“I’m Game of Thrones with it, Momma”
Drake, “You & The 6“
Since investing in Telltale Games, I’ve become a big fan of Game of Thrones, both the game and the television series. Like millions of other fans, I love the characters. One of my favorites is Daenerys Targaryen for a very predictable reason: she’s an awesome entrepreneur.
If Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, pitched me a Series A plan for retaking Westeros, I’d write her a check for $5 million. Like the startup founders I back, Daenerys packs a combination of smart business ideas and winning qualities that are necessary for successful entrepreneurship. It’s also an advantage that Daenerys is a woman––according to various research, female entrepreneurs are more likely than their male counterparts to deliver a high ROI. (Good thing our IDG Ventures portfolio consists of more female founders than the industry average.)
So back to the great Daenerys. What makes her such an ideal entrepreneur? Let me count the ways.
As an entrepreneur, confidence is especially potent when you manifest it both internally (having self-confidence) and externally (inspiring others to have confidence in you). This is the type of confidence that Daenerys possesses, even when she is an enslaved and beleaguered teenager.
Being confident is easy enough when things are going your way. True confidence persists even and especially when nothing is going your way. Or when you’re the least knowledgeable or experienced person in the room. Daenerys-style confidence is remaining confident despite the self-awareness that you’re inexperienced in battle (or business), leveraging worthy advisors, and then executing on a decision that you own.
Put another way, really confident people don’t see let their deficits dampen their confidence. Instead, they tap external resources, quickly learning whatever it takes to fill any necessary knowledge gaps.
Truly iconic visionaries like Steve Jobs have a magical quality about them. They dazzle us with creations that seem pulled from a top hat. Daenerys has this spell-binding effect as a visionary. The perfect visionary-as-magician representation of Daenerys is the pyre scene. It’s a big moment of crisis, and the end looks near for Daenerys and her team. And then magically, Daenerys produces a solution that awes the crowd. It’s a giant funeral pyre that she walks into and emerges from unscathed. Victory.
It all looks unplanned and instantaneous, but behind-the-scenes, visionaries approach it more like a game of chess. There’s a lot of analysis and thinking two steps ahead.
I love this Daenerys quote for its powerful message and vision:
I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.
3. Strong Moral Compass
Business is about relationships––the people you know and how you treat them. If you have bad business practices, then people stop doing business with you. If you practice good business ethics, people keep doing business with you and they tell their friends. It’s as simple as that, and Daenerys excels at it.
Daenerys may have her flaws, but she treats everyone well regardless of class and always has good intentions. Her most emblematic moment as a person with strong morals: freeing the slaves.
Long-term entrepreneurial success requires always doing the right thing (or at least trying hard to).
For entrepreneurs like Daenerys, winning is only one part of the competition; the other is total annihilation of the opponent. The ideal entrepreneur has a strong moral compass, but she’s hardly a pushover. Her competitiveness is fierce and ruthless, inciting fear and surrender in her enemies. She knows exactly where to strike because she has thoroughly researched her opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
The takeaway: all entrepreneurs are competitive, but successful entrepreneurs are competitive in a strategic way.
5. Inspirational Leader
In the Game of Thrones world, dragons are wild beasts incapable of obeying orders from anyone––with the exception of Daenerys, who can communicate with dragons and get them to do her will. That’s pretty special. The effect that Daenerys has on the people she leads, from slaves to dragons, is beautiful leadership in action. She motivates, challenges, and rewards her team; they, in turn, are inspired to do excellent work (not to mention pledge their undying loyalty to Daenerys). Here’s a testimonial on Daenerys’ leadership that sums it up well:
You would be not only respected and feared, you would be loved. Someone who can rule and should rule. Centuries come and go without a person like that coming into the world. There are times that I look at you, and I still can’t believe you’re real.
―Ser Jorah Mormont
Inspirational leaders have the ability to connect emotionally with all types of people. Entrepreneurs who have this gift attract the best talent, and they bring out the best in people.
“Agile” isn’t just the word-of-the-day, it’s the skill-of-a-lifetime. Agile entrepreneurs and their agile startups are frequently successful because they move more quickly and effectively than everyone else. The agile mindset is defined by a few simple principles:
- Fear not failure
- Fail fast
- Learn faster
- Do better
- #Winning (again)
Daenerys practices and preaches the above approach in every endeavor, from campaigns to wars. She’s forgiving when her team fails, but she’s tough about learning the lessons and applying improvements.
Agility is characterized by two additional qualities: adaptability and resourcefulness. Like a bootstrapped startup, Daenerys has run big operations on meager resources. But she nevertheless adapts and gets the job done.
Great entrepreneurs often do “mini-pivots,” or slight adjustments, in response to changing business conditions. Many of our portfolio companies have succeeded on a business plan that was modified along the startup journey.
Even through major setbacks, Daenerys always soldiers on––surrender is never an option.
Resilience starts with the expectation that the road of entrepreneurship is fraught with hardships. Then it’s about overcoming each hardship while remaining focused and positive. Daenerys explains it perfectly:
Getting what you want isn’t easy — and you shouldn’t expect it to be. Hard work pays off.
For entrepreneurs, failures are the stepping stones to success. You need resiliency to persist and progress to the finish line.
8. Funding Rainmaker
Fundraising is hard. Really hard. You have to be thick-skinned (see Resilient above) because you’ll encounter plenty of rejection. Sometimes, you don’t even get the courtesy of a direct rejection. You simply don’t hear back from investors. This happens to venture capitalists when we pitch our investors: LPs.
Daenerys experiences a harsher rejection when she tries to convince the Spice King to fund her mission with his ships. Not only does the Spice King reject Daenerys’ pitch, he is condescending and sexist towards her. Daenerys, of course, gets over it, ultimately procuring the necessary resources for her quest to retake the Iron Throne.
Fundraising is a typical part of the startup process. For many entrepreneurs, investment capital is a necessity for launching or growing a company. That’s why it’s crucial to be good at fundraising. If you have or develop all the qualities described above and you nail the business plan, you will eventually get a smart VC’s attention and support.
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Whether in life or fantasy, I love seeing awesome models of entrepreneurship. Daenerys may be a fictitious person, but her exemplary qualities as an entrepreneur are very real. The good news is that these qualities can be adopted and developed. So get into the habit of identifying and studying great entrepreneurs, even those from another world.