Beyond its entertainment value, the TV Show “Heroes” provides tremendous lessons in the field of entrepreneurship. Three characters in particular emulate the virtues of startup leaders: Sylar (the killer who steals people’s special powers), the Cheerleader (who heals instantly), and Noah Bennet (the ordinary man who hunts “specials”).
Let’s overlook the fact that Sylar cuts people’s heads open to take their powers. The son of a watchmaker, Sylar has an insatiable curiosity to understand how things work. I believe one of the reasons so many great startups are founded by engineers has to do with this trait. Engineers, by the nature of their job, need to understand what makes a product tick. What is possible with this technology? How can I use this to my advantage? Once they absorb a skill, they apply it to new problems in new areas. But whether you are an engineer or a business guy, you must drill into every detail of a product to understand what is possible. Read Joel Spolsky’s My First BillG Review for a great example of this characteristic, as practiced by Bill Gates. Scott Cook was also notorious at Intuit for drilling into the details of unsuspecting product managers and developers. Luckily, we don’t have to tear someone’s skull open to gain their knowledge. But if you aren’t asking every question you can about how everything works, you are handicapping yourself.
This one is a simple lesson, albeit a sad one. In a startup you will get knocked down almost every day. People will tell you why your ideas won’t work. Your product will rarely explode into a blockbuster the day you release it. Sometimes team members will leave you. Sometimes competitors will surround you. It sucks. So take a lesson from the Cheerleader, and regenerate as quickly as possible after every injury. If you are still developing new ideas days after old ideas failed, you will likely succeed at one of them. James Hong is well known for Hot or Not, the weekend project that became an overnight sensation. But James worked on at least a dozen startup ideas prior to that. Thankfully he kept at it, or there would be a lot more single people in the world.
Bennet is the most impressive of them all. “What?” you say, “He doesn’t even have a special power.” Exactly. Bennet holds his own against people born with amazing natural abilities because his character works harder than every other character on the show. You do not have to be that genius who gets straight A’s with no effort, you just have to out work that guy. Want proof? Just ask Dave McClure, the country bumpkin from West Virginia who is still online at 5am out running all of you. If people telling you something can’t be done makes you want to fight even harder to prove them wrong, you’re on your way.
Let’s summarize Entrepreneurship 101 as taught by our “Heroes”: Slice open products and understand them, with each startup attempt heal quickly, and out work those “specials”.