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7 Things Every Startup Should Learn From Marvel



Captain America : Civil War crossed the $1 Billion mark at the worldwide box office and marked the beginning of phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with a bang. It is the one movie released in 2016 to cross this milestone and the fourth out of the thirteen released by Marvel, some hit rate! And with this the MCU also became the first movie franchise in history to gross over $10 Billion collectively! Seems like everything they touch turns into Vibranium.

Coming from bankruptcy in 1997 to a $4 Billion buyout by Walt disney in 2010 to being one of the biggest multi media franchisees in the world, this is quite a turnaround story. And like any good success story, there is lots that startups can learn from Marvel. So here are the 7 things every startup can learn from Marvel

1. Hiring and Employee management

Probably the most important factor in a startup’s success, the team is also the toughest to get right. A right team and half your battle is won. Marvel, with its movie, television and gazillion other sub units is a great company to learn the secrets of team building from. As Richard Branson so rightly said

Employees come first. Take care of your employees and they will take care of your clients.

Hiring great employees and retaining them should come first in any startup! And this is something evident in Marvel’s working.

Finding the right people : Have a look at the list of directors that helm these mega budgeted Marvel movies and what do you notice, not many big names there! It has been a conscious effort by the heads at Marvel to not go after big names and instead get who they feel is the best guy for the job but not quite blown up on the world scene yet, the perfect startup hiring strategy.

Reward them : When Marvel does get someone good and they deliver, they are rightly rewarded. The Russo brothers had only directed one full length movie way back in 2006 before being shortlisted to head Captain America : The winter soldier in 2014. And fast forward 2 years, the guys are virtually on the top of the Marvel pyramid having lead Civil War to victory and ready to helm Marvel’s magnum opus, The Avengers : Infinity saga.

2. Planning

Startups have to master the fine art of staying in the present with an eye on the future on a daily basis. Yet, in the constant daily struggles for survival many ignore the future. The business plans and vision documents stay just that, documents, that are never utilized or followed. But not with Marvel, they like to plan for the future, sometimes way into the future!

Thanos, the mad titan, made an appearance at the end of the first Avengers movie signalling his intent to destroy earth by capturing the infinity stones. Something that he will probably do 13 movies later in the infinity saga.

Iron man released in 2008 had Nick fury discuss the Avengers initiative with Tony Stark laying the premise for the first Avengers movie that released in 2012.

Marvel is known to sign up their actors in huge multi movie contracts, 9 movies in some cases, clearly showing how detailed their planning is when taking something up

3. Experimentation

Though Marvel isn’t the first nor the only media company to venture into films, they surely have been the most successful. And a really important factor in that is their ability to experiment.

Crossover films : The entire concept of having different lead characters exist in the same shared universe was pioneered by Marvel. And it has paid its dividends, 3 of their 4 biggest movies (Avengers 1 &2 and civil war) have been these multi superhero sagas.

Moving away from popular comic characters and introducing new ones like the Guardians of the Galaxy made sure the universe doesn’t get repetitive.

4. Pivot

Its all cocktails and shawarmas when everything is going right, but what happens when it doesn’t. Knowing when to pivot is one of the most critical decisions a startup has to take. And Marvel sure understands this

When the incredible hulk didn’t do well at the box office, the franchisee was stopped. Moreover, the lead star Edward Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo for the Avengers and the results are there for all to see.

5. Partnership and collaboration

How common is it to see incredibly talented founding teams with great ideas not making it solely because they remained in their shell and were too afraid to venture out. Having the right partnerships plays a key role in any business’s success and Marvel shows us just the right way to do it

The deal they struck with Sony pictures which allows them to bring the friendly neighborhood superhero Spiderman to the MCU is such a masterstroke

Well you have great characters, good movies in the pipeline but no experience in movie distribution or worldwide presence. What do you do? You bring in Walt ‘I am everywhere’ Disney to take care of that for you.

6. Survival

Everyday in a startup is about survival. With the amount of uncertainty that exists in almost every aspect of your daily work, just making it through without crashing is an achievement is itself. And Marvel has the ultimate survival instinct

The company went bankrupt in 1996. To stay afloat it used everything in its tanker from theme park deals to restaurant agreements and to the big one, licensing some of its trademarked characters like the X -Men , Blade and Spider man to other studios.

7. Diversify

It’s great to rest on your laurels and keep doing the same stuff when things seem to be going good but in reality that is the time to press home your advantage and diversify. And a lot of once big companies fall from grace because they weren’t able to do this when at their prime. But not Marvel, having tasted success with movies they were quick to move and are now present everywhere from cable television, to network and netflix and still growing.


About the Author

This article was submitted to The Asian Entrepreneur by Startup snips.

