Startups, Star Wars, and Lessons from Rogue One
DISCLAIMER: I am not a movie critic, nor a philosophy guru, but do I love both startups and Star Wars. This is what happens when you merge the two!
This weekend, I went to to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I may have even gone to see it twice! Admittedly, I am a fan of not just the movie but all of Star Wars, LucasFilm, Disney, Marvel and much of the comic (and cosmic) universe. While the stories of the movies are exciting, the stories of the founders, companies, and teams that created the movies, technology, characters, and more can be instructive to any innovative team and startup company.
In a recent interview, Director Gareth Edwards referred to the value of movies in teaching lessons: “If kids are like computers and movies are the software that we feed into them, then this is what helps them learn right from wrong... without [these lessons], it’s just explosions and space ships, and Star Wars is more than that. It's why it’s lasted more than 30 years." While I am not sure I can call movies software for kids, the themes from movies can be significant influences in our lives.
Below are a few takeaways from the film that are useful for startups and innovative teams.
“Rebellions are built on hope” ...and so are Innovative Teams and Startups
The people who are working with you want to hope for something better. They want to believe the work they are doing matters. Thus, give your people hope. They may not be changing the world or saving the Republic from the the evil Empire, but they should know the impact of your solution on your customers.
Too often, leaders try to inspire their teams through the metrics they are being judged upon. In reality, giving your team an understanding of how the product they are building impacts the customer or end user is what gives them purpose.
Leaders Know Talk is Cheap, Results are what Matter
Being a soldier, Jyn Erso (the star and daughter of Galen Erso - architect of the Death Star) said, “I’ve never had the luxury of political opinions.” It is one thing to build a company or team on the idea of what it might become, it is something far more exciting and meaningful to deliver results.
Princess Leia perhaps summed this up at the end most clearly when a soldier asked her what the rebels had sent, and she responded, “They delivered hope.” Make sure your team is delivering results to your customers. Your customers are making a leap to trust you that your product or service will be better than what they have today. You need to deliver them hope.
Entrepreneurial Leaders Sense Opportunity and Seize It
In a meeting of Rebellion leadership, one of the principals asked, “What chance do we have?” To which Jyn answered, “What choice do we have?... The time to fight is now!"
People who talk about building a company, solving a hard problem, or even learning how to code tend to have one thing in common - they keep finding reasons to not start. True entrepreneurial leaders see the opportunity and future, and they start. If you want to learn code or start a company, then the most important thing you need to do is take the first step. If you do not, then others will.
Desperation and Skill Are a Startup's Two Best Friends
Jyn said “One fighter with a sharp stick, with nothing left to lose, can win the day.” When your cash flow is approaching your Zero Cash Date, it forces you to get innovative with how your win over customers, reduce costs, reduce churn... perhaps you finally figure out you were selling the to the wrong customer the whole time. Whatever the case, when times are tough, innovation is often highest.
In the movie as the rebels are getting ready to storm the base at Scarif to capture the Death Star plans, Jyn tells the rebel volunteers "We'll take the next chance, and the next, until we win, or the chances are spent." While the impact of failure in combat has dire consequences, the life of a company is no different. Most companies have a terminal date, and if you do not keep innovating and moving forward, the end date will come much sooner than you think.
Teams Take Time To Build
It does not happen overnight. Jyn told fellow Rebellion soldier Cassian Andor, “Trust goes both ways.” It took time for Andor to trust and believe in Jyn, but when he did decide to join her, he had already built the trust of a random group of Rebellion soldiers that come together as an effective team who all believed in her too.
People Follow Action More than Words
Even after Jyn’s passionate speech, the coalition of rebels decided not to participate in a raid on an Empire information center at Scarif. However, when she and her fellow soldiers went Rogue One and attacked anyway, the other soldiers then followed in kind.
Crisis Reveals Loyalty
Jyn said, “I’m not used to people sticking around when things go bad.” If you do not have a team that believes in the value and results being delivered, then you have a team that just believes in their paycheck. This transactional relationship will result in higher employee turnover, challenges between co-founders, and calls from investors to force a sale of the company or bring in new leadership.
If you spend the time nurturing relationships, maintaining consistent dialogue and vision, then your team - whether it be co-founders, employees, investors, partners, or others - will be with you when you need them.
Great Leaders Take Great Responsibility
Galen Erso (Jyn's Father) was the engineer who had purposely put the design flaw in the Death Star. He also sent word of the flaw to the Rebel Alliance. When Director Krennic threatened to kill his engineers on Eadu for espionage, Galen did not hide in the shadows. He admitted his role in the hope that his engineering team would be spared.
This is the ultimate type of responsibility, but as a founder and entrepreneurial leader sometimes you need to look at the impact of not taking responsibility for the little measures. When your team or investors lose faith in your ability to take responsibility, ultimately they will not expect you to take responsibility for the big decisions and actions.
Leaders Either Serve Others or Serve Themselves
Yes, a little part of me had to go to the movie just to see Darth Vader (and I loved it). When Director Krennic is summoned to meet with Vader, even the dark side wants to see humble servants as Vader delivers a force choke to Krennic and warns him to “Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director.”
While Darth Vader may not be the man you’d normally take leadership advice from, I believe this one-liner was a great piece of advice for any leader to follow. Why are you trying to build a startup? Is it for your own self-promotion or to ultimately serve your customers and the team that you assembled - who rely on you for the livelihood of their families?
Be aware of what is driving you and make sure it is in service to the purpose of your company and the team.
There Are People Who Believe in You
The Rebel Alliance had turned down the idea to go and retrieve the Death Star plans. A defeated Jyn returned to the ship, but Cassian and a small rebel force had assembled when they exited the council chambers ready to go into battle. They had believers.
Leading a startup can be lonely and you will feel there is no one you can turn, it will cause issues in your personal relationships, and you may feel no one is behind you. If people believe in you or are inspired by your commitment to an idea they too can believe in, then you will be pleasantly surprised to find those same people there for you in your time of need.
This is a Rebellion Isn't it? I Rebel!
The status quo is the enemy of progress. The challenge is many companies, institutions and customers are committed to it through their existing investments and even their core business model. Being different, thinking different, finding a new angle to solve a problem that can improve value for a customer should be your goal.
You need to build your Rebel Alliance - the first true believers that commit to developing a product at unreasonable deadlines, the first customer that agrees to beta test your product and actually gives you blunt, useful feedback, and those investors whom you commit to believing in your cause.
Being a rebel is about being active and moving forward, so stop talking and go do it!
Let Hivemetric Help Along the Way
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Featured Image Credit: BagoGames