Finding Product/Market Fit With the Ghostbusters: A Startup Success Story

Ghostbusters is one of my favourite movies. I was struck by how many fascinating parallels there were between the journey of the Ghostbusters and many modern-day tech startups. Here are some notes I jotted down about some of them, for your enjoyment.

New York has a problem.

It’s the 80s. New York has problems. A lot of problems. But out of nowhere, a whole new class of problem has arrived: little old ladies are getting harassed. In libraries. Not by the thugs or criminals that you might expect of this giant metropolis. By something else. Something new.

Strange things have started happening: books are moving themselves between shelves, library cards are flying all over the place (consult a history book to find out what library cards are). But this is only the tip of the iceberg, mere symptoms of a disease that is looming over this great city like a slightly transparent and sticky Godzilla.

The real problem is actual ghosts. Ghosts that are scaring the living shit out of people, including the aforementioned innocent little old ladies in libraries. It’s a brand new problem in the world, one it has never had to deal with before. It’s increasingly desperately in need of a solution. Who will step up to deal with it?

This is a not-uncommon scenario in the modern digital age, where we’ve got Internet and technology and mobile and drones and social literally seeping out of every nook and cranny: suddenly we’re presented with these interesting new challenges that have seemingly come out of nowhere. Weird and cool things are going on everywhere. Industries that have been quietly dominant and/or monopolistic are finding their very existence threatened by this explosion of technology. Nothing that’s happen so far has looked like an obvious harbinger of the apocalypse (yet), but for many citizens these things seem no less mystical.

Today, people are paying attention to these things with a sort of eagle-eyed intensity. Partially because they’re fascinating and fun in their own right, but mostly because of the opportunity that has been presented. Teenagers hacking code in their basement can now become millionaires overnight. Tiny startups can demolish entire market segments. The potential to disrupt has never been greater.

Identifying an opportunity based on a problem is the first step. The next step is convincing other people this opportunity is real, and that perhaps there’s money (or an important difference, perhaps, for social enterprises) to be made.

Once you’ve done that, you’ve got your founding team.

The founding team

Back in the increasingly ghost-infested 1984 New York, as fate would have it, there’s a few people that have been tinkering around the edges of the paranormal problem space for a while. They’ve got theories, hypotheses, ideas — but until now, they’ve been nothing but highly speculative concepts, a solution in search of a problem.

These guys have a unique combination of skills, knowledge and enthusiasm, and they’ve been butting their heads against this for a while. They don’t know it yet, but they’re about to embark on a startup ride. Let’s meet them.

Dr Peter Venkman

First up, we’ve got Dr Venkman. He’s got PhDs in parapsychology and psychology, but it’s clear from the outset that his approach to science has not exactly won him the respect of his peers.

But even more clear is that he’s a hustler. He’s charismatic and makes things happen. He knows how to talk to people to get them to do what he wants. In person, he’s a great communicator, and we can see from our first encounter with him that he’d make a great used car salesman.

In the modern startup world he’d be a fantastic member of any founding team. He’s got solid domain knowledge with this two PhDs, even if he is probably not really up-to-speed on the technical side. He’s frustrated at the status quo and we quickly learn that he has little patience for the bureaucratic institution that he’s wound up in.

He’d be great for client-facing work, developing new leads — but most importantly, getting out there and making the all-important sales that are often the difference between startup success and failure.

Dr Raymond Stantz

Upon meeting Ray, we can immediately can see he’s that hyperactive guy that is super enthusiastic about, well, pretty much everything. But he’s clearly smart. He knows his stuff.

He can also talk the talk — he’s more on the technical side but if you throw him in front of a client he knows what to do. He’s one of those all-important types that is able to translate technical concepts and communicate them to non-technical stakeholders.

Having someone like Ray is important — someone who is flexible enough to actually get his hands dirty with the technology, but is also capable and smooth enough to get involved in negotiations and sales when required.

Dr Egon Spengler

Egon could not more obviously be the technical co-founder. When we first meet him, he’s performing a completely incomprehensible task — the kind of thing that would be immediately familiar to anyone that has observed any hardcore nerds in their element.

He’s obsessive, focused, and stereotypically bad with humans. Getting his attention is challenging, and when you do you’re often left feeling like you’re keeping him from doing something ridiculously important.

Having a serious technologist is almost a must-have in most startups these days. Someone with domain expertise who is more than happy to sit down for 16 hours a day and bang out code or hack on things in the lab. Egon is that guy.

