Playing Big Ball by Finding Partners


When we have partners, we can achieve more than we could do on our own. When you stop trying to do everything yourself, and you find the right partner, you can stop playing small ball and start to play big ball.

A few years after retiring from the NFL, I took over running a company for some guys from Long Island. They had an idea, but they were out of money and couldn’t make it work, so I took it over and funded the company. But we still couldn’t make it work. We were a little nobody in a big business.

We realized that we needed a partner that could help us to scale up. My team identified a few companies in the same space that we went out to, but all of these prospective partners were people in the exact same position we were in—small players who had a similar solution to ours, and we couldn’t get the pieces to fit to scale.

But during the course of our search, I was introduced to a man named James Martin. At this point, he was already legendary in the tech community, and he accomplished a whole lot more in the decades after I met him until his death in 2013. But at that moment in time, he was running a struggling company that was very compatible with what we were doing. In fact, both of us were working on the same problem, but complementary halves. He was working on the front end, while my people were working on the back end.

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When I sat down for lunch with him, I was just starting to explain how I saw these two pieces working together, but it was obvious that he was way ahead of me. He had already figured it out, and saw how we could take our two small, struggling companies each holding half a solution and put the pieces together so that we could have one complete solution. We quickly closed a deal that combined our companies.

It turned out our resources and networks were complementary, too. We could stop playing small ball and finally compete on the big stage. On our own, we were both stuck, but together we could do something special. That decision to partner really launched us on a new trajectory.

I see examples of this all the time, that working together people can achieve more than they ever could on their own. It seems appropriate after this year’s NBA Finals, where we saw Lebron James doing everything he could as an individual on a basketball court—but the Golden State Warriors had a superior team, and could defeat even the most tremendous individual performance.

To compete and win at the highest level, it takes a team. One person, no matter how gifted, is never enough. With so many competing voices in today’s world, speaking in unison is essential to being heard.

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Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of and Tarkenton Companies. With a passion for small business, he’s started more than 20 businesses during and after his NFL career. Fran is a small business coach for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing advice and guidance through sites such as,, and more. He has written about business issues in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. New and World Report, and USA Today, along with regular appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. You can follow Fran on Twitter @Fran_Tarkenton.