Over the past year, we have quadrupled the size of our team at Unreasonable. Throughout the process, I’ve had to stumble through the uncomfortable and sometimes awkward transition of going from startup entrepreneur to CEO of a small yet rapidly scaling team.

A north star for me on this journey, though, came from a simple conversation I shared back in 2013 with one of our Unreasonable mentors, Kamran Elahian. Almost four years later, that one conversation has helped me immensely, and it forever redefined my posture toward being both an entrepreneur and a CEO. I wanted to take a few minutes to open-source Kamran’s wisdom in the hopes that it is helpful to other entrepreneurs beyond myself.

The real goal of world-changing entrepreneurs is not to be the quarterback, but rather the coach of the team that wins the Super Bowl. Tweet This Quote

For context, Kamran is a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded three companies that were each, at one time or another, valued at over a billion dollars. In short, his wisdom comes not from books or conversations, but experience. When I asked him what the secret was to his incredible success, he turned to an analogy.

Most entrepreneurs, he said, think the ultimate goal – to use an American football analogy – is to be the quarterback of the team that wins the Super Bowl. As the quarterback, nothing happens until you snap the ball. You call all the plays, and you are on the field and in the game, day in and day out with your teammates. As a quarterback, your goal is to simply be the best quarterback in the world.

This may be true in a startup environment when you have a team of 1-5 people. But Kamran believes (and I agree) that you can never scale this posture of leadership. The entire team, or in this case the whole company, remains bottlenecked by your need to call the plays and snap the ball. Nothing happens until you do.

Strive to have a team in which every player on the field is better at their particular position than you. Tweet This Quote

Kamran went on to describe that the real goal of world-changing entrepreneurs is not to be the quarterback, but rather the coach of the team that wins the Super Bowl. As a coach, you have the following three jobs:

  1. Recruit the best possible players you can afford, and put them into the positions they are best at.
  2. Create a culture upon which the individuals achieve things they never thought were possible.
  3. Most notably, create a culture where the whole of the individuals on the team is far greater than the sum of the parts. In other words, your goal is to be a CEO that creates a culture that rivals that of the Mighty Ducks. .

As the coach, you should strive to have a team in which every player on the field is better at their particular position than you are. From there, your job is to ensure they are supported, inspired, and unified around a shared vision and strategy.

As an entrepreneur, your job is to ensure your team is supported, inspired, and unified around a shared vision and strategy. Tweet This Quote

This simple analogy, on the spot, changed my posture towards entrepreneuring and leadership. As entrepreneurs, our goal is not to be the quarterback of the football team that wins the Super Bowl. Instead, it is to become the best coach in the league for the team that you serve.

Kamran, I don’t know if I ever shared with you how much your wisdom here helped me. So with that, I’ll end with gratitude for your continued friendship and mentorship.

About the author

Daniel Epstein

Daniel Epstein

Daniel has an obsession. He believes to his core in the potential of entrepreneurship to solve the greatest challenges of this century and he has dedicated his life accordingly. Today, he is the founder of the Unreasonable Group, of the Unreasonable Institute and a number of other "Unreasonable" companies.

  • Michael Cramer

    Thanks Daniel!
    I really enjoyed your article because it is very relevant to my life and to some of the lessons that I have learned growing up. My just recently retired from the car business after owning a Toyota dealership for 25 years and a Honda dealership for 15 years. He excelled at his business because he lived by the principles that you talked about; he made sure that the people he had in position within his businesses were the best at what they did. He was able to grow and expand from one dealership to two because the Toyota dealership could operate without him due to the caliber and integrity of the individuals that worked for him. When starting up any business, it is absolutely necessary to handle day-to-day things in a hands-on manner, but once a business begins to grow past the beginning ‘start-up’ stage, it is best for an entrepreneur to pass off daily duties and tasks to others. Any start-up company requires a vision from an entrepreneur (or from multiple entrepreneurs). This vision is what lays the groundwork for a successful business enterprise, but once a company gets off the ground-floor and begins to see large revenues, the entrepreneur who started the company may not be best-suited to handle everyday managerial affairs within the business.
    I think you laid this idea out very eloquently, and the football analogy is very relevant to me and is something that I will likely share with others and remember for the rest of my life. I enjoy your site and am excited that I was introduced to it this year! I will continue to read and respond in hopes to contribute to the positive environment that already exists within this community.

