Startup Lessons From the Force

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By Austin Miller, Content Marketing Manager

You know about the blaster rifles, Jedi mind tricks, and dazzling special effects. You know about the Millennium Falcon, light sabers, and the green sage they call Yoda. But what you may not know, is the acute business lessons that lurk behind what has become one of the most successful movie franchises of all time. 

 

1. Taking Risks

via Flickr

via Flickr

“Fear is the path to the dark side”  -Darth Vader

Okay, so maybe fear won’t turn you into a Sith Lord—but it can and will keep you from seeing the light. Businesses that aren’t taking risks are going to have a hard time separating themselves from the pack. A unique product or a stand-out marketing campaign both require risk—calculated risk.

Here are some examples Forbes provides of startup successes that hinged on calculated risk taking:

Co-founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors; founder of SpaceX

When I started SpaceX, dedicated to reducing the cost and increasing the reliability of space missions, I’d never been involved in designing anything and had no experience in the aerospace industry. I even ended up pouring in most of the capital from the sale of PayPal. (SpaceX’s annual revenue is now over $100 million. In December 2008, SpaceX won a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to re-supply the International Space Station, an international research facility.)

Founder and CEO of Zynga, an online social gaming company (creator of “FarmVille” and “Mafia Wars”)

Greatest risk? Saying no to my last chance at funding for my (first) company Freeloader in 1996. We had one month of cash left, and the investor I lined up wanted me to hire the CEO of his choice in exchange for the funding. I walked away. We got funded a few months later and sold the company for a good return. (On the success of Zynga, a public relations rep said: “A news report had us at $100 million for revenues in 2009, and we said it was conservative.”)

The term “calculated risk” has become a bit of a platitude, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold water. If you want to calculate risk, you must do lot’s of research including AB testing. Conducting AB testing on small segments will allow you to test the waters before allocating large amounts of funds on a flawed strategy. Once you find a positive trends, you put yourself in the position to make a calculated decision.

2. Playing to Your Strengths

One of the biggest startup lessons George Lucas teaches us, is his ability to play to his strengths. What interests does George Lucas (the man) have? Fast cars, mythology, sociology, and outer space. What interests does George Lucas (the director) have? Fast cars, mythology, sociology, and outer space. Do you see the pattern? Of course you do, they're one and the same!

If you study Lucas's background, his class choices, and his childhood—you will see that many of the things that interested him before his directorial debut—are the things that carry over into his work.

Whether it’s creating content or a new product—entrepreneurs need to form a strategy around their strengths. That’s not to say you can’t be successful otherwise, but going against the grain will undoubtedly be a more challenging up hill battle. 

If you find yourself getting bored with your core content or product—consider hybridizing. Hybridizing allows you to explore the boundaries of your niche without abandoning your core message or products. This can be done by finding intersecting points between niches.

For example—using a popular movie franchise to discuss business principles. Sound familiar?

Our core objective at #Booklyinsight is to be “Champions of Small Business.” Are we talking about business principles in this article? Yes. Are we also talking about Star Wars? Definitely. And by doing so we’re able to provide hardcore insight with a new twist and hopefully attract non-traditional readers to our site. In fact, one of our most popular articles of 2015,  4 Powerful Marketing Lessons from Willie Wonka's 'Golden Ticket' Campaign, is based on this very concept.

When it comes to products, the same principles apply. Nintendo for example, began as a simple card game company. They slowly moved their way into the consumer electronic space. Are they still a gaming company at their core? Yes. Have they learned to hybridize their product? Without a doubt. And good on them for doing so! If Nintendo to were remain a card making company, do you think they would have ever become a house-hold name worth $18.4 billion? 

3. What it Takes

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Via Flickr

“Try Not. Do, or do not. There is no try." -Yoda

Effort is a valiant attribute, but how many businesses are remembered for making a good run at it? How many people can support their family on a “good try”?

Failure will happen a long the path to greatness, but what separates those who make it to the top are those who learn from their mistakes. This is Yoda’s council, this is doing.

Clinical Psychologist Guy Winch proposes four steps for learning from failure:

  • Reevaluate your planning
  • Reevaluate your preparation
  • Reevaluate your execution
  • Focus on variables in your control

4. Networking

via Flickr

via Flickr

“Someone has to save our skins”  - Princess Leia

When George Lucas graduated from USC Film School, he made a pact with some of his schoolmates, that if one of them made it big—they would help the others do the same. Who were these friends? None other than Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, and Steven Spielberg. In fact, it was Coppola who produced George Lucas’s first two films THX 1138 and American Graffiti

It can be tempting (for a variety of reasons) to go the lone-wolf route. But being a solopreneuer means spreading yourself thin with less tools at your disposal. Networking allows you to develop strategic partnerships. It’s not bullish to say, that if George Lucas had not got his first two films off the ground, Star Wars might have never come to fruition. 

5. Foresight

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There are many who can do just fine making money off side-hustles that generate a few hundred here and a few thousand there. But when it comes to building and sustaining a business—owners must have incredible patience and foresight. They must always have one foot in the present and one in the future. Generating funds for the present, while posturing for the future.

One of the most remarkable things about George Lucas besides his on-screen vision, is his off-screen prowess. At the time of Star Wars’ release, merchandising was not nearly as lucrative as it is now.  In 1973 he turned down the studios' offer of a $500,000 salary in exchange for $150,000, and merchandising/sequel rights. 

Many of us in George Lucas’s place would have taken the easy money and ran. But his ability to visualize the future is what makes him the richest man in Hollywood ($5.1 Billion Net Worth).