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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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Callum Connects

Malcolm Tan, Founder of Gravitas Holdings



Malcolm Tan is an ICO/ITO and Cryptocurrency advisor. He sees this new era as similar to when the internet launched.

What’s your story?
I’m a lawyer entrepreneur who owns multiple businesses, and who is now stepping into the Initial Coin Offering/Initial Token Offering/Cryptocurrency space to be a thought leader, writer (How to ICO/ITO in Singapore – A Regulatory and Compliance Viewpoint on Initial Coin Offering and Initial Token Offering in Singapore), and advisor through Gravitas Holdings – an ICO Advisory company. We are also running our own ICO campaign called AEXON, and advising 2 other ICO’s on their projects.

What excites you most about your industry?
It is the start of a whole new paradigm, and it is like being at the start of the internet era all over again. We have a chance to influence and shape the industry over the next decade and beyond and lead the paradigm shift.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m Singaporean and most of my business revolves around the ASEAN region. Our new ICO advisory company specialises in Singaporean ICO’s and we are now building partnerships around the region as well. One of the core business offerings of our AEXON ICO/ITO is to open up co-working spaces around the region, with a target to open 25 outlets, and perhaps more thereafter.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, since it is my hometown and most of my business contacts originate from or are located in Singapore. It is also a very open and easy place to do business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be careful of your clients – sometimes they can be your worst enemies. This is very true and you have to always be careful about whom you deal with. The closest people are the ones that you trust and sometimes they have other agendas or simply don’t tell you the truth or whole story and that can easily put one in a very disadvantageous position.

Who inspires you?
Leonardo Da Vinci as a polymath and genius and leader in many fields, and in today’s world, Elon Musk for being a polymath and risk taker and energetic business leader.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Early stage bitcoin investors would have made 1,000,000 times profit if they had held onto their bitcoins from the start to today – in the short space of 7 years.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Seek out good partnerships and networks from day one, and use the power of the group to grow and do things together, instead of being bogged down by operations and going it alone from start.

How do you unwind?
I hardly have any time for relaxation right now. I used to have very intense hobbies, chess when I was younger, bridge, bowling, some online real time strategy games and poker. All mentally stimulating games and requiring focus – I did all these at competitive levels and participated in national and international tournaments, winning multiple trophies, medals and awards in most of these fields.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Phuket – nature, resort life, beaches, good food and a vibrant crowd.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Richard Kiyosaki

Shameless plug for your business:
Gravitas Holdings (Pte) Limited is the premier ICO Advisory company and we can do a full service for entrepreneurs, including legal and compliance, smart contracts and token creation, marketing and PR, and business advisory and white paper writing/planning.

How can people connect with you?
Write emails to [email protected], or [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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Women on Top in Tech – Pam Weber, Chief Marketing Officer at 99Designs



(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Pam Webber is Chief Marketing Officer at 99designs, where she heads up the global marketing team responsible for acquisition, through growth marketing and traditional marketing levers, and increasing lifetime value of customers. She is passionate about using data to derive customer insights and finding “aha moments” that impact strategic direction. Pam brings a host of first-hand startup marketing experiences as an e-commerce entrepreneur herself and as the first marketing leader for many fast-growing startups. Prior to joining 99designs, she founded weeDECOR, an e-commerce company selling custom wall decals for kids’ rooms. She also worked as an executive marketing consultant at notable startups including True&Co, an e-commerce startup specializing in women’s lingerie. Earlier in her career, Pam served in various business and marketing positions with eBay and its subsidiary, PayPal, Inc. A resident of San Francisco, Pam received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MBA from Harvard Business School. Pam is a notable guest speaker for Venture Beat, The Next Web, Lean Startup, and Growth Hacking Forum, as well as an industry expert regularly quoted in Inc., CIO, Business News Daily, CMSwire, Smart Hustle, DIY Marketer, and various podcast and radio shows. You can follow her on Twitter at @pamwebber_sf.

