君要臣死，臣非死不可 = [If the] king wants you dead, you facebook [it].
The difference between bullish and bullshit is down to the T.– Gabriel Chan
Germany has established a true worker’s paradise.
Anything that is complex is not useful and anything that is useful is simple.– Not Steve Jobs… Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, inventor of the time-tested assault rifle AK-47
Oda Nobunaga: if the bird won’t sing, I’ll kill the bird.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi: if the bird won’t sing, I’ll try to make it sing.
Tokugawa Ieyasu: if the bird won’t sing, I’ll wait for it to sing.
Lean Startup is like playing poker: don’t go all in without seeing your cards; fold if you have a shitty hand; fake it till you make it.
I don’t always watch movies, but when I do, I prefer to see right through them. Stuck on a plane to California, I watched Hunger Games for the first time, and I realized that to build a startup is to play the Hunger Games:
1. Find sponsors to improve survivability
Just like how a sponsor can be the difference between life and death in Hunger Games, an investor may be the difference between bankruptcy or living to die another day. Startups that aim for aggressive growth will feel the effect of investment more profoundly, as burn rate is likely high to drive the growth. Startups that prefer to take it slow or bootstrap are at risk of “sponsored” startups outgunning them strategically — you’d have to shoot a lot of wild animals for food to match the effectiveness of a constant supply line from sponsors.
2. Get people to like you to get sponsors
This is pretty straightforward: people only help others that they like. In the startup world, friends invest in friends, so it’s no surprised that successful entrepreneurs know everyone. Literally half the movie was spent showing this process, and indeed these events are more decisive in the long run than on the actual battlefield. Aside: this is also why I think Hunger Games is different than Battle Royale, at least when comparing the films.
3. Make an impression to get people to like you
Whether it is setting yourself on fire or shooting up your potential investors’ lunch, doing ridiculous things get you noticed, and while subsequent attention may offend some people, it usually connects you with the right type of investors. Showmanship played a strategic role in District 12’s victory. A taste for the theatrics will get a startup noticed among the sea of aspiring Mark Zuckerbergs, especially if you are in Silicon Valley, or Kitchener-Waterloo.
4. X% die from starvation
When your body runs out of energy, you die. When a startup runs out of cash, it dies. That’s why sponsors are so important. Startups by definition venture into unknown territory, and it’s not like a rabbit will fatally ram into a tree in front of you every day. Having sponsors keep you well-fed.
5. Y% die from exposure
Surviving nature’s elements is really the biggest challenge in Hunger Games, or any war; need not look any further than the invasion of Russia by _________ (insert any belligerent, except Genghis Khan). A startup’s death by exposure could be caused by legal issues, political factors, and socio-economic changes. Responsible startup founders protect themselves from exposure through proper financial and legal foundations.
6. Z% die from infection
An attack on the body’s immune system via open wounds that may ultimately end one’s life if left untreated. Startups similarly engage in daily trials and tribulations; teams, products, and processes all crack under pressure at some point. Good startups find ways to build comradeship, mend bugs, and revise processes; the not-so-good ones let broken systems rip their startup apart from within.
7. Red Ocean, Blue Ocean
Besides starving, infections, or by nature, the other major cause of death would be getting killed by the competition. The beginning of the actual Hunger Games was depressing to watch, because I can’t believe half the combatants went directly for the weapons in the middle… did they forget that they have zero re-spawn? All the smart ones went into hiding, so they may conduct battle at the field of their choosing. Startups that define new markets or new user behaviours thrive in the competitive advantages of their choosing. I wonder if the other teams had mentors like the one District 12 had, which leads me to my next point…
8. Good mentors get you far
Advisors who are experienced are obviously valuable, but if they are committed to your success, like District 12’s drunk ex-champion, their mentorship can go a long way, offer insider tips and leveraging insider connections to keep you going.
9. Be unstoppable in your core competency
There are many ways to kill a person, and a well-placed arrow is quite effective. District 12’s two players focused on what their core is: for the girl, it’s archery; for the boy, it’s sales & marketing. Together, they made a great team! Focus on one or two things, as a part of the team and as a business as a whole, and that will get you far.
10. Everyone is your Friend and Enemy
A straight-forward interpretation of the rules would call for a free-for-all. Smart players of the Hunger Games know when to make and break alliances. Companies in your space can be potential partners, merger or acquisition targets, while simultaneously a threat to your business. Knowing your space and industry is vital on the battlefield and in the world of startups.
11. Change the rules of the game
District 12’s outstanding performance (on the battlefield and in the hearts & minds of the public) prompted the Gamemasters to change the victory conditions. Startups that hit a continuous stride of success and influence may change or lead the industry and space that they operate in, and usually for the better. This should be the goal of any startup.
12. And may the odds be ever in your favour.
You are likely to die in the Hunger Games, and your startup (especially a first one) is likely to crash and burn. Being relentlessly resourceful like the District 12ers help tip the odds in your favour. And one more thing: you only live once, but the startup spirit can live forever, i.e. as long as you (and your wallet) can stand the lifestyle. Stick to your vision and execute relentlessly for the odds to be in your favour!
UPDATE: this blog post has been SlideShared!