Start-up Strategies — from Lord of the Rings
Tolkien’s LOTR is considered by many as one of the greatest mythologies of all time…and like others (such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata etc) it is a storehouse of knowledge and strategies which can be applied to the present day. More useful are the analogies that if given a thought, work perfectly for an entrepreneur struggling with his startup.
So what is the aim of a startup? To become a unicorn! Some would say. Just like poor Frodo’s fight to cast the ring in the fires of Mount Doom! So if the aim of the entrepreneur were just that, he would need these people (from LOTR) to reach his goal.
- You are Frodo
Frodo, the unlikeliest candidate in middle earth is chosen with the task to reach Mount Doom. If you see, Frodo is tiny, thereby escaping notice of most. He has a strong yet small group of friends who are loyal to him and above all, he doesn’t question the goal. He is singular in purpose, relies on the advice of his trusted friends and follows his path without deterrence. The journey of Frodo will be like yours, where at each moment the game may change and all that is expected from you is that you follow the path resolutely. In the words of Lady Galadriel — “the quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fall, to the ruin of all!”
- Who’s your Gandalf?
Gandalf was the chief strategist in LOTR. He knew each piece on the chess table and how it would all fit together to help Frodo reach his goal. In a startup, a Mentor usually plays this role. Someone who is an expert in strategy and is trusted enough to rely on his counsel. It could be industry experts, people who have achieved success in their venture and if you’re very lucky it could turn out to be an investor who is as invested in this Company as you are! Remember, these guys can usually see the outcome of your venture, but they also know that success ultimately depends on execution.
- Who’s your Aragon?
One of the main protagonists of LOTR, Aragon has an impossible task to lead the battle. Interestingly, his entire family tree has failed at the task, middle-earth expects him to fail and he himself questions his ability to succeed. Still the quality that sets him apart is that he perseveres on even in the face of adversity and never looks back. Typically, such a person is your next in command — your co-founder, COO, CMO or the likes. He is committed to your cause and can step into your shoes if you have an emergency.
- Who’s your Sam Gamgee?
Frodo could never have completed the task if Sam hadn’t literally carried him through his journey to Mordor. Sam, the confidant, the one person who would bear the burden happily despite knowing that it wasn’t his to bear. This of course is your family, your spouse or your best friend who will hear you crib, stand by you when you are down, cheer you up but most importantly will never let you quit!
- Who’s your Golum?
Frodo wouldn’t have thrown the ring in the fire. Golum bit off his finger as he fell along with the ring in the lava of Mount Doom at the end. So who is Golum? A competitor, an employee or even an investment banker who finally helps the company reach IPO? It’s usually a bit of luck, in any way or form that helps one to reach that final goal. Never underestimate the power of sheer dumb luck!
An interesting anecdote from LOTR, when Gandalf is leading the way under the mines of Moria till he reaches a cross road and says “I have no memory of this place”. He is lost and ponders over the way to go. And finally chooses the path where ‘the air smells fresher.” So there it is — whenever you are confused about the way forward just trust your gut!
As published in Entrepreneur Magazine on 20th July 2016