What Startups Can Learn from The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is back on AMC for another season, and that makes us very happy. It’s like an old friend that you thought was gone for good, but somehow keeps coming back. The tagline for Season 5 is “Hunt or Be Hunted,” which also describes the market environment for startups right now. With all the dangers of looming bankruptcy, mergers, acquisitions, cannibalizing product lines, the search for a cure in ecommerce and intellectual property disputes (i.e. fighting over brains), it can feel like a zombie apocalypse out there. In tribute to the show and the Halloween season, we polled the office for valuable life lessons (and afterlife lessons) that come straight out of The Walking Dead.


Lessons from Matt D:

It’s a new world out there. A startup must do whatever it takes to survive, but simply surviving isn’t enough anymore. Your company has to prosper and grow or it will be consumed by the next wave of entrepreneurs right behind you. You jeopardize the entire organization when someone on the team isn’t committed to the long-term success of the company. Once the right team is in place, you need strong, cross-market partnerships. A lone wolf has a chance of survival rapidly approaching zero.

Lessons from Tyler D:

At the start of Season 3, it seemed unnecessarily risky for Rick’s group to attempt a prison takeover with only a ragtag bunch of survivors when his wife, Lori, was due to give birth at any moment. In the end, though, it was a great strategic move. Rick and his team learned the new market, one cell block at a time, and successfully adapted to their surroundings. A season later, market conditions again changed abruptly, and they had to adapt to a new journey. In the meantime, holding the prison taught them valuable skills and brought new team members into the fold.

Lessons from Kris G:

In the post-recession world, like the post-apocalyptic zombie-verse of Rick and company, you can never let your guard down. Sometimes, what seems like the safest decision is the wrong one for your long-term survival. There will come a time when you need to risk it all or watch your business be eaten alive in the marketplace. This is really what being a lean startup is all about. Everything beyond what is essential for survival is irrelevant. When your competition is brainless walkers, it’s easy to stay two to three moves ahead, but beware of competitors like the Governor and the Hunters who are always looking for a way to take you out of the game.

Lessons from Lyn S:

Looking at the hardened killers of Team Rick, it’s easy to forget that they were once just ordinary people. They overcame their fear of taking risks and taking lives (if you can call them that) of the undead. Think about Carol. When she finds that Lizzie is endangering the safety of the group, Lizzie has to go. It was a painful choice and it changed Carol, but it was the right decision for everyone. The next threat can come from anywhere, even in broad daylight, so keep a weapon in your hand. Eliminate your problems before they turn into something far more deadly.

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