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Leadership Matters: Business Lessons from the Gridiron | WEBINAR RECAP



Thanks to all the attendees of our January webcast, Leadership Matters: Business Lessons from the Gridiron, featuring Fran Tarkenton, NFL Hall of Famer & Legendary Entrepreneur, from

If you missed the webcast, you can view the video playback on our Kabbage KamWebinars YouTube Channel and view the slides on our SlideShare. Both the slides and video are also embedded at the bottom of this article for you. 

Fran Tarkenton is one of the greatest players in NFL history. During his Hall of Fame career, Fran revolutionized the quarterback position as the first “scrambler.” He led the Minnesota Vikings to six division titles and three Super Bowl appearances, won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, and held every major passing record when he retired.

But Fran has always been an entrepreneur. Since starting his first business while playing in the NFL, he has built more than 25 successful companies with hundreds of millions in revenue. Fran is a passionate advocate of small business, and has coached thousands of entrepreneurs across North America. He is the founder of, which provides tools and knowledge to help small business owners succeed.

During the webcast Fran shared some great advice on how his life experience in football and business has helped him become a successful entrepreneur:


Focus On Your Expectations

Sport is based on performance and results. You either win or lose after 60 minutes. It’s all very well defined. If you want to learn about performance, you’d want to learn from someone that has been in that environment, where you practically have to perform or die.

Fran recalls that playing professional football for the university of Georgia for 18 years was very different than what it’s today. Today, Pate Manning, Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Aaron Rogers make 30-40 million dollars playing football and doing ads for them. They’re all mega wealthy. Fran had a different experience. During his first year in the national football league he made $12,500. Not a lot of money now and not a lot of money then. But Fran dreamed of bigger things than making $12,500. As a business person or an athlete it’s fun to be successful. It’s fun to make money. You can take trips, share your money, give it to charities and be a good citizen. However, people often limit themselves. To be successful, you have to think and dream big: “Instead of making only $12,500, I want to make $100,000!”

All of the success Fran has had in sports, football and business, he actually expected it all. He had big dreams. As an entrepreneur, you have to focus on raising your own expectations.

We’re coming in to championship weekend, we’ve had playoffs going on, and now the Super Bowl. And you think that all the teams say, “oh, well, I’d like to finish in second, third or 16th place?” Everyone has one goal, and that is to win the Super Bowl! It’s all about the last person standing and that is what drives you as a football player. And even if you don’t make it this year, you try next year. That’s what drives a player.


Hard Work is the Foundation for Anything

When you go to a seminar or a conference to learn the secrets to success, you will find inspirational and motivational speakers. However, these most often than not, lack real life experience in building, running and growing a business. Throughout his career, Fran has learned that the real secret to success is hard work. Hard work is the foundation for anything.

Fran’s career started with football, but making ends meet didn’t come by easy. But he knew that hard work wasn’t supposed to be easy. Back in the 40s, Fran learned quickly the value of getting paid for doing different jobs that people wanted him to do, from being a truck salesman to selling insurance when he was in college. As a matter of fact, during the 18 years that he played professional football, he made more money in the off-season in doing business and commerce than he ever made that one year playing football.


You Learn by Making Mistakes

His last year in football, in 1978, Fran made $275,000, but by then he had already started his own business. Fran strongly believes that you learn from all work. You learn how to do business and commerce by going out and doing it. And by doing it, you’re going to fail and make mistakes. But you will learn from your mistakes. You don’t learn from winning. You learn from making mistakes! So you have to try new things. You have to push the envelope. In football, that’s no different. You’ve got to reinvent yourself in every quarter and in every minute. It’s the speed of thinking, adapting and changing. If you’re entrepreneurial, it’s the same thing. You have to move fast, you have to try new things and you learn from the things that don’t work.


You Should Never Get Discouraged by Failure

When Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, he tried to make it work thousands of times, but he never got discouraged. He was one step closer, and he knew that if he kept going one day he was going to make it work. The moral of the story: You have to keep at it! You will get knocked down, but you have to keep going. One thing you can never do is to give up.

With that said, if you’re doing something that’s not working, you have to change it. Also, if it’s working, figure out ways to make it work better.

Number one take away from being an entrepreneur: You’ve got to work at it. There’s no easy way. There’s no silver bullet. You’re going to hear silver bullets all the time, but the secret formula for success is in your heart, soul and brain. In your spirit. It’s all inside of you.

GoSmallBiz helps entrepreneurs all over the world and the fact that they are doing good work is very rewarding to Fran. He can’t wait to get up in the morning, because he wants to be smarter today than he was yesterday. He believes that if you have the attitude to get something done, everything is possible. You should never get discouraged by failure, nor losing.