  • Eric Miller

    To build off of what Michael just thoroughly explained through his personal experience relating to the article, I see there are infinite situations that entrepreneurs can learn from and build upon in their work. For instance, in this article, Daniel created an amazing connection between what he learned in Football and applied that to creating a business. These lessons that can be taken from Football and many other areas in life. This was a great article and it showed that we as entrepreneurs can learn something from anything and apply it to our own lives.

  • Henry Newman

    I think this article is very interesting as it shows the progress of becoming a CEO. The analogy between being the quarterback in football is relevant, but being the coach of a football team really shows this analogy to its full effect. It serves to show how any experience you have can be built to becoming an entrepreneur. The three jobs of a coach are basically the same three jobs of an entrepreneur starting their own company. And with these three things, I think it shows how anybody can become a CEO. Even from my own experience, with my leadership as a camp counselor, definitely shows how any experience can help in starting your own business. As a camp counselor, I created a culture within my own group of kids to act respectfully to others while having fun in their environment. If I were to become an entrepreneur with my own business, I could apply my experience to my business environment and be the coach of my team. Without this article, I wouldn’t even consider this experience as being beneficial to becoming an entrepreneur. But with this simple phrase that being a CEO or entrepreneur is like the coach of a football team instead of a quarterback really changes people’s perspective. This is because a quarterback is the hero that guides the team to victory, which is a great analogy to a business starting up, but not in the long run because you need to have a team to help get you to victory. By being the coach of your business, creating the team you want with the right culture will definitely help in the long run. Which is why this article can really inspire young entrepreneurs. It’s not about being the one hero everyone dreams to be and that these people are the ones that are entrepreneurs. But it’s about being a coach (and everyone can be a coach) that will help lead your team to victory.

  • cahu5401

    I really appreciate how the article sort of starts out with saying one needs experience to get where they are going. That leads to just a general question as to where one starts, and is there a limit on experience? The prior I myself question, yet the later I find to be impossible, just as there is no limit on the amount of knowledge one can pursue. If most entrepreneurs think that they should be the quarterback, does this idea help them succeed or does being the coach better off an entrepreneur? I really like the quote about having all the players on a team better at their specific job than oneself, because if one person could do it all just as good, then there is no reason to hire and employ so many people. I think though, that the author could put that into more real world examples rather than a football analogy. The idea of being an entrepreneur that creates a culture and a good one that encompasses everyone in it and encourages ultimate determination sounds inspiring. Expanding on the idea of being a coach and really what summed up the article at the end made me just want to read more. Being the coach of something greater and working together as one is what a lot of us need to remember, rather than being the quarterback.

  • James Finch

    I like how the author uses the coaching analogy, but I think in the beginning it is somewhat flawed. When you are first starting out you need to have the quarterbacking role to show people where you intend the company to go. If you are bootstrapping a new startup it will be impossible to build a huge team immediately of the best players available. The founder needs to take that player/leadership role to get it off the ground, but once you have established yourself of course you are free to take a more hands off approach. Your goal is to create an autonomous entity that benefits the world, while needing very little input.

  • Jared Moya

    I think the analogy in this article is spot on. Everybody wants to be the star quarterback at first, but the reality is that without the coach, the quarterback has very little potential. Without a good coach, a good quarterback is almost useless because the rest of his team will still struggle. I think this embodies what I’ve been saying for a long time now, and that is: a good leader doesn’t have all the answers, but instead he surrounds himself with intelligent people who can find the answers. A good leader is responsible for building a community around himself with intelligent people, much like a coach is responsible for building a team around himself with players who are the best in every position. At the end of the day, it doesn’t come down to whether or not you have the best quarterback in the league, it comes down to whether or not you have the best team in the league.

  • Ishan Gandhii

    I fully disagreed with this. If you are working off there analogy you have to start on the field at some point in your life or you wont get how it works. Then you can get to coach, but in the end I do not want to be the coach I want to be the owner of the team. Once you get there that means your team can work without you and you are the one paying the coach. In all you have the control of the team and the last say. You do not have to know everything about the business you just have to be able to spot the right people to hire who do.