What makes you do what you do?
My dad always told me make sure you choose a job you like because you’ll be doing it for a long time. I took that advice to heart and as I explored various roles over my career, I always stopped to check whether I was happy going to work every day – or at least most days :). That has guided me to the career I have in marketing today. I’m genuinely excited to go to work every day. I get to create, to analyze, to see the impact of my work. It’s very fulfilling.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I had a penchant for numbers and it helped me stand out in my field. This penchant became even more powerful when the Internet and digital marketing started to explode. There was a great need for marketers whose skills could span both the creative and the analytic aspects of marketing. I capitalized on that growth by bringing unique insight to the companies I worked with, well-supported with thoughtful analysis.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup?
I’m not sure this is relevant to my situation as I had been a marketing leader in various start-ups and companies. I took on the role at 99designs because I was excited by the global reach of the brand and the opportunity the company had to own the online design space. I especially liked the team as I felt they were good at heart.

The challenge I’ve faced in my time at 99designs is how do I evolve the team quickly and nimbly to address new challenges. The work we do now, is very different than the work we did a year ago and even the year before that. There is a fine line between staying focused on the goal ahead and being able to move quickly should that goal shift.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industry or did you look for one or how did that work?
There is no one I’ve sought out or worked with over my entire career as my “mentee” needs have changed so much over the years. There are many people who have helped me along the way. For example, one of my peers at eBay, who was quite experienced and skilled in marketing strategy and creative execution, taught me what was in a marketing plan and how to evaluate marketing assets. As I have risen to leadership positions over the years, I often reach out to similarly experienced colleagues for advice on how they handle situations.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
I learned early in my career that it rarely hurts to ask for advice. So that is what I have done. Additionally, there are people that are known to be quite helpful and build a reputation for giving back to others in advisory work. Michael Dearing, of Harrison Metal and ex-eBay, is one of those people. I, as well as countless others, have asked him for advice and guidance through the years and he does his best to oblige. Finding mentorship is about intuiting who in your universe might be willing and whether you are up for asking for help.

That being said, generally, I have found, if you are eager to learn and be guided, people will respond to the outreach.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I generally look for a good attitude and inherent “smarts”. A good attitude can encompass anything from being willing to take on many different types of challenges to working well amongst differing personalities and perspectives. Smarts can be seen through how well someone’s done in their “passion areas” (i.e. areas where they have a keen interest in pursuing).

I try to hire those types of people because in smaller, fast-growing companies like many of the ones I’ve worked in, it’s more often than not about hiring flexible people as things move and change fast.

Once those people are on my team, I try to keep them challenged and engaged by making sure they have varying responsibilities. If I can’t give them growth in their current job or in the current company, I encourage them to seek growth opportunities elsewhere. I’d rather have one of my stars leave for a better growth opportunity than keep them in a role where they might grow stale.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously support diversity. When I am hiring, I am constantly thinking about how to balance the team with as broad a range as possible of skill sets, perspectives, etc. to ensure we can take on whatever is thrown at us, or whatever we want to go after.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
I’m going to assume a great leader in my industry to mean a marketing leader in a technology company. I think a great leader in this industry is not afraid to learn new tricks no matter their age – it’s the growth mindset you may have heard about. I have a friend who inspires me to do this – she purchased the Apple Watch as soon as it was available, and was one of the first people I knew to use the Nest heating/cooling system. She’s not an early adopter by most definitions, but she adopts the growth mindset. This is the mindset I, too, have sought to adopt. In my field of marketing, it most recently has meant learning about Growth Marketing and how to apply this methodology to enhance growth. Independent of your industry, I think a growth mindset serves you well.

Advice for others?
I have been at 99designs for 3.5 years. During that time we’ve invested in elevating the skills and quality of our designer community, we’ve rebranded to reflect this higher level of quality, and have improved the satisfaction of our customers. Our next phase of growth will come from better matching clients to the right designer and expanding the ability to work with a designer one-on-one. We have the best platform to find, collaborate, and pay professional designers who deliver high quality design at an affordable price, and it’s only going to get better. I’m excited to deliver on that vision.

Pam Webber
Chief Marketing Officer of 99designs
Twitter: @pamwebber_sf

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