Posted by: Dr Churchill | July 15, 2014

My Start Up Mood in Five easy pieces and a Hero sandwich

Startups come and go…

After fostering a few hundreds of those — I can safely say that regardless of whatever the future holds, it seems certain that the key to success lies in getting three things straight.

1) The right framers, founders, executives bring on a gigantic Vision. It could all be just one person, or a couple, or best a three person team, yet they have to be the right ones to support the Big picture and translate this to a palpable Vision for the people.

2) Getting the Start Up founders and all core team members and by osmosis the whole company to see the Vision, to visualize together the same dream, and to sign up to the same goals, aims, and outcomes.

3) Create a mood of Love within the Start Up so the people love to be there and sign up ton execute Herculean tasks in support of the VISION

4) Always maintaining a culture of cooperation and common goals, along with long-term policies to support those aims.

5) Teamwork: Just as Germany won the Mundial 2014 on the simple premise of cooperation and creative development of opportunity for others in the team to exploit and score — so it is with a young company. Create and harvest opportunity as a team and make passes to all the others in order to circumvent obstacles and opponents all the way to the goal line,

Teamwork is key as seen in the recent World Cup 2014 matches where the German team run circles around the competition. And as the meme bouncing around social media today says, the reason why the youthful Germany won, is because although Argentina had the best players in the word including Lionel Messi — Germany had a team.

However we should not overlook the value of the Hero coupled with the team. Much like Ulysses could not have done much without enlisting his band of marines to journey with hi far and wide — so the Start Up leader and CEO cannot by themselves do much without sandwiching themselves into a wonderful sandwich bun slathered with mayo, ketchup and mustard.

And although most CEOs describe themselves as Heroes, for my purposes I’ll call them “The meat” or the “the Hot dog” or the “Reality” in that we all are just the meat in the hero sandwich and without the bread — we are nothing.

 So make sure the meat is good, but especially that the bread is fresh, strong, and absorbent, as the team has to hold the integrity of the enterprise together,  and the trimmings as the adornments to the Hero sandwich, without getting soggy, and falling apart.

Building a great start up is no Subway sandwich but rather a high street vendor doing his best to build a real Hero Sandwich.

Amplifying the metaphor of the Hero founder, we see in popular literature the Monomyth, or the hero’s journey, as a basic pattern that its proponents argue is found in many narratives from around the world and it describes the Start Up journey to a T. Of course in my narrative the “T” stands for the Team and Teamwork and we should keep that in mind when the leader holds the Trophy in front of the world. The unsung warriors are the team members and the sailors that mann the oars and the winged sails of the vessel called Enterprise. 

 Still the Odyssey was written by poets long in years who saw the Hero Ulysses as the personification of the Gods and their all too human conflicts and greatness all bound up in the play of light and shadow the One man — The Hero represents. Ulysses emerges victorious through his widely distributed voyages across the earth’s seas and lands, as a pattern that describes the heroic and cunning nature, and the bravery of the leader, and the sacrifice he makes of himself and of others. And above all else of his ability to get the companions to perform feats greater than themselves, because of his leadership.  So Homer and all other poets always spoke of the Great Cunning leader, but they always sung along with Ulysses the names and the praises of his companions too. And although many of his friends, mariners, companions, and lovers all have difficulties and many perish — we see that He always tried to save them from their erstwhile fates. Homer describes the fate of all the lesser men but never tells of what ever became of Ulysses. His ultimate journey is shrouded in mystery as it should be. He could be still alive walking and probably sailing the dark wine seas to this day amongst us. And sometimes when sailing this part of the world — I feel as I might have seen him.

Or maybe he masquerades as one of my companions too. Because a Great leader knows when to be a team mate too. And often times this rotation of duties is what preserves the quality and functionality of the TEAM. 

That is why we don’t hear the end of the journey of Ulysses from the poet. He lives still amongst us. Forever we can count on his engineering help. He is not just immortal as many others because he conquered death, but we never even know how he did it. No other hero than Ulysses had this high honour. The myth is strong as a captains storm cloak with him. It serves him and us rather well. It preserves our sanity for he has discovered the spring of eternal life. Perhaps…

So there is hope for the rest of us. Isn’t this salvation what Christian Religion all about too? Conquering of Death. Albeit the Christian story is a bit too operatic the imagery is similar. The team of the Apostles, the divine Hero, and the companions of whom we know all their names and their shortfalls, and ultimate fate, but we also know their greatness and their sacrifice. We have always the sailors of Jesus to support him, but we just fail to talk about them because they were many of them and the Hero Jesus story is far too precious — to lose focus.