We’ll see later that he’s still a valuable contributor on the business side as well — something that is important in an early-stage startup when everyone is typically wearing multiple hats— but his place on the team is to make the magic happen.

The calm before the storm

At the start of the movie, these guys have been working pretty casually in their area — it’s clear that (especially in Venkman’s case) they haven’t been taking it too seriously. Until this point, everything they’ve been working on has really just been an academic problem, in the most literal sense of the term.

The introduction to the movie highlights the fact that what they’ve been doing has not yet become a business opportunity — and in fact, it’s barely something that’s even grounded in any sort of reality.

After we’re first introduced to the team and they’re just about to go out to visit the little old lady in the library, it’s clear that it’s mostly just part of the routine for them. They’re just performing the motions, not really expecting anything (well, except for Ray, whose unbounded enthusiasm is probably the only thing getting Venkman out the door).

What they don’t realise at this point is that they’re on their first sales call — what they’re doing is meeting a potential client. The first — of many? — that has a problem that they are uniquely positioned to be able solve.

Assumptions & evidence

They’re about to embark on one of the first steps from the startup playbook — validate assumptions. They’re doing this just as part of their normal scientific routine, of course, but the parallel is pretty clear.

And lo, off they go to check out the report from the New York Public Library about ghosts. They’re going to see if this is real and to collect some evidence to support their forming hypotheses.

This whole process is so fascinating and so much what like any startup will have to do that it deserves to be broken down in some detail.

To the library!

First steps

They reach the library and start talking to the library staff — again, all without realising they’re having their first meeting with a potential client: people with a problem that they can’t fix themselves.

After talking to the staff and developing some initial impressions, it’s clear something is up. The team heads downstairs to the scene, equipment at the ready.

Downstairs

It’s clear to the two more seriously technical guys on the team — Egon and Ray — that something is up. Right from the outset as they head downstairs, they’re focused, and gathering data.

Biz guy Venkman knows he needs to be there, but has no idea what is going on. His face shows how much he wants to be there — but also that he doesn’t see how he can contribute to whatever is going on. At this stage he’s just along for the ride, wishing he was back in the lab where he could be continuing his own quirky brand of research.

First contact

As they walk around the basement of the library, they get more excited. There are a few clues — splatters of ectoplasm, inhuman book stacks. Nothing concrete, but enough to keep them interested.

And then they see it. An actual ghost. With their own eyes. Real, incontrovertible evidence that everything they’ve been working on for their whole professional lives is about to undergo a massive paradigm shift, perhaps like nothing ever seen before.

Sound familiar? Mobile Internet. iPhone. Facebook. Twitter. Uber. These guys have just realised they’re the first on the scene at something that will alter the very fabric that stitches society together. Like many such changes, it is accompanied with a strong sense of terror and dread.

But they’re academics! What are they going to do, write a paper for Nature and go back to running card trick experiments with undergrads?! Probably, right?

Knowledge & wonder

Their foray into the library has been incredibly productive. They’re stunned and surprised by what they’ve found, caught almost completely by surprise by the fact that their academic knowledge might actually turn out to have some practical application.

Egon, the practical engineer, reveals that in addition to bearing witness to something incredible, he’s gathered data that indicates they can take things in a whole new direction. His brain is ticking over in high gear about potential applications of technology and how they might be used to tackle this new problem space.

In classic academic style, Ray is excited by the discovery, thinking about the new papers that can be written, the grants that can be applied for and the seemingly inevitable new flow of funding and publications that mark success in the world of academia.

Growing realisation

But Venkman is struck by a different realisation. You can see in the clip below the moment that it happens — the expression on his face changes as he glimpses a new future, the seed of a plan crystallising, as Egon explains what might be possible with the information they’ve just collected.

Demonstrating an uncanny savvy and awareness that they might be on to something, he casts a furtive look around to make sure noone else is listening, protecting it from casual intellectual property theft, before asking if Egon is serious.

Catalyst

Venkman’s moment of inspiration could have instantly been forgotten if not for what happens next. They return to the university, only to discover their offices are being packed up. The Dean, clearly happy to finally be rid of these reckless sham scientists, informs them gleefully that their funding has been cut. Their lack of tangible results has finally caught up with them — completely unsurprising, really.

One on hand, the timing couldn’t be worse for the team — they’ve finally gotten actual empirical evidence that supports their until-now purely hypothetical work, like nothing else possibly could.

