Good defense, but better offense
It’s NBA playoff time again.
As I live now in an inconvenient time zone, watching the games live is a luxury. Still, I follow closely every game by my San Antonio Spurs. This season, led by the fast-ascending super star Kawhi Leonard, the team ranks unequivocally No.1 in defense in the league.
What gave the Spurs the 67-15 record though was not just the defense, but rather the new 1-2 scoring punch in Leonard and the newly added power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, in addition to the aging Big Three in Tim Ducan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Above all it’s simply amazing to see how Kawhi developed into probably the best two-way player we’ve seen since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, in the sense that he’s totally capable of dominating a game on the offensive end.
This brings us to a commonly heard sentence in NBA broadcasting: « Good defense but better offense ».
This sentence is usually used when an offensive player somehow scores beautifully in the face of a good defensive act. (In some sense majority of the shots by the incredible Stephen Curry probably qualify for this description). However, it might also apply to startups this way:
How do I execute better offense when my competitor has already built an enviable defensibility?
Just as the greatest defenders won’t be able to stop every shot that the players they’re guarding take, there’s always hope to find an angle to attack effectively a relatively well established startup competitor.
In some sense, this was what happened when Facebook beat MySpace to the social network game.
On the first look it seemed impossible that a service that is fundamentally built on network effect would lose out even after being the unequivocally No. 1 for years, but Facebook managed to find a crack in MySpace’s armor:
« Facebook’s killer feature was that it replicated the real world by forcing people to use their real names, whereas MySpace users used pseudonymous handles. »
— Mike Jones, former CEO of MySpace
In other words, despite the fact that MySpace already passed the critical mass and should enjoy superb defensibility, Facebook broke the defense simply by unlocking the human desire to stay virtually connected to real people, in the age where the internet was by default anonymous.
This is exactly « Good defense but better offense » and all startups should take note.
Jerry Yang is a Taiwanese Venture Capitalist formerly based in the Silicon Valley. He now lives and works in Paris. He is the general partner of the Hardware Club.