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Science is the Next Big Thing in Startups



From pharmaceuticals to petrochemical processes: Newcomer companies and investors and investors alike are setting their sights on science. How the start-up scene moves beyond the mobile apps bubble…

For the last two years Silicon Valley analysts and venture capitalists are anticipating the burst of yet another bubble. This time, under the risk are the mobile start-ups which constitute the biggest share of the market. Out of 50 companies listed in Forbes’ “the hottest startup of 2015” (by valuation) only six companies are based on innovations in other-than-mobile area, one company provide cleaning services, while the rest are diverse mobile apps.

Meanwhile many products listed can be barely called innovative. A significant proportion of the listed start-ups are texting apps, apps for people search (starting from business partners to life partners) or delivery services. While those services can definitely facilitate one’s life, in general they differ from their predecessors by only a narrower audience.

Many venture investors expect stagnation if not decrease on the markets, which is why they start to transfer their capitals from start-ups offering customers software to start-ups offering specific solutions for existing businesses. Such companies are expected to demonstrate more stability in the near future.

The Market for Mobile Apps Might be Saturated

Back in 2012 a talented entrepreneur could walk into a venture capitalist’s office, say his startup was a mobile-first solution for pretty much any problem (payments! photos! blogging!), and walk out with a good-size seed investment. “That pitch was enough to get going,” says Roelof Botha, a partner with VC firm Sequoia Capital. “It’s not enough anymore.”

“I think investors are bored with investing in another messaging app. And our idea is crazy enough that it might just work. ”, has declared in 2014 Nadir Bagaveyev a founder of a start-up using 3-D printers to make rocket engines. By 2016 the company attracted investors funding sufficient to launch its first rocket.

Pharma and Biotech Start-Ups in High Demand

Currently the most successful science-based start-ups are the companies offering innovative solutions in the field of pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies. It’s noteworthy that despite the previous revelations and even judicial proceedings the list of the most expensive start-ups still includes Theranos, blood analyzing laboratory, whose story did not descend from the main pages of the global leading media from 2014.

It first amazed the audience with its fantastic take-off and then with its collapse. One of the crucial parts of the success story of this start-up is its fundamental difference from the majority of the services produced in the Silicon Valley. Unlike the others, it was not a story of yet another beautiful gadget for communication or mobile app, but the story of the scientific idea which intended to conquer the world.

The great success stories in other scientific areas are now happening on occasional basis. However certain facts allow to predict that the situation is to change soon. One of such factors is growing interest among the big corporations to attract innovative solutions from outside to develop their businesses.

Given the accelerating pace of scientific and technological development of the world, the activities of internal R & D departments are often turn to be insufficient to ensure stable development of innovative business. Outsourcing of the R&D may become the efficient mechanism to stimulate the growth of the company. And high-tech start-up can certainly benefit from it.

Start-Up Technology for the Petro-Business

In December, 2016 world leading companies in the field of gas processing, petrochemicals and chemicals announced their intentions to enforce their R&D capacities by attracting start-ups. 3M, AkzoNobel, BASF, The Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, Henkel, Honeywell UOP, LG Chem, Linde, Sibur, Solvay and Technip together created a global stage for startups and investors.

“The petrochemicals industry can and must rely on the potential of open innovations to facilitate further inventions and implementation of new solutions in all major application areas, from construction and medicine to packaging and 3D printing. Thanks to the participation of international partners, IQ-CHem is now the largest global project within the industry which attracts innovative solutions and provides for their implementation into practice,” said Vasily Nomokonov, Executive Director of Sibur, a company which coordinates the project.

Positive Experience in Chemicals and Beyond

Some of the listed companies have already gained positive experience in working with start-ups which may have driven them to elaborate a systemic approach to attract innovative companies.

At the beginning of 2016, SIBUR and RRT Global start-up reached an agreement to build a pilot plant for isomerization based on RRT Global technologies in Sibur’s Industrial Park SIBUR “Tolyattisintez”. According to Oleg Giyazov, co-founder and CEO of RRT Global cooperation with a large corporation bring significant advantages to his company.

“By cooperation with Sibur we get a huge industrial experience that enables us to develop technologies and solutions better fitted to the market demand. This advantage is often not given due attention, but we, on the contrary, see significant opportunities in it. Currently, RRT Global cooperates with several companies around the world” he said.

Another petrochemical leader BASF enjoys successful cooperation with Genomatica start-up. In 2013 BASF started the production of 1,4-butanediol based on renewable feedstock (renewable BDO) using Genomatica’s patented process and in 2015 the license was expanded to the Asian market.

Unlike traditional forms of cooperation between a start-up and a venture capitalist, a cooperation between start-up and a relevant corporation allows to minimize the risks associated with investing in a potentially promising idea where the key word is “potential” (but not “guaranteed”). While delivering services in the same field as the start-up the corporation gets an opportunity to more effectively and accurately estimate the market value of an innovative idea and to support its implementation.

Structural Changes Ahead: Outlines of A Coming Market

In the short term prospective, possibly in 2017, the global start-up market will face structural changes – both in terms of start-ups professional orientation and of funding mechanism. In the future science-based start-ups will dominate the market and will change our lives at a deeper level than the way of sending a text message or searching the restaurant for an evening meal. To be more concise this is already happening in the pharmaceutical industry, and the other scientific areas are to follow.


