Osama Bin laden was a fearless entrepreneur. He like most start ups had disruptive aspirations. He wanted to take the Biggest bull(y) with horns. He had to raise a good amount of money to realize his objectives. He probably used to pay his recruits much less than market and used to extract the best out of them. The tasks and work he offered were the most challenging ones and he was ready for a long haul sacrificing all. Above everything, he was willing and living like a saint. These are highly revered entrepreneurial attributes. He met with great initial success and then his business started fizzling away. Here are top 6 things which we all can learn from his not so failed startup.
- Do not assume a fixed form : Often startups assume a fixed plan, a fixed interface design, just like Osama assumed a fixed place of residence in Abbotabad. If you do this, assault can be planned against you. Sufficient ammunitions can be gathered by more resourceful Big companies to annihilate your defenses. Keep altering your design, form look to keep your competitors surprised. This not only keeps the competitors guessing but this keeps your team members excited and your customers engaged
- Do not take refuse in your Biggest enemy’s ally : Inspite of all the assurances he might have got from Paki Army generals, Presidents, ISI staffs ,finally the will of US prevailed . So in the startup world avoid the investors who have put in money in the companies you want to disrupt. Had he taken refuse in China, the yankies would have just kept on begging Chinese for any tip offs. For example if you are trying to put make an educational hangout avoid raising funds from Sequoia capital or in e commerce avoid Kanan Partners. There is great likelihood of they passing your unique proposition, your brilliant idea to strengthen their existing investments.
- Portray yourself to be warrior : Osama could sustain his ventures for so long because he himself was a trained warrior. He could fire most of the weapons. He was good at hand to hand combat. The testimony to this was the rifle he had snatched from a Russian military officer. This inspired the terrorists who worked with him. In software world, try to hack/crash a mundane system and display it like a trophy. Zuckerberg hacked a moderately secure university database and ensures that he is defined always as a ‘Hacker cracker’. The idea then is not to over do it. There are guys like @dharmesh who will bore you with tweets like , “ This weekend I am going to code for 40 hours “ . A business is at most 15 % code and rest all is FIGHT. Do not get obsessed with being a coder. Coders even the great ones can be hired. Its the leadership and inspiration which is difficult to create.
- Avoid public eye, cameras etc: What actually killed Osama was the trails he left in his video releases. By using some of the footages and surrounding analysis it was possible to guess with some degree of accuracy, the region he was operating from. As startup founders as little personal information let out about self is advisable. The people who assume a dumb demeanor normally rise and stay their for long. Its imperative to retain the mysticism and enigma of the founders and shield them from public attacks just like you protect your Kings from checks in chess.
- Have a self destruct button : Osama should have always had a solid self destruct button close to himself. In missile technology we call it a K6 command. If in 45 seconds the missile doesn’t destroy its target it shoots up vertically and self destructs. In startups one must have duration in which to disrupt an existing company or customer behavior. The success here doesn’t mean a feature or a product, it means being cash positive and holding on to that. If its not attained by a deadline, the idea must be abandoned. If Osama had a really strong self destruct mechanism all around him, it would have taken Yankees at least 30 yrs to think how to defuse that before planning an offensive. I can assure you if there were a probability of atleast 6 Navy seals surely dying in operations, US would have never been able to give approval for Geronimo. As startups we can develop a similar self destruct mechanism around. If by a given reasonable time , the product , the team , the model doesnt work redeploy your energy, life and cash to something more promising. Remember Max Levchin , founder of Paypal abandoned more than 5 of his pet projects before making it big.
- Develop a strong counterintelligence team : The death of Osama was a huge counter intelligence failure. While FBI was gathering terabytes of data about Osama, he didn’t even f****g know that a mansion similar to his was already up 18 months ago and Yankees were practicing on it. Such a dud counterintelligence is a surefire recipe of failure. As startups one should always keep smelling whats cooking inside google, Microsoft or other startups. Dedicate one person to just study the competition and submit a report. If your dudes are not able to give you threatening stories about competition they must be incompetent. If no body is cooking the snack you want to sell as hot cakes either you should change your sensors or may be you are cooking a dud.
Conclusions : From this analogy we can see how we can learn from some of the good bad and ugly traits of one of the most dreaded terrorist of all times 🙂 and how it applies to the wonderful world of starting up and preventing it from failing.
Founder and CEO