But on the other hand, the timing couldn’t be better! How many startups exist because of a weird change in personal circumstances forced someone to try something new? (Remember when Brian Acton was rejected for a job at Facebook, and then went on to found Instagram?) Now they’ve got nothing to lose.

(Sadly for the dean, their department, and the university, they don’t realise that the team have just made one of the biggest breakthroughs of all time. The lesson here for academic administrators is that you should really try to make sure you’re fully up to speed with what your researchers are doing before you decide to cut their funding.)

So this event — while initially seemingly very bad news —seems like precisely the catalyst the teams needs…

… to go into business

In the time-honoured tradition of those dealing with bad news, Venkman and Stantz talk and drink. But Venkman realises that his vision wasn’t just an idle idea — it’s their destiny.

Stanz, used to being upbeat and happy, is miserable. He’s clearly got misgivings about leaving cozy academia and doesn’t want to disrupt the status quo that he’s enjoyed for many years.

But Venkman’s vision is infectious. Stanz can’t help but be captivated; it’s clear that he wants to do something with the new knowledge they’ve gained.

First roadblock

The highs and lows they’ve experienced in only a few short hours! They’ve made great discoveries. They’ve been turfed out, literally onto the street by their former employer. Their lives are in ruins.

But all of this is overshadowed by one thing: the realisation that their knowledge, their skills, has a new commercial value that didn’t exist until today. Now is the right time, this is the right place.

There’s only one problem, which Ray is quick to point out — they need bread. What they want to do requires financial support. They can’t just hack code and build something from their bedrooms while eating ramen — they have serious capital requirements because their business requires specific infrastructure.

The guys are used to having the university deal with the boring money stuff. Where could they go to get the money they need?

Bootstrapping

We’re not subject to watching the team go through a typical startup fundraising process in anything like real time. We can assume that they quickly dismissed the idea of trying to raise venture capital — who would take their idea seriously?! They know they’ve got to get under way quickly, or they’ll fall behind.

So — perhaps after some encouragement from Venkman — Ray re-mortgages his house, boldly plunging himself into presumably staggering amounts of debt to raise necessary cash for the team to get their startup off the ground.

Lean

Again, their business is not a modern day startup. They can’t find a co-working space or work from home; their infrastructure needs are too big — they need a place to house their gear.

But their office search embodies the lean startup spirit — they’re looking at the cheapest, skankiest place they can find. Egon is quick to point out all the flaws — or is he possibly is just being a cunning negotiator?

But Ray’s obvious enthusiasm wins the day — the deal is sealed, they’ve committed to their first big expense — their office lease.

Biz Guy

It’s worth taking the time to make special note of Venkman here: even though he seemed casually dismissive of Stantz’s concerns about the money and his mortgage, he’s clearly thinking hard about every cent they’re spending. Stantz’s enthusiasm overshadows his awareness about anything to do with the financials — despite it being mostly his money that is being spent!

But Venkman, again showing a keen awareness about the business aspects that you might not have expected, is clearly thinking about it.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in New York…

The setting changes. An apartment on Central Park. Dana Barrett gets out of a yellow cab, laden with groceries. She enters her building, part of a comfortable routine. We meet her slightly eccentric neighbour. She unpacks her groceries. We get a brief glimpse of her life in a world where everything is normal.

Until now.

Eggs start boiling in their shells, exploding out of their carton. A disturbing noise emanates from the fridge. She opens it, to find a fiery landscape inhabited by a demon. She has a problem.

Marketing

We also get our first glimpse of the team’s marketing attempts. Back in the 80s they weren’t spoiled for choice with all the terribly scammy SEO optimisation companies we have today (oh yeh, and no real Internet), so in terms of getting the word out about their new venture, their options were limited to television.

We’re treated to a classic low-budget TV ad — the first time we hear the word Ghostbusters — demonstrating their frugal approach to marketing. This is another startup classic.

Speaking of low budget

We’re reminded again that Venkman is worrying about their cash position when Ray rocks up with the new company car — another required expensive piece of critical infrastructure. It’s a clunker that has a laundry list of problems.

When he hears what was paid, Venkman’s facial expression tells the story.

Open for business

But finally — The Ghostbusters are open for business!

They’ve done all the boring paperwork to get incorporated. They’ve got a lease on a building. Egon has been hard at work in the background doing his nerd stuff — building, hacking, and testing, hopefully proceeding as planned.

