Can slaying zombies online help to run a startup?

So.. We have established that this article might not be that interesting to you unless you have clocked more than 400 hours of Steam game-play and have a vitamin D deficiency. However, my nerdy brain can’t help but compare my life with the lives of the survivors in the post apocalyptic world of Left 4 Dead.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the game it basically involves a team of zombie-slaying survivors banding together with the common goal of reaching a safe zone. Now, with the turbulent world of business start-ups we all want to achieve certain goals but there are countless obstacles in our way much like the swarm of blood-crazed zombies in L4D. Fair enough, most obstacles in the startup world don’t threaten us with mutilation or death but there are some dangerous threats out there. Also just to make it clear, I don’t condone the use of armed force towards other businesses (just in case).

This list outlines some of the nastier undead threats to your startup in more detail:

The Jockey

In L4D this little bastard creeps up on you and jumps onto your shoulders to steer you away from safety. In the start-up world this guy represents the loss of focus that start-ups sometimes face when trying to reach a goal. It can be real easy to start playing with new products and features before you have succeeded with your core product. A friend of mine would often scream in rage when I deviated from the safety of the path to look for ‘fancier’ weapons.

This sheds light on one of my biggest personal challenges. I often found myself running before I could properly walk which sometimes led to a burn-out or an unexplained result. Working on a new project would often get me extremely excited and I didn’t have the patience to carefully plan, execute and evaluate my actions. I think that having a co-founder, friend or colleague with a logical and realistic approach is always handy here.

The Tank

This one kinda explains itself. When you are a small little team working 14 hour days on the next big thing. The last thing you want is Google or Microsoft launching a similar product and SMASHING your hopes and aspirations to hell. Can’t really compete can you? Well history has proved this to be wrong in some cases and I can’t think of a better example than Instagram. These guys launched a photo editing app that Facebook soon tried to replicate. With all of Facebook’s resources they couldn’t make a dent in the market because it wasn’t what made Facebook “Facebook”. It was only ever a side product for them whilst Instagram concentrated purely on delivering a top notch photo application. I think that Tanks can be overrated (unless you run out of Shotgun shells).

The Witch.

This is where it gets nasty. The first time I came across one of these on L4D I almost soiled myself in terror. You start hearing a disturbing moaning sound and if you come across her it’s basically life or death depending on how you deal with her. She incapacitates players instantly if startled and she is bloody fast!

I think that the witch represents major unforeseen events like long downtime, hackings and PR scandals. We have seen so many cases of this recently in the press and it is interesting to see how companies respond. I believe that stakeholders appreciate honesty and transparency above all else when shit hits the fan.


The Smoker.

Arguably one of the most annoying monsters on L4D. This guy lurks in the shadows and when you are least expecting it, drags you away from safety. What is more peculiar is that he does this with his HUGE tongue and starts to suffocate you (much like a boa constrictor).

The Smoker represents the nitty-gritty world of tax, law and intellectual property. When you are a small startup it can be so easy to forget about the ‘official stuff’ but you have to do it. Even if you are taking a few hundred pounds a week in revenue or are living off investment you have to account for everything or the tax man WILL slay you. We are serious guys. Happened to a lovely tech start-up down the road.

When it comes to intellectual property I think that in some cases it makes sense to protect a product somehow or another. I do find however that it can be frustrating and uncomfortable when someone cannot discuss their idea with you ‘in case someone steals it’. I have always benefited from amazing advice when sharing new ideas and I believe that we are only as good as the people around us. I think that we started to think about these values at ideasprout (an incredibly fun failed venture) and I now value transparency as one of the most important parts of my life.

I think to say that the start-up world is one big game. By this I don’t mean that you should take it lightly. I just think that you should always be ready to adapt seamlessly, experiment lots and embrace failure. If you are running down a dark corridor alone on L4D then you are most likely going to get your head torn off but you need to learn this lesson the hard way. I find that it is so similar to the start-up world and I find myself making mistakes like this all the time.

I have failed with 3 ventures in the past but every time it happens I learn so much and it has been amazing fun. I recently left Static to pursue a wonderful opportunity working for Buffer and I am loving the ‘Bootcamp’ stage!

I am really enjoying life after university and as much as I love a good zombie shooter, I hope that rabies never becomes airborne.

Thanks for reading!


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