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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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What Kills A Startup



1 – Being inflexible and not actively seeking or using customer feedback

Ignoring your users is a tried and true way to fail. Yes that sounds obvious but this was the #1 reason given for failure amongst the 32 startup failure post-mortems we analyzed. Tunnel vision and not gathering user feedback are fatal flaws for most startups. For instance, ecrowds, a web content management system company, said that “ We spent way too much time building it for ourselves and not getting feedback from prospects — it’s easy to get tunnel vision. I’d recommend not going more than two or three months from the initial start to getting in the hands of prospects that are truly objective.”

2 – Building a solution looking for a problem, i.e., not targeting a “market need”

Choosing to tackle problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was often cited as a reason for failure. Sure, you can build an app and see if it will stick, but knowing there is a market need upfront is a good thing. “Companies should tackle market problems not technical problems” according to the BricaBox founder. One of the main reasons BricaBox failed was because it was solving a technical problem. The founder states that, “While it’s good to scratch itches, it’s best to scratch those you share with the greater market. If you want to solve a technical problem, get a group together and do it as open source.”

3 – Not the right team

A diverse team with different skill sets was often cited as being critical to the success of a starti[ company. Failure post-mortems often lamented that “I wish we had a CTO from the start, or wished that the startup had “a founder that loved the business aspect of things”. In some cases, the founding team wished they had more checks and balances. As Nouncers founder stated, “This brings me back to the underlying problem I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made.” Wesabe founder also stated that he was the sole and quite stubborn decision maker for much of the enterprises life, and therefore he can blame no one but himself for the failures of Wesabe. Team deficiencies were given as a reason for startup failure almost 1/3 of the time.

4 – Poor Marketing

Knowing your target audience and knowing how to get their attention and convert them to leads and ultimately customers is one of the most important skills of a successful business. Yet, in almost 30% of failures, ineffective marketing was a primary cause of failure. Oftentimes, the inability to market was a function of founders who liked to code or build product but who didn’t relish the idea of promoting the product. The folks at Devver highlighted the need to find someone who enjoys creating and finding distribution channels and developing business relationship for the company as a key need that startups should ensure they fill.

5 – Ran out of cash

Money and time are finite and need to be allocated judiciously. The question of how should you spend your money was a frequent conundrum and reason for failure cited by failed startups. The decision on whether to spend significantly upfront to get the product off the group or develop gradually over time is a tough act to balance. The team at YouCastr cited money problems as the reason for failure but went on to highlight other reasons for shutting down vs. trying to raise more money writing:

The single biggest reason we are closing down (a common one) is running out of cash. Despite putting the company in an EXTREMELY lean position, generating revenue, and holding out as long as we could, we didn’t have the cash to keep going. The next few reasons shed more light as to why we chose to shut down instead of finding more cash.

The old saw was that more companies were killed by poor cashflow than anything else, but factors 1, 2 and 4 probably are the main contributing factors to that problem. No cash, no flow. The issue No 3 – the team – is interesting, as if I take that comment ” I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made” and think about some of the founders and startup CEOs I know, I can safely say that the main way that any decision was made was by agreeing with them – it was “my way or the highway”. I don’t therefore “buy” the team argument, I more buy the willingness of the key decision makers to change when things are not working (aka “pivoting” – point 9).


About the Author

This article was produced by Broadsight. Broadsight is an attempt to build a business not just to consult to the emerging Broadband Media / Quadruple Play / Web 2.0 world, but to be structured according to its open principles. see more.

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Callum Connects

Jasmine Tan, Director of Stone Amperor



Jasmine saves her clients time and effort when doing kitchen fit outs with her biz Stone Amperor.

What’s your story?
I started working in the industry in 2003. I was in a marble and granite supplier company for 5 years. Even though I left the company, I still had customers calling me for my services. I referred them back to my previous company but they refused to because they loved the fast response service that I offered. I realised that customers do look at prices, however most of them prefer quality over quantity. Thus I have decided to establish a sole proprietor company also known as 78 Degrees which later rebranded as Stone Amperor in 2014.

What excites you most about your industry?
The kitchen countertop industry is a very confusing market. There are many brands, materials and prices to choose from. What excites me the most is my ability to help clients choose the best materials and brands within their budgets, whilst saving them time and effort.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I have been in Asia all my life and I love Asia. No matter where you go there is no place like home.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I love Singapore. This is because Singapore has always been a stable country and it is great for doing business. However as it is a small country, it can be really competitive. I believe that if just do your best and give your best to your customers, you can overcome this.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Take actions. Learn and improve continuously. An idea without action is just a dream.” This was really good advice that I received from my partner.

Who inspires you?
A very down to earth billionaire from Malaysia, Robert Kuok

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Property is the foundation of every business.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Own instead of renting property for my business.

How do you unwind?
I enjoy going shopping, watching movies and hanging out with friends. I am quite a simple being.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love going to Taiwan as I love the culture there. Everyone is so polite and the weather is great.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Sun Tzu, Art of war

Shameless plug for your business:
Perfect top, Perfect price, Perfect life from Stone Amperor

How can people connect with you?
Email me at [email protected]

Twitter handle?

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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