They’ve got their first hire — Janine, the receptionist. They’ve bought a car, opened bank accounts, bought filing cabinets — in short, done the boring things you need to do to give birth to a company in the great state of New York.

There’s only one problem: The Quiet.

The Quiet

Despite all their hard work, nothing is going on. No customers are walking through the door. Their marketing budget — part of their dwindling cash reserves — seems to have failed to make an impression. No customers are calling. Their home-produced commercial seems to have failed.

Until Dana rocks up.

The first lead

A walk-in customer is not something that today’s tech startup has to deal with. But when it happens, you pay attention. Dana doesn’t want to be in this crappy neighbourhood walking into this building that looks like it’s about to collapse. But she’s got nowhere else to go — she’s got a problem that nobody else is even pretending they’re able to solve.

The Ghostbusters are her only hope — this scrappy mob of guys saying they can do outlandish things that only caught her attention because of the sheer outlandishness of what they were talking about.

Venkman overhears Dana talking to Janine. With the natural instinct of a hustler, he switches immediately into charm/sales mode. Before Dana knows it, she’s talking to an actual co-founder, demonstrating to her that he has a deep, personal interest in wanting to help her out.

Impress

He knows he has to impress: they desperately need this first client. They need to validate their business model, and just as importantly need some income to help keeps the lights on.

He casually notes that her weird story is literally their bread and butter — knowing that embellishing the truth a bit, to the eye-rolling hilarity of Janine, might help seal the deal.

Yet again we see Venkman’s perfect suitability for his role in their startup. He’s done whatever it took to make their first sale.

There’s an initial consult with the technical team — Ray and Egon — to see if she’s a real, viable, potential client. She passes the test, and Venkman is dispatched to Dana’s apartment with the tools.

The right track

Venkman doesn’t find anything. Even worse, he takes his charm thing too far, risking alienating their first customer by hitting on her.

But it’s a start. The team, realising this is a momentous occasion, celebrates the opening of their sales pipeline — and their first conversion from their crappy TV ad — with takeout, toasting their customer with beers.

The financial squeeze

But instantly, we’re reminded that they’re nowhere near cash flow positive yet. They’re working late, eating in the office. In the background is an unmade bed — some of them are actually living in the office! Their next words hammer in their dire financial position.

Venkman knows things are looking a bit grim. It’s not clear if they have the runway they need to actually get their business off the ground. We can assume they still think raising capital is not going to happen — so they desperately need customers.

Right about now, we can imagine what they must be thinking. “What the hell have we done? Was this a terrible idea?” They’re not confident they’ve found product/market fit. They’re wondering if they’ve over-estimated the scope of the problem — maybe there’s only going to be a tiny number of ghosts. Maybe their tech will be completely useless.

The Call

But just when things are looking dire — they get The Call.

Janine is also working late — obviously she’s a keen and dedicated worker (or maybe she’s just getting paid overtime).

She answers the phone. Until now we’ve only seen her bored countenance — she’s just at work to get paid. But we see her excitement grow as the conversation continues. She gets involved in the conversation; she takes down the right details and communicates well with the customer.

The founders have obviously done a great job infecting her with their vision —she might look bored, but she really wants things to happen for the company. She’s part of the team, and now it looks like they’re going to get somewhere she’s super excited.

Before the team know it, they’re on their feet and rolling out to the job. Reflexes kicked in, presumably due to extensive training for this scenario — training that, so far, has not been applied in the field.

Venkman — ever-vigilant about expenses and not wanting to waste anything — takes his food with him.

(Aside: we see in the background that they’ve spent some of their cash on arcade machines. Classic startup.)

Making an impression

The team are making their first public appearance. Venkman in particular knows that making a splash will help their cause —the more noise they make, the more people will take notice, and the more leads they might be able to generate.

Venkman takes the lead, entering with flair. It’s clear they will be remembered (for better or for worse). But also obvious from the scene is that they think they’re really on to something here — they’ve arrived fully tooled-up, and we get our first glimpse at the output of Egon’s engineering work, strapped to their backs.

Assuring the client

They’ve gotten their foot in the door. Their customer has a big problem, but they know that this is all new territory — they don’t want to do anything to blow it yet.

Ray, demonstrating his multi-functional skill set, exudes confidence, to the pleased surprise of Venkman, who figured he’d be shouldering that burden.

The team are on point and on message.

