Four Qualities of Daenerys Targaryen that Can Help Your Startup Succeed

Your grace, my ladies and my lords,

I don’t know about you, but I always wonder if I were thrown into Game of Thrones, how many episodes I would survive. I know in The Hunger Games I would stand no chance due to zero outdoor survival skills, but the politics of Game of Thrones is just as treacherous.

I kept thinking about what we can learn from the rise and fall of the Game of Thrones characters, and how to apply these lessons to our professional careers. It’s natural for me to start with Daenerys Targaryen since we are about the same height. As an entrepreneur who’s not an online beauty guru, I see a “deeper game” in her than dressing up like her at Halloween or naming kids “Khaleesi”.

Okay fine – I am drawn to the superficial aspects too, such as her perfect posture – Emilia is perfectly capable of slouching, as in Me before You and that Daenerys finally budged to Daario’s persistence and had some fun, which reminds me to re-evaluate the “work-work balance” that many entrepreneurs take for granted.

I see Daenerys as the startup and everyone else is fighting in a corporate world. She exemplifies the spirit of a Silicon Valley darling: ambitious, tenacious and ultra-high growth. If your career goal is to climb the corporate ladder, learn from those in Westereos. However, if you’re an entrepreneur, check out her top four entrepreneurial qualities:

Unfair Advantage

This determines how large your business can be, especially if your market is crowded. Daenerys is fire-resistant and owns dragons; so how is your technology superior? If not, a small business may be totally fine for you. However, if your ambition is greater, be very honest about your advantage so you don’t pull a Theranos. I have sympathy for how Liz Holmes’ got into the unfortunate situation and let’s all learn from her lesson.

A Constant Learning Mindset

An entrepreneur must grow as a person in order for the business to survive. Daenerys quickly learned about her market (the Dothrakis and the cities east of Westeros) and got support from influencers Drogo, Second Sons, and even the masters. But these alone do not mean there was a product and market fit; so she learned from her mistakes (attempt to change Dothrakis’ culture, and trusting Drogo’s life to a vengeful witch).

Daenerys iterated quickly from disrupting underserved markets (making sure slavery is completely eliminated in Astapor, Yunkai, Meereen) before expanding mainstream when she is ready (with the Unsullied, the Dothrakis and the Greyjoy’s Armada). This is akin to Clayton Christensen’s text book version of “disruptive novation,” like Netflix, which started by owning the underserved long-tail video rental market before moving to streaming blockbuster and original content.

Keep Your Senses When Things Get Emotional

Daenerys kept calm when the “angel investors,” didn’t share her vision (the wealthy merchants in Quarth), when vendors insulted her (the slave master in astapor), when competitors threatened her (the Dothraki Khals whom she then burnt) and when customers gave bad reviews (the slave-master conflict escalated after she executed Mossador by law).

Her firing was never personal, regardless of her brother, lover (Daario, who wanted to follow her to Westeros) or betrayal (Ser Jorah). Daenerys seems to be self-aware of her own biases and weaknesses and was also able to listen to advice from her team even when she is emotional. I find this to be the most critical and also the most difficult thing for an entrepreneur.

Nail your Message

A venture investor once asked me, “You went to the Stanford GSB and raised angel funding, why the hell didn’t you tell me all this first?” I look at Daenerys – she is never shy about how awesome she is and her entire team delivers her pitch anytime, anywhere. Her presence for inspirational speaking is unparalleled – even when she is starving, when she lost her “Sun and Stars” (Drogo) or when speaking a foreign language after eating a raw horse heart. Lastly, her social impact message like freeing the slaves built a viral community and lowered the cost of “user” acquisition.

You are probably saying, “She is fictional, how am I supposed to be like her?” Daenerys is not perfect and you better not have dragons that torch people alive. However, Phil Anderson, a partner at IDG Ventures already blogged that he would fund Daenerys if she were a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Why? For being “confident, a visionary with strong moral compass, an inspirational leader, agile, resilient and a funding rainmaking”.

So my fellow entrepreneurs, we can all learn these four things from Daenerys and change the world.



One Response

  1. Mel February 13, 2017

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