Most Important Aspect of Business is Sales

The most important thing in business is revenue. If you don’t have revenue, you don’t have a business. And if you don’t make a sale, you don’t have revenue. You have to focus on that first. You have to find a way to solve people’s problems and price your product right. You never want your customers to lose trust on you. Therefore, you want to be transparent and trustworthy. You want to build relationships and that’s all going towards making a sale.


Now, How Do You Make Sales?

It’s all about authenticity. Be yourself. Don’t be somebody else. Throughout his career, Fran attended many sales trainings, but he decided to stop attending those because all the sales coaches talked about was how you should manipulate people to buy what you have.

Fran doesn’t believe in that type of selling. A real person in business trying to sell a product or service should focus on these four core values:

  1. You have to build trust
  2. You have to build a relationship
  3. You have to be transparent
  4. You have to tell people the truth

When you focus on these values, you’re not selling to people, you’re sharing. You may not have what they need today, but maybe next week, and they will come back to you because they trust you. You do business with people that you trust.

Talk to your customers or prospects about what they need or want. How can you better help solve their problems? They will tell you, but you have to listen to them. Your focus should not be a selfish reason. The mission of business is to help people by solving their problems. That’s a sustainable mission. If you can stick to this mission, people will come back and buy more.


Assume Nothing and Question Everything 

Fran mentioned that most of his errors are errors of assumption. You should assume nothing, but question everything. It’s what’s in every little detail. Always make sure that everything is planned perfectly and that there are no errors.

For Fran, paying attention to every detail led to a discipline that helped him and his team win three Super Bowls within a 3-year period. Discipline is important.

See the signs to know which way to go. It’s good to be positive, but refrain from only seeing what you want to see. If something goes wrong, look at why that happened and be honest with yourself about why you think that happened. It’s important to be honest with yourself and others in everything you do.


Data and Analytics

While playing football, Fran looked at every piece of data even though no one really talked analytics back then. He was eager to learn what his team was doing formation wise, and he used data and analytics to judge what they’re going to call in football and which place they’re going to be in depending on the situation that they we’re in.

Fran carried this strategy over to the business world. He has made it a habit to look at every number and every nickel and dime that his business spend. Did the business get more in return than what was spent? That’s what marketing is about. It’s about the dollars spent. You have to understand that if you spend money, what’s the return on that money? Make sure that everyone around you is data and analytics driven. Use data and analytics to make decisions that make sense for your business and bring that attention to every detail.

And Fran doesn’t stop there. He takes a step beyond that as an entrepreneur. He signs every check for his business. It’s something that he learned from Oprah Winfrey and that he has practiced for over 20 years.

You own a business. You sign every check that goes out. And when you do that you’re going to find mistakes, but that will help you to see where you’re spending your money and whether or not you’re spending money in the right places.


Be Yourself, Don’t be Somebody Else

The reason why several football coaches have failed is because they’re trying to be like Vince Lombardi and other famous coaches. They’re trying to be someone they’re not, and they failed miserably. It’s all right to learn from somebody else and learn what makes them successful, such as the strategies they used to succeed, or how they communicated with their teams, but you can’t be them. You have to be yourself.

It’s important to remember that you can learn from other people, but you have to be the authentic you. Don’t try to be something that you’re not. You’re perfectly good as is! Be comfortable in your skin and it will come out to other people that you are authentic and a person that they can trust.

Fran constantly works on improving himself so he can be a better teammate to his group of small business entrepreneurs and be a better coach for people that need his help.


Fran Shared Some Additional Advice During the Q&A Session:

  • When Building Your Team: Think as your employees as your partners. Don’t think of them as your employees. When hiring, bring people that share your principles and ethics. Also make sure that they’re able to do the job and that they’re smart. You have to have good teammates. You need to have a culture of love and respect for each other. They have to be able to build relationships.
  • Building Discipline: You can build discipline in yourself every day by having routines. You build in routines that allow you more time. Have the discipline of time management.
  • Use Technology to Your Advantage: Constantly think about how you can make things better. Think about how you can make your company engage with more people. Use technology to engage with people, such as social media and video that enables you to reach out to customers wherever they are. There has never been a better time to engage with people than how you are able to engage today. And you’re smarter because of that!

We hope you found the information that Fran provided useful, and that he was able to inspire you to keep going at it, work hard, and never give up on your small business. To learn more about GoSmallBiz, visit their website.

Have questions about how Kabbage can help grow your small business? Visit our website. Also, you can leave us a comment on Twitter: @KabbageInc, or email us at You can also sign-up for our free small business newsletter to get access to more webinars and business tips by entering your email in the form at the top of the sidebar of this blog.

Thanks for listening in, we hope to see you next time!





Kabbage Team

Kabbage is here not only to provide access to the small business funding you need, but to also help you grow your business through free marketing tips, webinars, tools and more. Is there something you'd like us to cover or want to get your small business featured on our blog? Send us a note at