Layout d’s, awesome blocks, sweet scubas, killer break forces, coast to coast plays, zone defence, swilly hammers, vicious blades, going ho’, and other arcane expressions are all from a particular sport which has proved to be a fertile breeding ground for startup successes.
A movie created by Joel Silver to try and fill the void after inventing Ultimate Frisbee
WhatsApp, Solar City, Google, all had founders who met and exchanged ideas on the Ultimate Frisbee pitch. You could say the sport got off to a good start, being co-invented Joel Silver, producer of the Matrix trilogy among other major movie blockbusters. Seth Godin, another creative and interesting heavyweight in the field of reinventing marketing is also a keen Ultimate player. Godin often cites it’s self refereeing ethos as a value worth having in other areas of your personal and professional life too. Dennis ‘Cribber’ Warsen is also another successful director who spent formative years playing ultimate to the highest level, winning Worlds on several occasions (he even almost played for Ireland’s Ultimate team too but that’s another story).
Dennis Cribber, image from Get Horizontal Interview by Mark Earley @
Writers are beginning to notice the links and a number of articles are beginning to emerge trying to identify why the sport of Ultimate Frisbee seems to lend itself so well as a breeding ground of teach start ups.
This article in particular is very popular at the moment, with this key paragraph
“I really think Ultimate resonates with the mentality of entrepreneurs. It’s a very dynamic, fast-paced game,” Peter Nieh, a venture capitalist at Lightspeed Venture Partners, tells Business Insider. “Players are called on to use a bunch of skills at once, just like our companies have to have a number of skills to succeed. You have to be able to sprint, but you have to have endurance as well.”
In Ultimate Frisbee, teams score points by throwing a Frisbee to teammates in endzones on opposite ends of a football field.
Nieh quickly rattles off names of fans of the sport within the tech community. “It’s everyone, from famous people to people in other functions at startups,” he said, naming Quora cofounder Charlie Cheever, SolarCity cofounder Peter Rives, and WhatsApp cofounders Brian Acton and Jan Koum among those who have been spotted at pick-up games around the Valley. Rives is known to be one of the top ultimate players in the world.
It seems an apt time to look at why ‘ultimate’, as those in the know refer to it, might be such a fertile place for future creatives and influencers.
Ultimate Frisbee’s ethos of no referees, self moderation and the important of ‘spirit’ are very similar to the hacker ethos of open source and copy left.
Unlike football / soccer, (which I love dearly), Ultimate is not about ‘playing the ref’, getting away with what you can while he’s not watching. The referee is you. Therefore you are cheating yourself, your team mates, and the ‘spirit of the game’. While that sounds a bit hokey, if you consider in any sport we play where it is not professional, we are, in theory, playing for fun. The clue is in the word ‘play’, as in, not work, for fun. Of course it’s true that we’ve all experienced times when someone, either ourselves, or the opposition, has forgotten this, and has taken the particular activity a little too seriously. However with Ultimate, playing in this self refereeing ethos is one of the core principles. If you consistently go against these ideals you will find even your own team mates are not interested in playing with you.
Looking at the opensource community there is a similar attitude. The idea is to build up the best possible solution to a problem. Many eyes will see many bugs. Time and time again the best products, built the quickest, with the least bugs, are those that were built in an open source environment, with shared API’s, wikis and discussion boards to illustrate and share elegant solutions, workarounds and fixes to problems. Large companies such as Microsoft have become slowed up and inefficient from years of locked in proprietary software. Ericsson too, for all of it’s many successes, still moves at a near glacial pace, and it’s latest migration to a new operating system remains many financial quarters behind it’s intended release date. Conversely small nimble companies have been able to build new products rapidly and successfully, as demonstrated by the success of Whatapp, another partnership first developed on the Ultimate field.
This would also seem to be reflected in the nature of playing Ultimate. All you need is a disc, the rest can be worked out. The more players the better, but there is no minimum or maximum. This flexibility also parallels the nature of working online in distributed networks. Sometimes there are many online and active, at other times less so. The work continues at it’s own pace. It begins to seem to be a natural fit. If you operate this way when at work, you might also be drawn to a similar type of variable, flexible, scalable activity when taking your downtime too.
With so many of the world’s leading tech companies and a thriving startup scene in Dublin, it makes sense to revive the Irish ultimate pickup scene too. With a particular emphasis on reaching out to both Irish entrepreneurs and also the many ex-pats who played in their own countries before moving to Ireland to work here. There are plans to create a Dublin Ultimate / Tech / Wearable Meetup mashup. If you’re interested in being part of this new meetup drop us a line @.
Hopefully in the future we will be reading articles about the Irish Ultimate Tech scene, trying out new cool wearable devices they have invented in their labs!