No One in Silicon Valley Is Batting 1000
Every founder and VC has swings, misses, and slumps
It’s the end of the fall girls’ softball season. One of our daughters has been playing softball for a few years, so I’ve had lots of time around softball fields, coaching and watching, and thinking about softball statistics.
Like many players, our daughter isn’t always happy with her hitting game. We sometimes discuss the concept of batting average* — aka the percentage of base hits a player gets out of total at bats — to help her remember that swinging and missing is just part of the game.
I also sometimes think about batting average when reading tech news, going to meetings, or attending industry events.
The tech ecosystem can sometimes feel like an echo chamber in which founders and investors throw around phrases like “the numbers are insane,” “we’re f*ing crushing it,” “our round was crazy oversubscribed,” or “they are killing it.”
This hyperbole can create a perception that everyone around us is batting 1000, and amplify feelings of stress, inadequacy, and imposter syndrome. When you’re a player and you start to believe everyone else is hitting great and you aren’t, it’s natural to feel like you’re failing.
If it’s helpful, remember: No player is ever hitting the ball well all of the time. Literally nobody.
The best players in the history of softball and baseball have only succeeded 30% to 40% of the time. The best batting average in the history of NCAA softball is .467 (aka a ~47% hit rate, held by Jill Justin). And the best career baseball batting average of .366 is still held by Ty Cobb, set in 1928.
No founder, VC, product person, engineer, marketer, sales person, data scientist, or otherwise has ever bat 1000. Everyone has had swings and misses. Everyone has had hitting slumps. People and companies who seem to be “killing it” have shipped products that flopped, screwed up hiring, missed financial plans, lost key customers, miscommunicated important information, survived dysfunctional times, closely avoided disaster, been passed on by VCs who didn’t believe, passed on investing in ventures that went on to be legendary, and/or have been sad or lonely some of the time.
To keep this analogy going: If you want to be a great hitter, you have to work at it. From what I’ve read, the best hitters are always thinking about their swing and are constantly working on improvements, training regularly, and taking a lot of swings. Maybe an analog for startup life is to take time for self-reflection, self-care, and to get feedback. Have a plan for improvement and work with a team that supports your growth and keep swinging, with the knowledge that it’s not possible for anyone to bat 1000 — and that even the best hitters have had bad seasons or hitting slumps.
It’s also worth noting that the best batting averages (and slugging percentages*) in tech have been historically associated with common gender, race, or educational backgrounds. We could also call that “attribution error” or “confirmation bias.” Most successful folks in tech today were brought up in and still live in an environment that gives them lots of “at bats.” Meanwhile, others (e.g. women and underrepresented minorities) have been given less encouragement to play and way fewer at bats. And when they swing and miss, they are often at higher risk of getting cut from the team. This is an opportunity for us in tech to recognize a problem and do something about it.
*Batting averages and slugging percentages when it comes to VC performance are also super interesting and important. Many smart folks like Jules Maltz, Fred Wilson, Mark Suster, the folks at Correlation Ventures and more have written some great posts about the importance of batting and slugging percentages in venture investing.