25Apr
Mark Solon, Founder and Managing Partner of Highway 12 Ventures

Draft The Best Available Athlete

This is the beginning of a new series of guest posts. Every Monday a new expert will share with us their thoughts about all kinds of interesting things. They choose the topics. I’m super excited about it. I hope you’ll come by every Monday to read the new guest post and participate in the comments below. My goal is for each of us to start our week off with some great thought and discussion; hence the Monday posting schedule.

Our first guest expert is a prolific VC and terrific human being. Mark Solon was recently on my list of favorite online resources for entrepreneurs. Everyone who knows Mark says the same thing; he is a great person, wicked smart and he does the right thing by people and the planet – every time. That is quite the guy to take heed from. I consider him a friend and a mentor (even though he takes my money and pride with him when we play golf).

Without further adieu, StartupFlavor brings you “Draft The Best Available Athlete” by @Mark_Solon from Highway 12 Ventures.


I grew up in New York and have always loved my NY sports teams. In the NFL, it was all about the NY Giants for me. Unfortunately, during my most impressionable sports years (the 70′s), the Giants were simply awful and the Dallas Cowboys utterly dominated the NFC. As a matter of fact, I barely remember the Giants ever beating the damn Cowboys during those years. If you’re a football fan and as old as I am, you remember Tom Landry strolling the sidelines in his fedora while Roger Staubach coolly led the ‘Boys down the field time and time again.

I still have nightmares of Staubach, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Calvin Hill, Randy White, Tony Dorsett, Harvey Martin, Drew Pearson and the rest of Cowboys ruining my Sundays as a kid.

What most people don’t know however is that behind the scenes, a man named Tex Schramm was the architect of stacking the Cowboys with more pure talent than just about any team ever assembled. You see, conventional wisdom at the time dictated that teams draft the best player out of college who played the specific position in which that team’s most glaring weakness existed, even if there weren’t any superstars coming out of college that year who played that position.

Tex Schramm had other ideas however.

As General Manager of the Cowboys, Tex shunned conventional wisdom and drafted the best athlete available, regardless of position. If the Cowboys had 4 great wide receivers and a lousy set of defensive backs, it didn’t matter. When it was the Cowboy’s turn to pick in the draft, if the best available athlete left was a wide receiver, that’s who Tex took.

Tex believed that talent would win over position.

He’d take a defensive back and make him a wide receiver, or take a linebacker and make him a tight end. The result? The Cowboys of the 70′s went to five super bowls and sent a bunch of players to the Hall of Fame.

I believe that today’s start-ups can learn a lot from Tex’s strategy. Too many times I’ve seen young companies pass on fantastic talent because they didn’t need a “VP Biz Dev” or they already had a “VP Marketing”. Truth is, people are more flexible than you think and truly great talent is really hard to find. Does that mean that you can take a killer salesperson and have them write code for you? Of course not. But you’d be amazed how a VP Ops star who has two or three successful start-ups on his or her resume might make a tremendous impact at your startup in another role.

As a venture capitalist, I regularly get a slew of resumes and have coffee with many talented folks who are looking to get involved in the next hot start-up in the rocky mountain region. When I meet a person who has a clear record of adding real value to start-up companies, I’ll forward their resumes to all of our portfolio companies and other start-ups that I’m close with.

I’m always a little surprised when an accomplished superstar is turned away because “we don’t need that position filled.”

While there’s no hard and fast rule that I can offer as each of these cases are different, I really believe that most start-ups can benefit by taking a page out of Tex Schramm’s “Playbook” and try drafting the best available athlete.

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Mark Solon is the Founder and Managing Partner of Highway 12 Ventures. He is a director of multiple Highway 12 portfolio companies and the Chairman of the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association. He is also a mentor at TechStars in Boulder, an incredibly successful mentorship-driven seed stage investment program. Passionate about Boise and Idaho, he serves on the advisory board of the Boise State University College of Engineering as well as the Board of Directors of the Idaho Hockey Foundation. He also co-chairs the Idaho Business Council. Mark was a founding board member of the Idaho Technology Council and is also formerly President of the Board of Directors of the Discovery Center of Idaho, Boise’s wonderful science museum. He enjoys playing hockey with his pals, mountain & road biking and camping in the back-country of Idaho with his family and friends, and delights with his wife Pam in the wonder of watching their kids turn into young adults.

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About Mark Solon

Mark is the founder and Managing Partner of Highway 12 Ventures. He is a director of multiple Highway 12 portfolio companies and the Chairman of the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association. He is also a mentor at TechStars in Boulder, an incredibly successful mentorship-driven seed stage investment program. Passionate about Boise and Idaho, he serves on the advisory board of the Boise State University College of Engineering as well as the Board of Directors of the Idaho Hockey Foundation. He also co-chairs the Idaho Business Council. Mark was a founding board member of the Idaho Technology Council and is also formerly President of the Board of Directors of the Discovery Center of Idaho, Boise's wonderful science museum. He enjoys playing hockey with his pals, mountain & road biking and camping in the back-country of Idaho with his family and friends, and delights with his wife Pam in the wonder of watching their kids turn into young adults.
  • You’re welcome on board Mike 🙂

    I really agree with what you say. Don’t you think that the person with good attitude can learn the skill? even when he or she don’t posses the skill. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say? Thanks so much for sharing. Have fun 🙂

    • Yes Samuel, I agree with you, to an extent of course. If you need a Ruby Coder, probably not a good idea to place a terrific VP Sales in the position who can’t code. Some positions require narrowly focused expertise. Others are more fungible…

  • I think this was great advice. I know that I need to work on building a team for my startup and this is some much needed advice for me right now. Thank you very much for another great tip.

    • You made my day J.R.! Thanks for sharing that with me.

  • Great post! This story rings close to me. Its funny, I dropped out of high school at 16 and jumped straight into a sales position at a mortgage company. I was their top seller for 3 years. Than the company went under and everyone but myself got fired.

    The owner than wanted to start a web bussiness selling leads. Little did he know in my free time I had learned html, php, flash, and other web design tools. So I ended up creating a whole new bussiness for him online and set up a web application for new telemarketer we hired to generate leads from home.

    I was a 16 year old high school drop out, fourtantly someone looked past that and saw my brains talent. So I was a sales person turned coder.

    • I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard like this one Josh. There is no academic degree in the world that can substitute for being a motivated and hard-working self starter. Kudos to you!

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