The task ahead.

Once alone in the elevator on the way upstairs, the team are immediately faced with the enormity of the task ahead. Their faces show that it’s make or break time — all their swagger, all their work, all their innovation has lead to this moment, and now they have to prove themselves. They’re stressed and nervous — can they perform?

Aside: regulations & licensing

The elevator chat shows they’re still lean. They’re working with prototypes, MVPs that’ve been hacked together in the best startup fashion of Just Making Something That Kind of Works Enough We Hope. Ray — nervous — reminds them that they’ve not tested them that well.

Venkman notes their gear is unlicensed — they’ve almost certainly skipped a lot of the boring paperwork and regulatory hurdles that they would have done if they were a giant company. They probably don’t even have patents on any of their unique hardware.

Their goal was to make some gear that would get the job done. Everything else has been secondary.

Trial by fire

What follows is a cinematic masterpiece.

But the important part is that this is their startup’s trial by fire. This is where they find out if all the hard work — their theorising, their engineering, their business modelling — will come to anything.

Things don’t go perfectly — housekeeping trolleys are destroyed, staff are terrorised, walls are flambed, Ghostbusters are slimed.

Engineering belatedly reminds sales/bizdev about a critical flaw in their gear (“don’t cross the streams”). This is presicely the kind of thing that you leave out in your sales pitch as a limitation of your product, but typically you’d probably want your field agents to know about it well in advance. Luckily, Egon — the guy that actually hacked all this stuff together — is out in the field with them, and is able to save them from potentially blowing their first gig (and possibly disintegrating each other).

First Victory

We see that the client was just starting to lose confidence. All they can see is a mess getting created, possibly making things much worse than they were before.

The manager is freaking out — his ass is going to be on the line, bringing in this unruly startup. But what choice did he have? He couldn’t follow the usual “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” routine — there are no large players in this space. He had to roll the dice on this mob.

But it worked.

Closing

Flushed with success of dealing with their first enterprise client, the team start to seal the deal.

They’re literally creating a new industry here — they’re trying to figure out the product/market fit is more or less on the fly, and they don’t really know how the supply/demand side works.

They come up with their pricing model on the spot, while they’re literally writing up the invoice in front of the client.

The customer pushes back, but the team know he’s over a barrel: instant vendor lock-in. Supply and demand is way out of wack, and they’re taking advantage of it while they can.

Watching Egon in this clip. Observe how Egon prompts Venkman for the pricing, subtly throwing up fingers to indicate how many thousand dollars they should be billing for. Venkman, paying close attention to Egon while smoothly handling the client, absolutely seamlessly integrates the pricing Egon is putting out and delivers it in a manner that seems smooth, routine, and practised.

Their delivery works. The customer realises he can’t afford not to pay them — he needed the ghost gone, and now he needs them gone. They’re on their way to finding product/market fit.

The Wild Ride

We’re treated to a montage of their roller coaster ride of success. Their efforts have paid off — the problem of ghosts is scaling up just as they predicted, and they’re able to reap the rewards of being the only company that was in the right place and the right time. Indeed, they show all the signs of having a complete monopoly on the ghostbusting business.

They’ve got more work than they know what to do with. They’re the heroes saving the city from this new terror and everything is just swell.

Working the pipeline

But despite their new found fame, fortune, and frantic work life, the team haven’t forgotten about Dana. She’s still in their sales pipeline — she’s got a problem that’s right up their alley, but one they haven’t figured out how to resolve with their current set of tools, services, and systems. But they want to — maybe it will open up a new revenue option they can apply to other clients.

Venkman tracks her down and reveals what they’ve figured out so far (while angling for a date, successfully as it turns out — sometimes business can mix with pleasure). But the team is about to start running into a few roadblocks.

Scaling grief

Business is actually so good they’re having scaling issues. We see them exhausted, almost depressed by how much work they’re doing. They need another pair of hands; Winston Zeddemore gets the job seemingly for just being the only person to turn up to offer to help — they need another warm body desperately so don’t waste time running any sort of HR process on him.

Janine is struggling in the office, and is not happy about it. Venkman provides a classic example of a kind of management failure that causes employee morale to slip, not offering Janine any real solace and just irritating her, which she promptly then takes out on a customer over the phone.

The wrong side of the law

Their next problem is scarier: the law has finally come knocking. Their lack of paperwork and adhering to regulations in the early days is coming back to bite them. The Environmental Protection Agency is worried that they’re exposing the city to risk and Walter Peck is here to express the full dissatisfaction of the regulatory authority.

