Startup Life/Opinion/

What fighting terrifying squids taught me about being a founder

Some VCs are just going to give you a simple “no”, and sometimes N’Zoth the Corruptor is just going to sit you down on your ass.

N'Koth the Corruptor. Credit: Wowhead.com/Capreesun
Alexey Moiseenkov

By Alexey Moiseenkov

Preparation, teamwork and resilience: key skills for any founder. They’re also key skills for anyone planning to take down N’Zoth the Corruptor, a terrifying squid-like monster and one of the toughest bosses found in World of Warcraft (WoW). 

A lot of founders will brag about how being an Olympic athlete, climbing Everest on their hands or kitesurfing across the Atlantic has made them a stronger entrepreneur. But have they spent nearly 10,000 hours — more than 416 full calendar days — playing WoW? 

Maybe those other things look nice in flashy LinkedIn posts. And there will surely be people out there who read this and think I’ve “wasted” my time on some trivial fantasy game — but I know it’s taught me the strategic thinking and leadership that’s helped me succeed as a founder.

Here’s how getting ready to descend into N’Zoth’s lair isn’t so dissimilar from getting ready for a big meeting with a potential client or investor.

Preparing your team

Taking down powerful foes like N’Zoth in WoW is a part of the game that’s known as “raiding”. A group of 10 to 40 players must be assembled to enter the enemy’s dwelling and beat them.

The responsibilities are divided between three main roles: healers, damage dealers and tanks (these are characters who can take a lot of damage and keep going). Within those roles, every player will have different strengths and weaknesses. 

As a raid leader, you need to recruit the best players and decide on your tactics as you prepare for the fight. Building a raiding party is just like building a team at a startup — you need to make sure you’ve got the right distribution of talent in the right roles.

And, much like if you’re going into a big meeting as a founder, you need to know exactly what’s waiting for you.

“Once you’ve vanquished legions of evil and armour-clad demons, a few gilet-wearing VCs aren’t going to trouble you”

Just like you’d gather tonnes of information about the client or VC firm you’re meeting, the raid leader has to do their homework, looking through guides and studying their future opponent. 

Then you provide your team with the crucial details, build the roadmap and draw up a precise plan to achieve your goal. You make sure everyone’s got the right special items so that, whatever the boss throws at you, you’ve got an answer. Coordinating 40 people over multiple time zones and languages is no mean feat — and also what remote startups are now doing on a daily basis!

Just like you might use a tool like Notion to organise a gameplan like this in business, there’s software for raiding too. You can use RaidPlan to visualise what resources and strategies you’ll need to come out on top.

Gruelling

Even with the best preparation in the world, you’re not always going to come out victorious. Some VCs are just going to give you a simple “no”, and sometimes N’Zoth is just going to sit you down on your ass. Over and over again.

It can take literally hundreds of attempts to beat the toughest bosses in WoW. Like anything that requires perseverance, you need to learn what you’re doing wrong, but also be able to keep consistently repeating the things you’re doing right.

And, once you’ve vanquished legions of evil and armour-clad demons, a few gilet-wearing VCs aren’t going to trouble you.

Games also have one big advantage when it comes to learning skills like this when compared to the real world: time.

When I first started playing WoW I remember the feeling I got from the short reward loop it gives you. If you fail, you can try again straight away, allowing you to learn and progress quickly. It felt amazing.

I’d always been taught that success at school or in sports takes a long time — years or months. Games taught me you can learn and improve fast, given the right environment. Years later, that lesson is still helping me today in rapid testing of product hypotheses: not everything has to take months to get better.

So many founders make the mistake of delaying the release of their minimum viable product, based on the idea that building perfection takes time. Product iteration should be all about learning fast and creating short feedback loops between user testing and development.

Levelling out

It’s not just resilience, planning and strategy that gaming teaches you. Organising a team of 40 players from different cultures also forces you to see everyone as equal, no matter where they’re from.

As a teenager, I played in many multilingual teams and managed to establish strong connections with people of different ages, mindsets and cultural values. 

Once, when I was in middle school, I went to an offline meeting with other WoW players. I was the youngest guy in the pub, but it didn’t matter to anyone. The adults treated me as their equal and even got me drinks, because they appreciated the skills I’d shown in the game. It was a celebration of equality and socialising without boundaries.

People say that you need to spend 10,000 hours on something to really learn it. But the hours I’ve spent on WoW have taught me much more than just how to take down N’Zoth the Corruptor.

Alexey Moiseenkov is founder of LF.Group

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Kate
Kate

Amazing staff!

Alejandro Gonsalves
Alejandro Gonsalves

inspiring