5 lessons in Entrepreneurship from HBO’s GAME OF THRONES

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As a student investor with fresh.fund, Israel’s first student run venture fund, I picked up some basic tips about entrepreneurship that reminded me of… well… Game of Thrones!

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Westeros seems stuck in time, unable to get out of the middle-ages and seemingly without any modern technological development. What then, could a modern-day entrepreneur hope to learn from George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy novels and series?

Well, it turns out that quite a lot. Being an entrepreneur is about a lot more than just creating disruptive technology, it is about transforming an idea into a reality.

The rules are simple but the game is not — come up with a business plan, change it along the way, convince others to join your cause, handle competitors — anything to make your project succeed. For some, this is done by recruiting a great team built on trust; for others it might be achieved by lying, deceiving, and stabbing in the back.

But for all the players the purpose is the same -

Lesson 1: Put yourselves in your customer’s shoes (or bare feet…)

“Every one of us is poor and powerless. And yet together… we can overthrow an empire.”―The High Sparrow

To be sure, giants are hard to take down. They wouldn’t have become giants in the first place nor certainly remain giants if any squire could easily take their place. But this doesn’t mean their throne is forever secure. Rulers of kingdoms and corporate CEOs get their power from the masses. Unfortunately for them, the elites tend to lead different lives from those of the average smallfolk.

You can use this to reach the throne bottom-up, learning from the lower walks of everyday life and seeing what others do not. The high sparrow, in effect, did just that by taking control of King’s Landing. He was successful because he focused on the difference between the Lannisters and the average Westerosi. He walked barefoot, shared meals with the homeless and gathered the people’s support.

Lesson 2: Networking done right — Little birds do not come on their own

Petyr Baelish is without a doubt a self-centered individual but he never takes without giving first.

His extensive network of personal ties has benefited him greatly. Petyr knows that to succeed he always needs to be in the know, and he never forgets that this game cannot be won alone. Despite being low key, he is perhaps the strongest player in the game of thrones.

Lesson 3: You know nothing — do not ignore the facts

Ned stark saw a world where honor was the only moral tenant, but failed to realize that this view was not shared by all his fellow “noblemen”.

Stannis was the legitimate heir to the throne and believed that justice was by his side.Unfortunately, justice is not a very active player in the game of thrones.

John was determined that saving the wildlings from the white walkers is the right thing to do — but he was alone to think so in the watch.

We all know how these 3 stories ended…

Every idea is based on assumptions and visions — Apple saw a world where computers were in the hands of everyone, Facebook believed that there is a need for clear-cut boundaries between the social and virtual worlds.

These views guide us in our projects, but they can easily mislead. It is important to keep an eye open to spot which assumptions are grounded in reality and which are self-delusions, because otherwise, you may get killed.

Lesson 4: From imp to pimp — Play the cards you’re dealt

“Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.” — Tyrion Lannister

As a dwarf hated by his family, Tyrion Lannister was a disadvantaged player in the game of thrones from the start. Nevertheless, this did not keep him from becoming one of the most influential characters in Westeros. He did not achieve this status by hiding his flaws, but by being straightforward about them and focusing on his assets. When you think about Tyrion, I bet the first qualities that come to mind are “smart”, “witty” and “bold” — not “short” and “ugly”.

When facing real-world problems with your product, it is natural to ignore them and hide them from your employees and potential investors, but this is hardly ever the right solution. The modern world is tough, mistakes are rarely forgiven, and you need to be upfront and deal with you problems as soon as you notice them. Be honest about your potential problems and convince others that together you can solve them.

Lesson 5: A Lannister always pays his debts — You are your reputation

Your name, as the saying goes, always walks before you. Being a Lannister means that everyone, from Qarth to the Iron Isles, knows what your worth is. It is true that the Westerlands and Casterly Rock are home to many gold mines, but gold is only valuable if you have reliable trading partners. Tywin invested much effort into maintaining his family’s reputation as reliable yet demanding trading partners. Thanks to the wealthy family’s great PR, they have slowly but steadily climbed their way up to the top of the Iron Throne. Unfortunately trustworthiness is a slippery slope, and Cersei’s recent actions managed to quickly tarnish much of the reputation Tywin took decades to acquire. With Cersei as the face of the Lion’s House, its hold on the throne is all but secure…

Developing and maintaining a solid reputation is at the heart of acquiring new clients and trading partners. Although it is often costly and ambiguous, it is important to decide how you want your potential clients to perceive you, and invest both time and effort into spreading your very own “Reins of Castamere”.

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Noam Modai is a student investor with fresh.fund, Israel’s first student run venture fund. In his spare time he works as a business analyst at Google, and likes to cook, swim and analyze GoT episodes.