Applying Sports Metrics to Startup Talent Evaluation

Measuring a player's contribution compared to a "replacement-level" player.


April 22, 2024


Steve Berry

Applying Sports Metrics to Startup Talent Evaluation

Evaluating design and product talent at startups is a task I approach with great reverence and responsibility. To streamline this process, I turn to an analogy from sports, particularly baseball, where the 'Wins Above Replacement' (WAR) offers a compelling framework for understanding value.

WAR measures a player's contribution compared to a "replacement-level" player, who represents the average player readily available in the market. The WAR metric is a measurement of exceptional contribution.

In the realm of startups, especially in their nascent stages, the impact of each team member is amplified. It's not enough to have someone who simply meets the basic requirements; startups thrive on the shoulders of those who bring extraordinary value and innovation.

When assessing designers, my first question is whether they meet the baseline — are they at least "replacement level"? If so, they pass the initial test.

The crucial question follows: How many 'wins above replacement' can they contribute? This question explores their unique talents, creativity, and potential to drive the organization forward. Identifying those rare individuals whose presence and work translate into significant leaps rather than incremental steps.

This evaluation framework helps clarify decision-making. Initially, startups require exceptional individuals, not just those who are competent. A merely 'replacement-level' designer might suffice in established companies with more defined roles and more diluted contributions. In startups, however, the quest is for those who bring something extraordinary — individuals who catalyze growth, innovation, and success.

Wins Above Replacement is a search for those rare talents who can significantly shift the baseline, propelling the startup beyond the ordinary.

Steve Berry
Principal, Thought Merchants

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