And although the Leader, the Christ, the CEO is the protagonist, you can’t have a Hero story without the Team and the numerous team members. They were always there. They are the ones that made the journey possible, and without the Companions No Odyssey would ever have been undertaken, No Hero would have been lifted up onto the cross and no CEO would have deserved a penny in a golden parachute.

So if we can only remember Captain Kirk from the Spaceship Enterprise, is not because there were not other worthy companions, but simply because our memory is selectively poor, and the good Captain serves as a relational database trigger to flood our brains with the faces, and the voices, and the many achievements, of the space faring voyagers. These modern era travelling Marines who came to accept their journey as a great metaphor of saving the Earth — they are the real heroes of the journey.

The Captain is the conductor of the orchestra so they can all play beautiful music together. He is the figurehead. The Hot dog in the bun, The hero in the Hero sandwich and as such he has to be celebrated as a nod to the whole Companion Journey into the unknown that each and every worthy Start Up represents.

Homer sang the journey of the Hero Ulysses as poem of Great Companionship but also as the personal tale of the great Captain. If he were alive in our times — he could have written the Myth of the CEO of a great Start Up that went on to conquer the world.

James Joyce wrote Ulysses in more modern times, almost as such a description of the Great Hero. The Leader. All too human and yet Divine too. It was a convoluted, epic, human, and yet divine narrative as such is the nature of the Hero. This is the symbolism of today’s warrior king, the great generals, the Napoleon, the Alexander, the Nelson, the start up CEO, and in peace time the soccer team leader who replaces the warrior in the popular imagination. And this is the very reason why these Hero-leaders all merit the large pay and deserve the extraordinary honours they receive as well as the exorbitant compensation for personifying the Hero of the story. They give meaning to Life for the rest. They show us purpose and are the figureheads to ply the waters, open up the deep dark seas to the unknown, navigate space’s frontiers and are willingly the meat in the hero sandwich to be eaten and consumed by mere mortals as the body and blood of the Gods. Meat after all is the tastiest, most nutritional, and ultimately the most expensive ingredient by far, in the hero sandwich, and it’s got to be good — otherwise all else doesn’t matter. That’s why we pay Big Bucks to the Good CEOs. Because without them — you’ve got no sandwich.

And in Life as usual — You get what you pay for…

Got it?

Last century Joseph Campbell, borrowed the term “Monomyth” from James Joyce’s massive work “Ulysses” and went on to stun the people with his observation on the Hero myth as all too real in all cultures.

And as expected Joseph Campbell took the story to new heights and he wrote that numerous myths from disparate times, regions, and religions, share fundamental structures and stages, which he summarized in his boo: “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”

I suggest that his is an instructive book for all CEOs who want to become Great because ultimately nobody is born great. We all become great through the process of observation, education, and the constant practice of Leadership.

Still in the stories a hero ventures forth from the world of common day, amongst companions, into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men.

That’s Leadership.

Campbell and other scholars, such as Erich Neumann, describe narratives of Buddha, Moses, and Christ in terms of the “Monomyth” and Campbell argues that classic myths from many cultures follow this basic pattern. Notice that all of these Leaders had a team of dedicated companions to support them.


Start Up Entrepreneur Myth of Hero's Journey














But it’s good to remember that for every Hero that returned from the journey there are probably another 100 or One Thousand or more that never made it back.

That’s why the Big Bucks. The heroes that return are extraordinary and deserve all the accolades since all the others before them failed to make and seriously lost their lives or whatever held them together. Their minds, their families, their bodies, their companions, etc. Only the very few that are strong enough and favoured by Fortune are lucky to come back and be called “The Hero,” The leader, The CEO…

To illustrate this point here are some reasonably fresh statistics of the attrition rate on the journey to a successful Start Up. In the Start Uppy world of recent leadership accelerators incubators, we have Paul Graham describing the process in a start-up “mood chart” that explains the failure rates of Start Ups.

