The Boys in the Boat


What are the main lessons that all investors and startups can learn from Daniel James Brown's book?


How does this book apply to businesses?

What are some of the lessons from The Boys in the Boat?

What are some of the lessons from The Boys in the Boat?

Recently I read a book called The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel J. Brown and I thought, "You know, look, as we invest in companies, I think it's important to give some insight into why this book might be helpful and why you, as a reader at home, and somebody who's interested in business could apply some of the lessons of Daniel Brown's book to your own life and to your own business."

 This book, as a side note, is something that was important to me and had been given to me by my wife for Christmas and I said, "Okay, this is about as perfect as it gets." I'm a former rower at Cornell University, where I rowed. Even though the book isn't necessarily about the Cornell crew, even though the Cornell crew makes a strong appearance several times in the book, I still absolutely was a huge fan of the book. I thought, why not break down some lessons and give some insight for you to, as you read the book, or if you haven't read the book, what you might want to, consider.

 How does this book apply to businesses, broadly? First off, Boys in the Boat is about people, number 1 about people, about the team-use symbol, about the people that make up the composition of your startup or your new company, or maybe you're already part of a bigger company. Every person at that company makes a difference. In Boys in the Boat, there are 9 young men who are on their quest for gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and they're probably some of the biggest underdogs you could ever imagine. I mean Joe Rance is one of the most fine, outstanding human beings that would've existed in the rowing community, and really came from nothing. Joe Rance was working several jobs and literally paying his own way to go to the University of Washington where the Huskeys are.

This book is about people, know that every person in your team makes a difference.

 You've got 8 young boys in a crew who are going up against Cal, going up against Cornell, going up against Harvard, Princeton and all these established crews, and literally each of them had to serve their own purpose and had to have their own mission to win. I think that underdog element in everybody is important, so when you're hiring somebody or you're part of a team, that underdog mentality can take you a long way. Each person serves a phenomenal role and a phenomenal importance in the lifespan of a company, okay? That's one business lesson, that is people matter. Every person matters.

 The second is, the product must be amazing. Not unlike the boat which was filled with these young boys and an awesome coxswain, which is the guy that steers the boat, each person had to row in an absolute unison. They had to row together. If there's one slight entry into the water where the blade catches the water, okay if you're not into rowing, basically you've got an 8. You've got 4 on the port side, 4 on the starboard, usually, or always together and they are rowing together in unison. If one person is out of whack or out of unison, the entire boat can tip, it can go off kilt.

 I think one of the biggest things about a company is that each component must contribute to the greater good. There have to be 8 people, not unlike the boat here in the 36 Olympics where Joe Rance was part of that crew. Every single person had to pull there heart out to make it happen. If you've got a team in your company where 1 person is off and they're not contributing, that can hurt the entire company. It can hurt the entire crew. The product must be amazing.

One of the most important things about a company is that each component must be contribute to the greater good.

 By the way, they were lucky to have a boat built by a phenomenal legend called George Pocock, who makes these custom crafts. I'm not talking about the boat, right? It really doesn't matter if you've got a Vispolli, you've got a Pocock, whatever fancy boat that day. If you've got 8 oarsmen, or any type of a company where you've got that number of people, or bigger than that company, you've got to have everybody rowing in unison.

How does The Boys in the Boat apply to business?

How does The Boys in the Boat apply to business?

 The third thing is, money doesn't always win. In fact it can hurt you. Joe had very little money and these guys came from nothing almost. No matter what, they were going over to the Olympics in Berlin and they were going to row in front of Adolf Hitler in this phenomenally gigantic new stadium, right? Literally as these guys go over abroad and they can see the swastika, they can see the oppression already taking place, no matter how much Adolf Hitler tried to suppress it. This sort of grandiose vision that Adolf Hitler was trying to create, they were fighting that. They're battling that and they had virtually no money. They jumped on a boat with some legends like Jesse Owens and Olympic greats. They were just devouring food because they'd never seen so much wealth and so much privileges in their lives. Despite the fact that they had no money and came from little circumstances, but they had a huge heart, I know at the end of the day that that's what prevails.

 It's not about how much money you started your company, or how much money you raise. It's about whether you believe in yourself and whether you can make a difference. Money doesn't always win, okay?

 The fourth thing is, trust your team. Towards the end of the book, there's a profound revelation when Daniel Brown is able to interview Joe Rance towards the end of his life. He lived a very long life. As he's interviewing him, he got a sense that as these oarsmen where joining the boat and each of them was relying on each other to row in unison, that every single one would make a difference.  Joe Rance, in the end, made the boat that went to the Olympics. But when he got in that boat, he felt an alacrity and confidence that his crew had put in him because if one of them didn't believe in him, they would have taken his position away and he wouldn't have been able to row in the 1936 Olympics.  There's a trust that you have to have in your team. If you don't, you cannot win. 

The Boys in the Boat teaches its readers that everyone in a team is important.

The Boys in the Boat teaches its readers that everyone in a team is important.

 The fifth lesson of Boys in the Boat is that you need to invest in yourself. Despite the Depression, despite the fact that people were literally starving and they were going and rationing food and not able to even eat at night, Joe Rance found a way to go out and continue to work out. He continued to find jobs. He continued to join a crew team where he's expending calories and not eating very much. You can image that. Nowadays we have buffets where there's too much food. There's an abundance in America now. Back in the 30s, Joe Rance picked a sport that you expend more calories than any other almost. Despite that, he invested in himself. I believe that everybody who's a startup entrepreneur or a business-owner needs to realize that if you don't invest in yourself and you don't work out, you don't exercise, you don't keep yourself healthy, your company will suffer.

You need to invest in yourself in order to make sure your company and your team will succeed.

 Those are the 5 big business lessons that you can apply to your own company from the book The Boys in the Boat. People matter. Product must be amazing. You got to row in unison. The third is money doesn't always win. These guys were poor, struggling, and had very little exposure to money, but they went over and they kicked Hitler's ass, and that's awesome. The fourth thing is trust in your team, it's everything that you have to trust in every single person to perform. The fifth thing is you got to invest in yourself, even when you're down and out. You've got to work out, you got to exercise, you got to be healthy, or else you'll not win.

Overall - every person, CEO, founder, growth hacker, hustler, designer - whatever you are, whatever you consider yourself, you've got to carry your own weight. That's what this book is about. It's about the underdog. It's about the struggle and the fight to win despite all odds and to invest in yourself and hopefully have a team that invests and works with you.

How can you apply the lessons from The Boys in the Boat to your startup?