups take longer to bake, as product-market fit is harder to hit, as fundraising cycles can get longer, etc., the NBA’s concept of load management may apply to the early-stage ecosystem, too. Like the NBA, there is a seasonality to how startups are formed, financed, built, and how they interact with the broader business community. Much like an animal that is both diurnal and nocturnal, different things can be accomplished at different times; energy can be preserved, banked, and reallocated at different times, and people can spend energy for peak performance at more intense periods of the game.

It’s common to say someone is “24/7,” but even NBA players aren’t, and they’re doing something right. More likely, they’re constantly conditioning but also resting, developing BD relationships for the long term, going in fits and spurts, bursts of energy at the time it’s most valuable. I think there’s a computer science term for it. Whatever it is, it seems like a good strategic principle to consider deeply. If you’re reading this, you’ve likely taking on a “load” of projects, commitments, and relationships you really like — that’s the joy of this work in early-stage startups — managing how to allocate energy toward that load seems like a critical skill to have. I’m still working on it, myself. If you have tips on this, I’m all ears!