About the Author

This article was written by Dominik Stephan of Process Worldwide. See more.

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Callum Connects

Norman Tien, Founder of Neuromath and Early Math Matters



From a young age, Norman Tien, found his passion helping students as a math tutor and went on to translate that into a successful business.

What’s your story?
From the age of 14, I knew I would be in business for myself and started designing my company logo.

Growing up in a poor family, I worked part time while I was in school. That’s when I started tutoring and realised I had a gift to help students “see” mathematics. I delivered good results, and my students started to love math as well.

A turning point was when I was down with dengue fever and I realised I had to grow my business to the next level. I started a learning centre and that was the beginning of Neuromath. The initial years were tough as costs went up while my personal income took a dive. I almost gave up, but I pushed through.

Today, we have 3 specialty math enrichment centres managed and delivered by my dedicated team of teachers.

What excites you most about your industry?
“How to win” has always influenced how I position myself in the industry. I researched the psychology of learning, why some students are so naturally good at math, while others struggled. I managed to find the connection, and have always sought out niches to position myself so I can win.

In the beginning, I fused academic delivery with psychology to differentiate my services. Now I have a good team of teachers fully equipped with a psychological skillset.

In the next evolution of our business, we will incorporate technology into education in order to customise each student’s learning experience based on his or her needs.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and educated in Singapore. One key driver why I started a business was, as a youth, I witnessed how my dad struggled daily as a taxi driver trying to make ends meet.

That said, I am very blessed to be in Singapore and to be given the right education. I see this as a very important factor to my success today.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – well, for one, most of my businesses are here. Singapore is convenient for business and is very well governed. There are rules and systems that make the entire entrepreneurial journey more secure here. One big plus is the location: Singapore is a hub that allows us to connect to the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
船到桥头自然直 –
There is a Chinese saying that when a boat goes near the pier, it will automatically align itself (with the current). It means we don’t have to worry too much, that things will take care of themselves.

A mentor once challenged me: “But who can guarantee you can even reach the pier?”

It is such a highly competitive world we are in, who can guarantee success? This is the ONE question that has been etched in my mind for decades. The Chinese saying always comes to mind when I am positioning, designing and strategizing for my business.

Who inspires you?
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – The fact that he started ruling the country just like a startup. With limited resources, he was able to find a strong positioning to differentiate his country from the rest of the of Asia. With hardwork and proper planning, he transformed Singapore from a fishing village to a prominent financial hub in Asia.

Because Mr. Lee Kuan Yew positioned Singapore so well, government owned companies, such as Singapore Airlines, have emerged as the best in the world.

His story inspires me, spurs me to understand that success is not by chance but by design – every little step, all the strategies are all planned out. Not at all by chance.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
My business coach, Marshall Thurber, shared with me the power of the “Trim Tab” – a small part of the rudder system in a ship. This Trim Tab, despite its small size, is able to influence the entire ship’s direction by turning it.

This metaphor helped me see that a man can influence the entire world if the right effort is applied. We are now living in an entirely new world, the way we commute with an app on the phone – that’s the power of the Trim Tab at work.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would embark on the same journey but I would seek a mentor at a very early age.

I have been through many hard knocks along the way, and I definitely could have shortened the learning curve if I had a mentor to advise me on the many aspects of entrepreneurship.

How do you unwind?
Driving down long highways helps me unwind, that’s when I let my mind relax and wander.

I love long distance driving and riding. My wife gave me a Harley Davidson Tourer for my 50th birthday and we intend to embark on riding holidays together in Asia.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong – I love the fast pace and the vibrance of the city. I love the cars there and it’s a very unique and exciting experience for me. And of course, I love the food there too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One Minute Millionaire – this book highlights the mindset of an individual that is the key determinant for success in whatever we embark on. As long as we know we have a very strong reason why we need to do it, we can do it!

Shameless plug for your business:
I am the CEO and Founder of 2 Math enrichment brands:
Neuromath is a Specialist Math Learning Centre that helps students from Primary 1 to Junior College, empowering them with strategies, skills and a strong desire to learn and problem solve. We use technology to train students to avoid careless mistakes reclaiming 30 marks or more in Math exams and achieve their full potential in math.

Early Math Matters is a premier Mathematics and Cognitive Development enrichment centre for preschool children aged 3-6 years old. Through purposeful play and our renowned EMM approach, we help learners build a strong foundation for problem solving at an early age, and instil in them a passion & love for math that will stay with them for life.

We are actively seeking passionate teachers, entrepreneurs and investors who are keen to grow the education business with us.

How can people connect with you?
I speak regularly at workshops for schools, parents and platforms demonstrating the use of technology for peak performance in education.

Do contact me at

Alternatively, you can connect with me:

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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