Startup Lessons from Luke Skywalker
Startup Lessons from a Galaxy Far, Far Away
Star Wars is, at its core, a startup story rife with subtle themes of entrepreneurship and risky ventures. In fact, Luke Skywalker himself had the humble beginnings of any well-to-do startup founder.
From farm-boy to Jedi, Luke Skywalker tapped into his entrepreneurial spirit to save the galaxy and realize his dreams. Although accomplishing his vision took many unexpected twists and turns, he learned to effectively capitalize on each of them — turning the worst into the best.
Learn from Skywalker and maybe your startup can save the galaxy.
Opportunity is unexpected
“I have a very bad feeling about this…” — Luke Skywalker
On what seemed to be a red-letter day, Skywalker bumped into his old hermit-friend, Ben Kenobi and was suddenly whisked away into a grand adventure, meeting all sorts of new people. Skywalker recognized that this was his opportunity to get away from his life of farming and hanging out at the Tashi Station with his friends on boring Tatooine and really do something with his life. He was thrust into the middle of a Rebellion against an Empire he admired and he thought he could do some real disrupting and started to acquire allies — or co-founders — in his quest to catalyze a rebellion. As an entrepreneur, doors are always opening and they could open at any second on any given day. It is up to you to be vigilant and to recognize those opportunities.
You won’t always get along with your team
“You know, that little droid is going to cause me a lot of trouble.” “…Oh, he excels at that, sir.“ — Luke Skywalker and C-3PO
When they first met, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were a duo that didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye on many things. The one thing they did have though was a shared vision — they were both free spirits. Han Solo was a pragmatic smuggler who was used to the way the galaxy worked and worked within those constraints to further realize his vision while Luke Skywalker was a doe-eyed boy from Tatooine full of idealism. Both of them balanced each other out well, even when the advice was not welcome.
Often times when working with a startup team you’ll be working with people who have the same vision but different means of realizing it which can sometimes be frustrating, but the advice should always be welcome. It was Han Solo that told Luke Skywalker that, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid”. This and Han Solo’s actions taught Skywalker the importance of being level headed and trusting the gut instead of being lost in idealism — it was a balancing act. Your entrepreneurial vision is nothing without knowledge of how your industry or even the world works.
Don’t get lost too much detail
“Luke, you switched off your targeting computer! What’s wrong?” “Nothing. I’m all right.” — Rebel Commander on Yavin IV and Luke Skywalker
Often times when running a startup, you’ll be bombarded with a large amount of cool metrics, charts, graphs, and buzzwords. It might seem tempting to start relying purely on data, but data is nothing without the human behind it all — the driving force. If Skywalker relied purely on data he never would have taken a chance and fired at the exposed exhaust port on the Death Star and saved Yavin IV from destruction.
When working on your venture, it’s sometimes best to “turn off the targeting computer” and focus on what really matters. Entrepreneurship is all about risk. Sure, data can be useful and it can help in making decisions, but you are the ultimate arbitrator over the direction of your startup — not the data.
The best solution is not always the most elegant
“Ugh, and I thought they smelled bad on the outside.” — Han Solo
As a startup, you’re probably not working with the most cutting-edge technology and resources, and most of the times you have to create or improvise the solution to your most pressing obstacles. In order to succeed you must be willing to anything possible to get the job done.
Han Solo is a great example of this: when he found Luke Skywalker freezing to death in the middle of the ice planet, Hoth, he knew that he didn’t have the proper resources to get him back to Echo Base alive unless he did something drastic. Solo took Skywalker’s lightsaber, cut open the tauntaun he was riding, stuck him inside the creature’s bowels, and waited until they were rescued by Wedge Antilles. It wasn’t an elegant solution, but it worked. Don’t be afraid to use whatever is available for your startup solution.
Find a mentor that won’t hold your hand
“Do or do not, there is no try” — Yoda
When lost in the malaise of the organic and ever-changing startup world, finding a mentor is imperative. Mentors have been through the trials and tribulations of bootstrapping a startup with scant resources and are willing to guide young startup apprentices on to the path towards the light (success!).
Find your master — your Yoda. Without Yoda, Luke would have never achieved mastery over the force which was the resource that he needed to learn how to use in order to help the Rebellion achieve victory over the Galactic Empire. Just like how Yoda was a master of The Force that mentored Force-Sensitives, you need to find the right mentor for your venture. Don’t expect them to hold your hand though. Another one of Skywalker’s mentors, Obi-Wan Kenobi, recognized that he gave Luke all the guidance he needed and abruptly had himself “killed” by Darth Vader so Luke could start building on his own.
Dress the part
“Why you stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf-herder!” — Leia Organa
Whether you’re courting the Princess of Alderaan or a Venture Capitalist, you want to dress the part. Always look like you care about being where you being where you are. Jedi dress in robes, Sith dress in black, it’s who they are and their clothes represent their values.
Dress in a matter that respects who you are and what you represent. When Luke Skywalker became a fully-fledged Jedi he began to dress the part by wearing robes that commanded respect and awe in the minds of his friends and his opponents. No longer was he the boy from Tatooine that wore shabby farm-rags but he was a Jedi Knight like his father before him and he represented a powerful tradition.
“Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances.” — Grand Moff Tarkin
The most terrifying dichotomy about the startup ecosystem is that no matter how many successes you have, it only takes one shot in an exposed exhaust port, to bring your venture crumbling to the ground. One of the Rebel Alliance’s biggest failures was the Battle of Hoth. Not only did the Alliance lose Echo Base, their primary staging ground in the Outer-Rim territories, but they also suffered devastating casualties.
This would easily discourage many from continuing their venture, luckily Skywalker took this egregious loss as an opportunity to refine and rebuild himself. He knew he had to be better if he wanted to defeat the Empire and his ghostly mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, guided him to Dagobah in order receive the guidance and training he needed to defeat Darth Vader and save the Rebellion.
Don’t get discouraged by failure. Failure is a chance to learn and grow, it’s a chance to rebuild yourself and become more powerful than you’ve ever imagined.
Originally published at boston.masschallenge.org on December 17, 2015.