Video games have been around most of my life, but it was only last week when I realized that they can actually teach us something about startups. Specifically, first-person “shooter” games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and the old-school Goldeneye 007 provide a good analogy to getting a new venture off the ground. How? Strategy and skill. Read further and I’ll explain.

In this genre, games are variations on a theme – playing through the eyes of your character and given a series of weapons, your goals is shoot/blow up other players and avoid having the same done to you. Since these games are played online, you can play against top players from all over the world.¬†If you want to find out what it’s like to get schooled by an 11-year old, it won’t take long.

Players generally fall into two camps Рstrategic and skillful. Strategic players think ahead and plan well. They know where the good vantage points are, when to run and when to hide, and are smart enough to predict the behavior of other players. You can be a terrible shot, but if you can be strategic, you can still be pretty effective. Strategy comes out of patience and understanding.

Skillful players are those who are dexterous in handling their weapons. These are the players who can jump of a building, see an enemy running in the distance, and tag him with one shot, all before he hits the ground a half second later. These players can get away with poor strategy, because their action is so quick and precise. Skill can be gained only one way – hours upon hours of practice.

Obviously, the best players are those that combine both strategy and skill. Don’t go near them.

There is a perfect parallel to running a new venture here. Strategic organizations understand where they’re headed, are aware of competitors, and use their intelligence to stay ahead of others. They’re savvy about addressing the needs of their customers, and are effective at utilizing their assets at just the right time and place. They’re led by thinkers and sharp analysts.

Skillful startups ooze technical ability. They have teams of crack programmers and project managers, and they thrive on speed and execution. These organizations get things done. They can take something to market faster than anyone else can, and can iterate with new improvements at the drop of a hat. Skill-based startups are led by tech and management whizzes.

Naturally, successful ventures have to demonstrate both strategy and skill. Without skill, a startup won’t be able to grow and respond quickly enough to remain relevant. And without the strategy – well, doing a good job of providing something that no one wants won’t get you very far. The good news is that if you fall short on one of these and your new venture fails, at least you won’t have been beaten by an 11-year old.

How does your startup fare in its balance of strategy and skill?

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