This Sunday evening, I saw the fantastic space fantasy – “The Martian”. Matt Damon essays the role of Mark Watney, the astronaut who gets stranded in Mars while director Ridley Scott stiches a fascinating narrative of human beings survival instincts. Wonder how Hollywood consistently churns out such epic tales about space – think Gravity, Interstellar, and now The Martian. As the story rolled through the glorious red Mars landscape, I just realised that there were several lessons that startups could draw from the movie. Here are my five takeaways:
The last scene of the movie has a memorable dialogue. As Mark Watney, was explaining to a class, after he got back from Mars – “Space is against you, so the fear of death is natural. You just need to solve one problem after the other till the end to survive.” Extrapolate this to the startup world, where most startups die – some give up hope when the first storm hits them, while some survive till the very end.
Like Steve Jobs once said – You can connect the dots looking back, when he emphasised how some of the classes (in calligraphy) he took in his college days helped him in later life (designing Macintosh). Similarly Mark Watney was a botanist by education and he used all his knowledge to become the first person to start farming in Mars. So young startup founders, before you drop out of college, make sure that you get a solid grounding in at least something – you never know when that can become your inspiration like Jobs or a survival guide like Mark.
Surviving the harsh landscape of Mars in a big deal and needs thinking out of the box or sometimes commode. If that means you need to grow potatoes out of your own s**t – then just do it. Ask Mark – it wasn’t pleasant to his nostrils or sensibilities, but what the heck, those potatoes helped him survive 561 Sol (solar days). Startups start looking at your own s**t closely – that’s where your problems and solutions could be residing. As Mark famously says in the movie – “You gotta science the s**t out of this place”. Literally and metaphorically.
You never know who could be the Rich Purnell in your team. Rich is an astrodynamist in the movie – hardworking, committed but who cares two hoots about bosses, hierarchy, and authority. He is the one who ultimately provided the solution to rescuing Mark. Startups need to identify the Rich Purnell’s in their teams. Figure out the irreverent, iconoclastic, creative guys who only care about solving problems and don’t give a damn about your designation. They ultimately could be the savior for your startup. Respect Intellect and not suckers.
Now the last lesson – how can I talk about startups and not reference VCs. NASA in the movie is both the villain and the savior for Mark. NASA will train you and put you on a spaceship to MARS, however, if bad things happen, then they will take harsh calls often for the greater common good. NASA says NO to rescuing the one life of Mark and risking five other lives on Hermes, but at the end of the day both NASA and Hermes team rescued Mark. So if you get a tough VC, think of them as NASA – they may sacrifice you for the greater good but if you have built a team like the crew at Hermes, you can pretty much bet that they will risk their lives for you and your startup.