Written by Elyse Soracco, ELP student

Questionable calls are part of every sport, and when they happen, there’s only one person to blame: the referee. But, in all seriousness, referees are central to team sports. As a soccer ref, I’m not just posing this argument for job security. Referees make sure games are played fairly and in the spirit they are meant to be played in. For the duration of the match, the referee must keep calm, act fast, and apply the rules that define the sport he or she is officiating.  

Sports teams and start-ups are more similar than they seem. In both, every play counts. It takes strategy, hustle, and consistency for success. Therefore, as a new company takes to the field – in whatever domain that may be – its team needs to know the opponents, objectives, and risks of each play. It’s not too far off from the demands of a sports match. So, to keep things running smoothly, every start-up needs a referee. 

Game Management 

Game management is a referee’s number one priority. In a nutshell, it means making sure the game is in control, which often comes down to keeping the coaches, players, and fans in check from the match’s start to finish. The ref isn’t there to make calls against your team; rather, referees provide the oversight needed to keep the game moving. 

It’s the same type of oversight that’s needed in entrepreneurship, only, managing a company is a scaled-up version of managing a game. Either way, keeping things moving needs to be a priority. Whether progress is made by raising capital or making sales, a start-up needs someone to oversee the bigger picture of the company’s existence without getting caught up in small details. 

Foul Recognition

Odds are, when you hear the word ‘referee,’ someone calling a foul is what comes to mind. In short, a foul is something you’re not supposed to do. The referee’s role is to keep the game fair, while sending the message that foul play will be called out and penalized. 

In terms of a start-up, foul play resembles unethical activity. In entrepreneurship, there’s no official rulebook, so it’s up to the company’s team to keep ethics in mind and in check. Therefore, it makes sense to have someone responsible for blowing the whistle and curbing foul play, just like in sports.

Unbiased Review

Now, to the controversy – sometimes it does feel like the ref is out to get your team. But then again, that comes from a spectator bias; it’s easy to get defensive of something you’re proud of or that you support. Whether that’s a sports team or a start-up, it is critical to remember the importance of impartial review. 

Referees, by definition, are independent parties. They are meant to apply the rules without bias and to settle disputes objectively. In a start-up, it is essential to have an impartial sounding board – someone who can look at the facts and form an opinion without giving the company the benefit of the doubt. In any entrepreneurial setting, there needs to be someone who can and will make objective calls. 

Put a Referee in the Line Start Up 

Let’s face it – the best sports matches have referees. They manage the game, keep the play clean, and provide an objective opinion. These are the same skills that boost success in entrepreneurial settings, leading to a focus on the bigger picture of the company, more ethical tactics and actions, and an ability to separate emotional attachments from company decisions. For these reasons, every start-up needs a referee on the team; however, be sure to state that no whistle is needed on the job posting. 


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