Has your Startup Turned into a Game of Thrones?

by on Jul 16, 2017
Startup or game of thrones

People go startup, most likely hoping it will be the next Airbnb or the next Uber, if not the next Google or the next Facebook.

They invest in infrastructure and a team and work day in and day out to realize their dream.

But did they build the right team who will make it happen? The answer to this would be a resounding YESSSSS, if and only if the team was chosen with care, specially the key executives.

More often than not, that is not the case. Nine in ten startups fail, a bad team being one of the key reasons. The team is chosen hurriedly or on the basis of traditional hiring factors such as experience working with established corporates, or worse still the presence of a personal rapport or familiarity with the hires in question. Let’s face it. These hires generally turn out to be of dubious distinction and questionable character. In short, they turn out to be assholes.

If the key people were hired just because they had worked for successful organizations, then they should not have been hired. A successful organization was already a successful organization when these people walked in there and they are not the ones who made it a successful organization. They just basked in its glory. That organization then becomes a part of their resume, and they continue to bask in its glory even after they leave it.

On the other hand, if the key people were hired because the founders or the hiring team knew them or feels comfortable working with them, then, heh heh heh!

Now that’s where a founder has already lost focus, if they want to be surrounded by people who make them feel comfortable, than people who have the skill and the commitment to make the startup a success.

The startup will not turn into a success story, but a story of the cunning fox (or foxes) who fooled around with the lion. Foxes can make the lion feel reassured with their flattery or sweet talk. And the lion feels comfortable and relaxed that he has a confidante. We read a lot of these stories as kids.

If the goal is to feel comfortable, then snuggle on a couch or sleep in the foetal position on the Heavenly Bed, while tucking yourself in one of the best comforters. Or fill your room with teddy bears.  There are much cheaper and easier ways of feeling comfortable than starting a startup and hiring people to make you feel comfortable.

Far from being comfortable, a startup is a challenge that requires you to go out of your comfort zone.

You may need to hire those people who don’t necessarily make you “feel comfortable”.  Skilled and sincere people don’t have the time or the need to indulge in brown-nosing. They are committed to the larger cause of the startup and not to the personal feelings of the employers. Though you may have lost focus of the cause, they haven’t. They are not like that ultra-soft mattress, but more like that hard mattress that’s not comfortable initially, but rids you of the that backache after a few days and you start feeling comfortable because of the inner strength of your back rather than the outward softness or the illusion of comfort afforded by a soft mattress.

The current generation may relate more to game of thrones, than the lion and the fox stories. And it is, in fact, like a game of thrones, if you have the wrong team. It is more of a power struggle to sit on the iron throne in the employer’s mind, a position from which key executives can manipulate, escape responsibility and play blame games. The so called key players are interested only in what’s in it for them, and how they can get the most out of it by putting in the least effort or not putting in any effort at all.

A game of thrones makes for a successful TV series profitable for its producers, but does not a successful startup.

In hindsight, when they sit down and do a postmortem analysis of their failed startup, some founders finally see through their trusted lieutenants and realize that they had not only picked assholes, but had also empowered them to screw their startup.  Others may move on, not even realizing that, continue perpetrating the mistakes with their next startup and claim that they are “serial entrepreneurs”.

Polled founders of failed startups mentioned these as reasons for failure.


Wrong hires is the underlying reason for several of those reasons – Not the right team; Get outcompeted; Poor product; Poor marketing; Ignore customers; Lose Focus; Disharmony on team; Lack passion; Failure to pivot; Pivot gone bad.

Great monuments and successful startups are both built by people.  Rather, everything that is man-made is made by people.   Therefore, people are the reason that startups succeed or fail.

Moreover, hires clone themselves. Wrong hires will bring in more wrong hires and even work to eliminate any right hires who got there somehow. Likewise right hires will bring in more right hires.

Elementary my dear Startup Watsons! Any game, be it football, cricket or even the game of thrones is best played by people who have the skills to win at those games. Likewise, the game of startups is best played by people who have the skills needed to do their work and make the startup a success.

If you hire footballers to play cricket, they will play football. If you fall for human frailties, you may end up hiring game of throne players, and they will end up playing game of thrones, you’ll end up being clueless as to how your startup turned into a game of thrones.

In spite of authoring this article and having an awareness of what I am writing about, even I am prone to human failings and even I may trust the wrong people in life after having fallen for their brown-nosing tactics.

But not so if I were to deploy some emotional intelligence to see through people and understand their motivations.

Emotional intelligence helps us rise above human failings and see through people’s words, their actions and their behavior, just as easily as one can see the unhealthy effects of excessive sugar, or the benefits of a bitter pill, or the soft coconut and the tender water full of vitamins and minerals inside the hard shell.

Game of thrones and other successful stories are successful because they exploit human emotions. They are crafted by emotionally intelligent people.  Even this 101 second open credits demonstrates what to expect from the show.

While we should not be turning our startup into a game of thrones where people are hungry for power, we can take a cue about the importance of emotional intelligence from the success of the TV series.

Emotional intelligence helps us track and keep a tab on the human behaviors (that of others and also our own) that impact the future of the startup.


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