8 lessons for your war (or startup) from Game of Thrones

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Some of us have read the books and some of us are also watching the series. If you think about the warring factions of Westeros like we do — as businesses — it gets more interesting. While watching Episode Seven it occurred to me that the series holds many lessons for startups. They might be subtle, but they are there.

We’ve come up with a list of Game of Thrones (GoT) pointers that we think your startup could benefit from. (Careful — there may be spoilers below for those who haven’t watched the latest season.)

Your family/team always comes first

What is the biggest bone of contention in this series? Family. It is all about this family versus that family. If your team is willing to stick together in the good and bad times, and put loyalty above all else, then you are on the right track. Think of the loyal Starks — it may not be working out so well for them, but at least they aren’t secretly plotting to kill each other (unlike the Lannisters).

Before you lead, learn to follow

If you intend to start your own business, you should probably learn how a business works. The best way to understand how a startup works, especially in the tech space, is to work for one first. Find a good startup and learn the ropes — just like Jon Snow had to when he first arrived at the Wall. Leadership and understanding don’t just appear. Even if you display these qualities, some lessons are required first.

Know your market if you’re going to rule Westeros

What is the point of this show? The chance to rule on the iron throne? Hardly. Well not completely, yes everyone wants to sit on the iron throne but truth be told they want to rule all seven kingdoms, that’s what the war is about. Unlike the Lannisters, who don’t quite seem to know their world all that well beyond the walls of their pretty castle, you have to know your market or what is the point of it all?

Trust is good — but be careful who you trust

If you are a fan of the show then you know that trust is in short supply in the Kingdom of Westeros. It’s pretty clear that almost every man/woman/girl/boy/wolf is in it for themselves. So be careful who you trust — ideas may be cheap, but if all your ones are taken before you can execute your plan, what is the point?

Stand out from the crowd

One of the best characters on GoT is Daenerys. She was a bit slow in revealing her greatness, but she is now a force to be reckoned with. In the startup world you don’t really want to be just another product that people may or may not want to use, you want to be the product. Like Margaery Tyrell says “I don’t want to be a queen. I want to be the queen”.

Careful who invests in your war (or startup)

Keeping your enemies close is probably good advice, but there is such a thing as too close. The Lannisters are out of money but there is war going on and wars need money, just like startups. So what does papa Lannister do? Go to the Tyrells for money — but this may have unintended consequences, such as the death of the precious Joffery. Your product is the blue-eyed king of your startup kingdom — make sure you can trust your investor. (Side note: Joffery did have it coming.)

Know your enemy/competitor

What is the first rule of war? Know thy enemy. You may not want to get too cosy, but if you are competing for audience attention then you need to know where they have the upper-hand and where your weaknesses are. In the game of war, your strongest links are as good as your weakest. Don’t spend all your time fortifying your strong links without figuring out where your weak ones are. The Starks learnt that the hard way — Red Wedding anyone?

Get tough: Arya tough

Growing up in Winterfell must make a person tough. Arya has survived a lot — watching her father die, fending for herself in the big bad world, and all this when she is only nine years old. If you are to start a business, you have to get off your ivory tower of “should be’s” and “coulda beens”. You have to be prepared to fail many times over and like Arya, get right back up to face the world.



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