Depending who you talk to … at least 2/3rds fold soonest, and up to 97% of all startups fail to reach business sustainability.

Good to remember that The TEAM and The Teamwork are the key to both success and failure.The critical ingredient and the Real Hero personified in one person is the team.

Put the Right Team in place and a leader will emerge to lead them to prosperity and sustainability. Without a team nothing ever happens.

Get that.

Put a team of dedicated individuals into the edge of existence and allow for simple rules to guide them through Chaos into Complexity and Emergence.

make sure they have apprenticed to someone Great or have access to your leader, hero, Mythic CEO, to help them ahead.

The Team success rests not only on the number of apprenticeships offered but on the demand for them. This requires an increase in the skills base of apprenticeship candidates, to make them more appealing to Leaders and to give prospective apprentices some hands-on experience in the start up industries that might appeal to them. Domain expertise is important but not vital…

Traditionally, under the ability to pro-actively select the work on offer, to practice endlessly, and the high likelihood of succesful and rewarding exit — enabled these game changers, to put newly acquired skills and resources to use on completion and this repeated process ensures the system’s popularity for decades and underpinned the rise and rise of the Silicon Valley Start Up vector.

Yet, as any worthwhile team, and Ulysses knew from the start when they took to the dark wine Sea — past success cannot be allowed to breed complacency.

As VCs and as leaders we do this Heroic journey of our own and we also lead and foster teams as humble team mates.

And in many cases we just spot the talent and we have to seed them with Great Start Up ideas and let them go on their journey boldly into the unknown.

Then you can sit back and watch. Unlikely for us but.. having put a team of dedicated individuals into the edge of existence and allowing through simple rules for Emergent Life to happen and to guide them through Chaos and Complexity into Emergence.

This way you can let the fun and games begin…


Start Up Mood Ring


Very important to note that this Start Up process can take 3-15 years

Start Up Tech Diagram







In this version of the start-up “mood chart” … at least 2/3 of startups fail to escape gravity and to reach business sustainability.

Apparently 97% of all Start Ups, same as the ones coming from accelerators, and even the best of breed Y Combinators’ startups — don’t succeed.  Yet those in the remaining 3% that do succeed — meaning they reach business sustainability, are more than enough to cover costs and overheads. Throughout the Venture Capital industry, the startups that reach profitability + liquidity investment returns to founders and all investors, are less than 5%.

That means only 1 out of 20 companies succeeds.  And yet these successful startups pay the venture partners, the accelerators, and the founders well enough — and compensate for all the other companies that don’t succeed at these metrics.


Dr Kroko


Now you are entitled to ask, Why?

Why people play this game as I do, when the returns are so uncertain?

Why do we do it in the first place?

Because it is very much a perilous journey.

And like Ulysses’ travels at sea — it’s adventuresome…

And because it makes you a Hero when you sponsor and fashion heroes as well.

Yet we can ask further Whys?

Why experienced silicon valley entrepreneurs, VCs & angel investors do this willingly and risk so much?

Because risk capital needs to find risk.

Why does a Hero leader foster other new heroes?

Because this is the process of Life.

How do we refine the process?

By teaching young promising heroes the apprenticeship way of creating StartUp leaders. We create great CEOs every day and some of them are created from the failed companies as the learnings from a failure are far far greater than the lessons from an easy win. Look at Ulysses voyage for once and see how many battles he lost, how many weird ladies he slept with, how many strange fruits he ate, and how many wrong paths he took — to finally find his way to Ithaca.

It’s an interesting read… and as heroes we like that. The thing with leaders, is that we all like living on the edge. We understand that Life is happening at the edge of Chaos. And this is what makes life interesting, and allows for the emergence of greatness.

And with simple rules, we have game. We have techniques. And practices that minimize risk by spreading the bets around and fostering this growth. Heady scientific stuff and the best positioning around…

That is why we recommend a portfolio of at least 12 and up to 20, “Good Startups” in order to help find “that one” team or if you’re lucky enough to find “the two teams” that create successes.

It’s important to note that this process can take 3-15 years per company whereas the funding cycles of VC funds are usually 7 year terms. 

PPS: Charts and info are supplied by Paul Graham of Y Combinator, Fred Wilson of Union Square ventures, David Rose, Dave McClure, Steve Blank, Reese Jones and me…

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