Enterprise startup lessons from Muhammad Ali

Enterprise startup lessons from Muhammad Ali

Summary: Software entrepreneurs fighting established vendors can learn profound instructions and attitudes from the great boxer.


During conversation with Christian Gheorghe, CEO of startup analytics vendor Tidemark Systems, I raised the issue of competition with established vendors. Tidemark's product includes a real-time display, called Storylines, which allows ordinary users to interact easily with deep business data; it's the kind of thing destined to attract competition from the large vendors. 

Also read: Larry Dignan's ZDNet article on Tidemark Storylines.

Looking at Tidemark I wondered, "How can startups best compete against big companies such as SAP and Oracle?" Although not a boxing fan, the following words from Muhammad Ali came to mind as the answer: "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee."

In this short video, Muhammad Ali speaks this famous phrase and presents a competitive view that enterprise startups should examine closely:

Here's a transcript of the video:

I'm gonna float like a butterfly and sting like a bee
George [Foreman] can't hit what his hands can't see
Now you see me, now you don't
He thinks he will but I know he won't
They tell me George is good but I'm twice as nice
And I'm gonna stick to his butt like white on rice
Cassius [Clay, Ali's former name] is the greatest of all time, of all time!!!

Ali's comments reflect innovation, agility, and confidence backed by execution and skill. It turns out that Tidemark's Gheorghe, who grew up in communist Romania, studied Ali as a role model:

There was lack of everything from food to books to basic freedoms. I remember Ali saying 'impossible is nothing' so fast, so brilliantly confident, that the seeds of freedom were set for me. I never forget it and it still guides me every day. Impossible is nothing.

The video below shows Muhammad Ali putting agility into practice — watch him dance lightly with intelligence, focus, and intense determination. This is definitely the right way to compete as an enterprise software startup:

Topics: Enterprise Software, CXO, Emerging Tech

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  • Ali

    I was seven years old when Ali fought Liston -- 23 years later I got to meet the man himself. I thought I had large hands, but when they got lost in Ali's fist for the handshake, I learned different.

    The greatest shame is that he had the wrong people managing his earnings.
  • Ali dances and the audiece applauds ...

    What jumps out at me is Ali's focus. He's constantly moving, but never lets up his intense concentration on his target. You could say his style is a perfect marriage of tactical flexibility and strategic purpose. "Startups and the Art of Boxing" - sounds to me like a bestselling book just waiting to be written.
    Ned Boyajian