Batman: a lesson for entrepreneurs

By Mic Wright on July 25th, 2012

Over-thinking films is a very modern disease. Take that Reddit thread of fan theories, where the seemingly clear plots and dénouements of classic movies and television shows are refashioned as false memories by meme-savvy obsessives. I love it! I also love the way that the seemingly clear ending of The Dark Knight Rises – no spoilers, don’t worry – has become a subject of debate. Similarly, there’s some fun to be had in yoking pop culture figures to theories on business, society and politics. Witness the debate over Bruce Wayne’s voting intentions: would Batman come out to bat for Barack or put his angrily-drawn cross in the box for Romney? I suspect neither; I think Bruce would be a Ron Paul-style libertarian if he materialised in our reality. My own “over-thinking it” take on Batman is to consider the lessons the caped crusader can offer to the average entrepreneur battling their way through a world filled with villainous VCs, pernicious public sector bodies and other assorted bad guys. After all, what is Bruce Wayne if not an intrepid entrepreneur? He’s disrupting crime-fighting, having bootstrapped his own parents’ basement operation to do it. No, come on, bear with me. Because the dichotomy of the Bruce Wayne the sometimes reclusive billionaire cum enigmatic playboy and gruff-voiced vigilante Batman is actually quite an instructive, albeit exaggerated, version of the contradictions that exist in most great chief executives. One the one side, you’ve got Steve Jobs the Buddhist, with the loving family; on the other, the man who parked in disabled spots and fired staff in the lift. To the entrepreneur, Batman provides an inspiring example. He sees that crime fighting in Gotham is inefficient, corrupt and ripe for disruption. After acquiring the required skills – in his case, groovy fighting styles and scientific discipline; in yours, PHP and marketing savvy – and securing the necessary funding, he sets about taking decisive action and publicising the business. Let’s face it: no launch party can compete with a giant signal that lights up the night sky. Like most entrepreneurs, Wayne also starts out working from home and his office or, if you prefer, Bat Cave, is littered with toys and distractions, like most start-up HQs. Wisely, however, Batman avoids staffing up and keeps his personnel burn rate relatively low, provided you ignore the fact that he lives in a mansion with a live-in butler. Batman Inc is the epitome of the lean startup: driving the product strategy – by punching bad guys in the face – Wayne is a take-charge CEO. Supplying him with the technology required to disrupt the market, Lucian Fox is a highly effective CTO. Commissioner Gordon, though a representative of the traditional market, acts as an investor, earning sweat equity in the Batman project. As any wise entrepreneur should do, Batman ensures he has a cooler, wiser head around to provide market intelligence and sage advice. Every smart founder needs an Alfred. And Bruce Wayne even goes as far as to bring on Robin as an intern, training him up to be a future leader. Unfortunately, as any disruptive entrepreneur will know, Batman faces many ruthless competitors who are keen to put him out of business. Individuals such as the Joker and Bane are common in any commercial environment, though it is unlikely as chief executive of a social networking company that your rivals will attack you with a Tommy gun or institute a physically violent takeover of your workspace (unless you’re a TechHub resident, of course, in which case all bets are off). While the approach taken by Batman’s competitors is non-traditional, there are again lessons for the start-up leader in how he deals with each challenge. With Bane, he realises he must get the market on his side again before he can force his rival out of business. Similarly, it is by understanding the Joker’s strategy that he is able to outflank him. It’s worth noting, though. that just as Batman faces consequences for tackling the Joker, your business may not come out unscathed in a head-to-head clash with a competitor. In summary, Batman is a brilliant entrepreneur with the vision and execution ability to totally revolutionise the market before him, but he faces many challenges. It is not enough simply to get your proposition and the technology behind it right: you must also learn how to combat threats from your competitors and put together a team around you that you can trust. Designing a utility belt and a heavily armed, rocket-powered car definitely helps too.