Sequencing Matters

by Stew Bradley March 21st, 2020

Growing up sports was a big part of my life. At any given time in my childhood, I was playing a mix of baseball, basketball, football, rugby, soccer, swimming, tennis, track, skiing, lacrosse, water-polo, and golf. Many of my sporting endeavors, especially during the onset of puberty, were failed lumpish experiments. But it was the sports where I struggled that I learned the most valuable lessons. Case in point, I found success with football, playing both in college and professionally, but this post is about golf.

Sports can offer us incredible lessons, from the value of grit in the face of defeat, to the daunting challenge of handling success [the later more difficult]. Golf was never my strong suit, but a lesson learned while playing golf has been top of mind as we build El Cap. It stems from an oft-cited but rarely mastered aspect of the golf swing, proper sequencing.

How do golf swings apply to the work we’re doing at El Cap? Like sports, sequencing is a critical aspect to consider when building a business. A good golf swing gradually accelerates throughout, with the club reaching maximum velocity when it hits the ball. This gradual acceleration requires energy to transfer —in proper sequence— from the legs to the upper body and into the club. If you start one of these steps too soon or too late, the whole process can break. The same is true for building a business. Poorly sequenced growth initiatives are often a death blow for a fledgling company.

Proper sequencing creates a multiplying effect, resulting in outcomes better than any single part could produce on its own. Just because a specific sequencing is best for one task, doesn't mean it will be the same for another. Lebron James is arguably the greatest athlete of all time, possesses world-class hand-eye coordination, and has completely mastered the sequencing required to shoot a basketball. Rory McIlroy is 12 inches shorter, 100 lbs lighter, and nowhere near the athlete the King is. Despite this, Rory can hit a golf ball farther and more consistently than LeBron. The difference between their two golf swings isn't ability, it's sequencing. LeBron is moving body parts out of order, sapping his power and consistency. This comparison highlights the need to match the correct sequence for each task. Just because LeBron has mastered the proper sequence to shoot a basketball, doesn't mean he's ready to join the PGA Tour.

Sequencing must be tailored to the task to maximize potential, and this is as important to growing a business as it is in sports. Building a business can be expensive and resources are often limited. Choosing one path often comes at the expense of another. Should you hire more salespeople or more engineers? Launch in new markets or increase marketing spend where you currently operate? How and when companies spend on growth (i.e., sequencing) is paramount to success. The best outcomes happen when a company optimizes its growth plan for its business model, opportunity set, and market environment. At El Cap we provide the flexibility for our portfolio companies to match their growth plan with these realities. Too many companies with exciting potential get derailed by mistakes in this phase of building. Understanding the importance of proper sequencing is crucial, and one of the first things we discuss with operators as we collaborate to find the optimal roadmap for their business.

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