How The Martian Kept Me on The Broke-Ass Entrepreneur Path

WARNING - This post contains some spoilers of the movie, “The Martian”. I try not to reveal too much, but still. If you haven’t seen the movie, please do. It is that awesome, and this is not just the geek in me speaking. Ok, maybe. But still...go.

My family will tell you I am a bona-fide sci-fi fan. My three girls (all under ten) have watched every single piece of Star Wars content, can break down every theory and mystery of “Lost”, and have powered through a hardcore binge of “Fringe” with me on Netflix (wait, did I just promo the heck out of JJ Abrams vehicles?). The ability to peer into the future, hang out with other-worldly tech, and immerse myself in the what-ifs and possibilities of science is a gift that I have always appreciated from science fiction.  

When The Martian started getting heavy promotion prior to landing in the theaters, I was hooked. There was something different about this movie, and when my wife (who has tolerated my sci-fi fixation from day one) suggested we go see it, I knew this was an opening night event. We geared up that Friday evening, and went to get entertained.

Oh, I was thoroughly entertained. However, I also came out utterly inspired and hardened on my choice to go for broke and build a an unproven business. In the car as we went searching for a post movie cold treat, I was stunned into contemplation. This thing can be done. Don’t stop. Keep pushing. Don’t give up. Hack this bad boy. Over the weekend, the euphoria that I felt leaving the theater, lingered. As I stared at our MixPanel dashboard, I was more resolute. The fear was still there, just no flight impulse...more fight.

How did The Martian conjure all this in me? Let me break it down:

Confront the beast. And then move on, get to making/fixing: The fear and tension that befell Mark Watney (Matt Damon) after he was left behind on Mars was palpable. He took some time to assess - limited resources, no communications, harsh environment. Pretty abysmal situation. However. He took stock - resources, time, his skill sets - and then set about to staying alive. That is Entrepreneurship 101. Acknowledge the fear, acknowledge how crazy you are, then get your butt moving. Ain’t nobody got time to chill.

You Are Never Alone: Watney was genius. The dude could, paraphrasing, “science the s*** out of stuff”. And he did. Watching him manage his environment, grow food, re-engineer equipment was just...awesome. Unfortunately, on his own, he was certainly going to die on Mars. Not unless he had help. Once he made contact with NASA, all kinds of forces conspired to do whatever it took to bring one man back home. Turning a big mission into a viable business is not a loner’s game. You need help. You need skills that you don’t have. All you need to do is ask, and the amount of help that is out there will warm your heart. Doesn’t make it easier, makes it more feasible.    

Build The Plane While Flying: This was a space mission and rescue. This is also a Ridley Scott movie. Of course things went wrong. Improvisation became the core requisite of pretty much every character in the movie. Practically every damn solution Mark and the NASA team came up with was improvised. Most times they had only one shot at it. Most times the one shot went bad. Yet, they kept improvising. Moving forward. One way or the other, this thing will get done. The drama of the unknown is par for the course for me and my colleagues as we get this thing off the ground. Small squad, train is out of the station but the cars are not all connected. Shoot, we have a plan just don’t know where it will lead. Will the yes from a potential partner become a no? Can the platform handle the next batch of users? Until we get the one or two angels that seem interested to sign the term sheet, just how far can we bootstrap aKoma to? How much pressure is this taking on our families? Regardless, we keep pushing. Hard. As we hurtle to the ground with no parachutes.

Collaboration Ain’t Squat Without Badass Leaders: I love Jessica Chastain. The camera loves her too. But, man...can she exude leadership or what? As mission commander, her steely resolve and quick decision making was instrumental in the rescue of her fallen crew member. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jeff Daniels pushed the team hard on the ground to hack the heck out this problem. Without bold leadership from the players, Mark was dead in the red sand. The best part though? Everyone was bought in. Galvanized. Everyone. As long as the squad knew what they were dealing with, and given the room to come up with ideas and solutions, the collaboration was magical. Zain (my co.founder) and my colleagues know what we have signed up for. We are all aligned on a mission, and we do what we have to do to make it happen. Provide leadership, set the coordinates, and let the magic happen.

Finally, Know When To Quit: Whoa, easy there. I do not mean give up. What I mean is knowing when you have to make a decision to shut one path down, and explore the other. Both Mark Watney and the NASA teams religiously monitored the situation to stay looped in on what solutions were viable or not to get him rescued. Once it became clear that the original plan to send him a probe full of resources to last him four years was not possible, they made the pivot to send the original crew back to get him. When his food supplies were wiped out in an accident, the plan to wait for the next manned mission to get him was scrapped. For an entrepreneur, the indicators are what they are. Instead of fighting it, learn what you can from your metrics, and redirect your resources. Your original idea may just not be the right idea; the ability to recognize that, and shift, is one that has been very difficult but absolutely necessary for our team, especially with the limited resources we have.

Go see The Martian, at least just for the entertainment factor. Although, I get this strong feeling you will come out with more than just a thrill from the exhilarating ride this move provides.


Chidi Afulezi is a co.founder of aKoma, and product consultant and teacher.

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