Venkman, grumpy from another hard day, deals with it gracelessly, throwing the EPA agent out.

It’s your classic case of a slow-moving government agency not keeping up with technology, trying to enforce out-of-date laws on these new ambitious companies that are braving new frontiers. Right?

Technical problems

As if that wasn’t enough, Egon is worried. He’s been crunching the data, and it looks like their containment grid is struggling — an issue that they didn’t have to worry about with one or two ghosts in there, but now they’re hitting the ceiling on their technology. And there’s something big on the horizon.

Another classic startup problem — dealing with technical scale. Back in the 80s they don’t even have platitudes about the panacea that is ‘cloud’ to give them an option for their tech stack! As with almost any hardware-based tech company, their scale issues are unique and challenging. Theirs more so as they’re the ones literally inventing the hardware to deal with their own challenges.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in New York…

Unbeknownst to the Ghostbusters, Dana’s situation has evolved. The precise nature of her problem has started to crystallise, which you think she’d be happy about, what with finally having more data to provide to the team so they can really start resolving it.

Unfortunately a minor side effect is that she has been grabbed by terror dogs and hauled into a horrifying unnatural burning plane of existence.

Her neighbour Louis is also dragged into the situation at the same time, demonstrating Venkman’s prescience again as it seems they are definitely going to have multiple customers with the same problem.

Venkman, arriving at Dana’s for their date, discovers that something is going down — she’s possessed by Zuul, tranforming into the Gatekeeper. Louis has become Vinz Clortho the Keymaster. Venkman and Egon discuss these events, and realise the they are harbingers of the “something big” Egon was worried about.

Stantz and Zeddemore, driving back from a job, talk about the blueprints for Dana’s apartment building — starting to realise it is the epicentre. Zeddemore points out that “something big” might be the End Times. Stakes are raised.

The Man returns

Government moves slowly, but inexorably; once the wheels of the bureaucracy have started spinning, they generate momentum that cannot be stopped.

The Ghostbusters get a lesson in government interference and warfare-by-lawyers: the EPA guy has returned with a cease and desist letter.

What started as merely a grimly amusing problem of government not grokking modern tech could be about to kill their business.

Even worse: the team knows that their service is already integral to the very fabric of the city. They’ve been running around cleaning up these ghosts, and letting them all out could have massively dire consequences —like if you just randomly turned off the Internet because of some arbitrary legal dispute.

The citizens of New York don’t realise it — but their safety and liberty have become completely dependent on the existence of the Ghostbusters (and their containment grid).

It’s as if all the taxi drivers in the city had given up in the face of Uber and Lyft, and then the city immediately suspends all “ride sharing” services.

It’s a sign

Despite the best efforts of the team to rein in the flailing hand of regulation, the containment grid is shut off.

Chaos reigns. New York is ravaged by a plague of the supernatural, and, having thrown the Ghostbusters in jail, is currently suffering from a terrible case of vendor lock-in.

We are reminded about the risks of monopolies and the dangers of reckless government enforcement in areas of high technology.

Rock bottom

Things aren’t going that great for the team either. They’re in jail, with their business in ruins. They will be cleaning their office for days.

Even worse, they know that they’re going to be stuck fixing this mess.

Stuck in prison, they expound on new theories, centred around Dana’s building. They get a refreshing break in which they’re able to think about the problem from new angles, no longer distracted by the daily grind — but the stakes are now higher than ever.

A break

Finally, some good news. The mayor’s asked to see the Ghostbusters, realising that what is going on exceeds the bound of the normal — the police can’t help. The fire department can’t help. Their usual vendors will happily accept their dumptrucks full of government money to try to fix the problem and spend billions before everyone realises they’re not actually able to do anything constructive.

It’s time for a political hail Mary. Bring in the plucky startup gang!

Team Sales Call

The entire team is in front of the mayor. They realise they’re on the sell job of their life. They’ve got an audience with the mayor, in front of other civic leaders of the city — who admit they’ve got no idea what’s going on. The EPA guy Peck is there, trying to discredit them and get them out of the picture, painting them as responsible for the disaster unfolding on the streets of the city.

They know that this is not only their only chance to save their business, but it might be their only opportunity to save their city.

