UpCode Academy’s Chief Academic Officer and Instructor, Jackie Tan-Yen, shares his experience in managing a startup in Singapore and how it’s similar to playing his beloved RPG games.


I spent a large part of my youth playing video games. RPGs, like the Final Fantasy series, and tactical RPGs, like the Fire Emblem series, were my favourites. There was something riveting about a group of characters banding together and taking on challenges and dungeons, one after another, and eventually saving the world at the end.

As I spent more time in the entrepreneurial world, I noticed increasing number of parallels to RPGs. It was a fun realisation because it frames how we can approach entrepreneurship for younger aspiring startup founders. As I mentor other startup founders, I find myself using these comparisons more often (provided my mentees play RPGs as well).

In this article, I will introduce some of the more obvious parallels! This comparison is not meant to reduce entrepreneurship into a game (it’s serious business). Instead, I’d like to propose an alternative and hopefully refreshing way to think about entrepreneurship, especially for the younger audience.

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1. You And Your Co-Founders = Main Characters

Running A Startup Is Like Playing An RPG, Says One Startup Founder_2

Think of the co-founding as a group of adventurers — the CEO as a warrior, and the CTO as a wizard or vice-versa. Each character comes with their own skills, strengths, and weaknesses. These adventurers also come with equipment, and how much starting gold they have.

There are rare founders who are multi-class characters that can equip many different hats, but those are few and far between and it makes more sense to engage in division of labor.

Eventually, you’d have enough gold to hire your own minions (employees) to do your bidding. That’s when your team expands and you start taking on more strategic decision making for your underlings to execute.

Balance is important — you wouldn’t want a team filled with nothing but warriors, do you? You’d be wiped out if you encounter monsters that are immune to physical attacks.

In addition, having a team is advantageous because it’s important to have the right mix of skills and equipment. Those things determine how well you fight monsters. Monsters? Speaking of monsters…

2. Problems To Solve = Monsters

Running A Startup Is Like Playing An RPG, Says One Startup Founder_1

There are many monsters (problems) to slay (solve) in this world, each with their unique properties and levels of difficulty. Adventurers band together to fight these monsters. When you slay those monsters, they drop loot and money. Slay enough, your team levels up and get to buy sweet equipment.

Adventurers that slay low-levelled monsters will level up slowly and they’ll take forever to buy new equipment. You can grind all day, but it’ll never match up to those adventurers who tackle increasingly stronger monsters over time. At this stage, adventurers can either continue slaying monsters as usual, i.e. become long self-sustaining companies, or save the world/join a bigger group of adventurers, i.e. go for an exit via IPO/M&A respectively.

What if adventurers want to slay larger, bigger, monsters? Introducing … merchants.

P.S. The thing is, sometimes you have a team that suits up and heads out…only to find that there is no monsters to kill. So make sure you identify the right monsters to kill, else at the end of the day you might just disband after running out of time and resources.

3. VC = Nobles

Running A Startup Is Like Playing An RPG, Says One Startup Founder_3

You’re doing well, slaying smaller monsters and you think you’re ready to slay larger ones. However, the equipment and party size required to tackle these huge monsters are just too much. These monsters can span continents and/or multiple areas. It’s a humongous monster, but it offers great rewards as well. Furthermore, other groups of adventurers are trying to kill it at the same time.

To compete with other adventurers and to overcome the huge monster, adventurers will now have to make an appeal to nobles. These nobles provide excellent equipment, money, and advice for you to slay humongous monsters. In return, when you save the world, they get a piece of the reward as well.

P.S. Admittedly, it was hard deciding whether to consider VCs nobles or kings. Why aren’t VCs kings? They serve the funds they raise from. VCs do have bosses too, just so you know. That’s a topic for another day.

Conclusion

Running A Startup Is Like Playing An RPG, Says One Startup Founder_4

Using RPGs as a lens was an amusing exercise, but one that makes sense as well. As I continued on my startup journey in fundMyLife, it did really feel like I was in an RPG with my co-founder. It’s a hard adventure, but it’s also a rewarding and fun one as well.

Have any more comparisons that you’d like to share? Please comment below and let me know! Looking forward to gathering enough material for Part II.

Photos: Unsplash