When I was in 4th grade, I thought Luke Skywalker was a whiney little goody two-shoes. But Han Solo? Man, now that cat was cool! Han Solo was my favorite Star Wars character throughout the entire first trilogy, and as I watched the trailer for the new Star Wars movie last week, it occurred to me that he was the Rebellion’s ultimate entrepreneur.
So here are five startup lessons inspired by the legendary Han Solo.
1. Pick The Right Business Partner(s)
Chewbacca is the ultimate business partner. He’s loyal, a highly impactful persona to walk into meetings with and doesn’t talk back (just kidding on that last part). But the real point is one of fit. Han and Chewie complement each other and celebrate their differences. Han is the schrewd negotiator, while Chewie is the muscle. Han plots their strategic direction, while Chewie ensures the Millennium Falcon is ready for hyperspace.
A common mistake startup entrepreneurs make is to seek too many similarities in their partners. While you should obviously communicate well and not be boneheads, ideal business results come when you approach problems from totally different perspectives. Don’t get lost in a self-supporting bubble. Core skill sets should be complementary, otherwise you’re double-paying.
2. Make a move before your window of opportunity closes
On the ice planet Hoth, Han had to move quickly to find Luke before evening temperatures made a rescue attempt impossible. Han possessed two key entrepreneurial attributes here: acting fast, and acting fearlessly.
Whether it’s your employee’s payroll or your own future on the line, most key startup decisions are going to feel scary. Don’t dawdle.
As a startup CEO, be acutely aware of how quickly you have to make a decision. Make it. And then have the guts to stay committed, even if there is a raging debate about its validity. Effective leaders like Han Solo have the confidence in knowing that high decision velocity usually yields much better results than always “perfect,” but slow decisions.
3. Balance mercenary with missionary
Han and Chewie do what they do for the bounty. But they also fight for the right side and come through in their defense of the Rebel fighters.
Too often, startup entrepreneurs seem conflicted about this balance. How do we balance end-user value versus commerce? Do we add one more ad unit to the homepage to capitalize on high impression rates, or will that “junk up” the experience? Do we allocate 10 percent of interns from disadvantaged segments, or will the managerial overhead make it not worthwhile?
You don’t have to pick one at the exclusion of the other. A balance can always be achieved. As you struggle with the “stormin,’ normin,’ performin'” stages of entrepreneurial life, know that all startups can do well in commerce, and do good by their users.
4. Look scrappy but have it ‘where it counts’
It’s clear that the Millennium Falcon could use a few repairs, perhaps a stop at West Coast Customs. But Han and Chewie know they need to keep the overhead low. The reasons for this? You signal pretty clearly to investors, employees and strategic partners that impressing others is low, while you also can surprise others as you “punch above your weight.” Save the luxuries — the class A offices and catered lunches — for when revenues are stable and profit margins are high.
5. Don’t wait to get rid of problems
In the controversial re-edition of Star Wars, it appears as if Greedo shot first during the famous bar scene, thereby causing Han to fire in self defense. I say bullsh*t! As a parent, I understand why George Lucas made the change.
But, as an entrepreneur, you simply can’t afford to allow threats to fester uncontested. If you have a Taiwanese company infringing on your trademarks illegally, consult your IP attorney and do something about it. If you have a problem employee spoiling the bunch, move quickly (and humanely) to excise the problem.
While it may not seem cool or ‘nice’ to get tough, dealing with the problem early will save you valuable time, money, and in some cases lost market share. Han had one chance to get Greedo and Jabba the Hutt off his tail, and he didn’t hesitate to act decisively. Do it, and move on.