Lead by Venkman, the team leaps into action, making an impassioned plea to get the opportunity they need to save the world. Venkman, again demonstrating his acumen as a salesman, knows what buttons to push, eventually scoring the points they need.

The Ghostbusters are back

The team head straight to Dana’s apartment, hitting the street in full PR mode. The crowd loves them; Venkman performs, knowing that if they succeed this moment will be cemented in the minds of the citizens here. (Of course, if they fail, they’ll be dead, so they might as well have some fun with it, right?)

They tread, slowly and largely vertically, into the unknown.

Shifts in the problem space

The team make it to the top of the apartment building just in time to see that the situation evolving rapidly. The Gatekeeper and the Keymaster have formed their unholy union at the summit of spook central.

The sky crackles with evil energy; a portal has opened to Gozer’s terrible plane of existence. Things are looking grim.

First attempt

The team approach this new situation carefully. Venkman, assessing the scene, makes a quick decision and assigns this complicated task to the multi-talented Ray, deciding he has the best combination of skills to deal and is the most capable of displaying adaptability.

Solid management technique and excellent delegation of responsibilities.

Except Ray makes one small error in judgment: he informs Gozer that he is not, in fact, a god — a statement that in many other cases would probably go down without any major complications. Unfortunately here it leading to them all nearly getting thrown off the building by the deadly electric blasts from Gozer.

The old fashioned way

Well, it’s back to the drawing board.

The team know how to deal with the supernatural, right? They’ve been doing it for months. So it’s back to Plan A.

They get on their feet. They unsling their positron colliders with the calm assurance that comes from well-orchestrated practice, routine and experience. They approach Gozer warily but confidently, ready to unleash the expertise that got them to where they are.

But all for naught.

Uh oh

Their usual methodology and client servicing process looks like it worked at first, but Egon — paying attention to the readings he continues to gather while the others declare Miller time — knows it’s not over yet.

A voice from the sky speaks, asking them to call forth the Traveller. Ray makes the Choice.

A new challenge

A new challenge appears: a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow man. Nothing in their experience has prepared them to deal with this — an Outside Context Problem like nothing the team — or the world — has ever seen before.

Blast it

Well, they try the usual bag of tricks anyway. Just in case. But it results in them almost catching fire and burning to death, so they regroup. Rethink. They’re running out of time and options, to save their business, their city, their world.

Pivot

And then it happens: the Pivot.

Their approach isn’t working. Everything they’ve tried has fallen short in the face of this problem — their technology isn’t working against it and they can’t go back to the drawing board.

Their business is doomed unless they can find a new way to deal with this sudden, unprecedented shift in market conditions.

Egon thinks furiously about potential new applications with their existing tech. He comes up with only one radical option: crossing the streams.

It flies in the face of everything they know. They know it’s dangerous — but they’re down to the wire, and it’s their only hope.

Success

Success! Not only were the team able to develop a plan to pivot, they were able to implement it and flawlessly execute it on the spot.

The team have come through for their long-time client Dana — despite not being able to solve her problem in the early days, they’ve loyally stuck with her, through good times and the bad.

By keeping her problem on their radar they were able to solve a critical problem at an important time for their enterprise — perhaps opening an entirely new revenue stream. Oh, yeh — and they saved the city.

Their willingness to keep working at problems demonstrates a true startup quality: tenacity.

#Winning

A startup success story for the ages. A team that took advantage of their domain expertise to exploit a significant shift in the market at precisely the right time.

They went through all the growing pains of a startup — finding an office, dealing with employees, struggling to find their first client, battling regulatory hassles. They tasted success, but just when things seemed to be going well everything came crashing down around their ears.

But they displayed adaptability. They shifted and evolved when all seemed lost, and survived as a result.

The movie closes with them basking in the love of the city, and we can imagine they go on to even more fame and riches and success (as long as we don’t think about the fact that they may have been so successful in ridding the city of ghosts that they put themselves out of business… also Ghostbusters 2).

Fin

It’s been more than three decades since Ghostbusters first graced us with its presence on the silver screen. It wasn’t until recently that I noticed some of the entertaining similarities between the journey of the Ghostbusters and that of any technology startup — an team that has worked together closely for years, a defining moment of realisation, feeling out a business model, struggling to find clients, scaling with success, dealing with sudden shifts in the market… all classic elements of many startup stories.

The startup stories of those that have gone before can be inspirational. For those contemplating a startup — or those already in one — I hope this slightly different take on Ghostbusters was useful.