I am Anthony Sapountzis, Commander of Technology and General of Aerion Technologies, father to two children and husband to a beautiful wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next… Maybe not. If you are a movie buff like me, this might make you wonder what Gladiator (an epic historical drama) and a modern-day start-up journey have in common. Just read on, my friends.
The original quote from Maximus is something I can recite almost word for word at any time, it’s stuck with me. Fun fact, Russel Crowe didn’t want to say it. He hated it. However, it turned into the most quotable part of the entire film.
For those who haven’t seen Gladiator, here is my movie summary:
Maximus was a general in Rome’s armies, one of their most successful and high-ranking. Before the Emperor’s death, Maximus was to be the next Emperor. But due to a power struggle, Maximus was condemned to death. Maximus then became a Gladiator, and his story became this fantastic movie.
From the summary of the movie, I’m sure you can draw a parallel to a start-up journey. If not, I’ll do it for you. Maximus was successful. And due to unknown outside factors, he had to start again from zero and built himself up to be the most famous man in Rome, even more so than the Emperor. Throughout this journey, we see Maximus focus on his goal of revenge and not complain about his position or fate. He played the hand he was dealt. In him, we saw the general who became a slave, the slave who became a Gladiator, and the Gladiator who defied an Emperor.
Gladiator focused on the outcome.
Just like any founder or entrepreneur we see that Maximus focuses on his outcome. He knows his goal and makes a plan to achieve it. His plan may adapt based on the events unfolding throughout the film, but it’s always focused on that singular goal of revenge on Emperor Commodus.
Without this focus, Maximus would have never achieved his goal and neither would any founder or entrepreneur. You must continually move towards that goal. Sometimes you may step sideways, but then you must course correct and aim towards that goal.
Gladiator knew the world was not against him.
Maximus had a mindset that allowed him to achieve that goal and rally his fellow Gladiators around him. Maximus did not dwell or set in despair and complain about his situation or what had happened to him. This quote from Maximus sums up his mindset.
“Nothing happens to anyone that he is not fitted by nature to bear.” – Maximus
Maximus knew he could handle the obstacle that was placed in front of him and would be able to work through it and achieve the outcomes he was after. He knew that all the challenges that appeared were simply challenges he had to face to achieve his goal and not unmovable rocks that he could not move.
Teamwork makes the dream work.
Maximus was also not a Solopreneur. As a former general, he understood what was required to rally the troops and have the people he worked with follow and strive for the same goal. In the Gladiatorial arenas, he rallied his fellow Gladiators in the act of defiance. They survive and change the outcome of the re-enactment they were meant to be participating in.
Maximus never tried to do it alone and cared for those around him. He was able to rally the Gladiators to a common cause, survive and achieve that goal. Maximus was then able to succeed because of the team’s efforts. Maximus knew that he had the respect of his fellow soldiers and Gladiators and we see this with this quote.
“Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity.” – Maximus
Respect & Reputation: the two Rs of start-ups.
Maximus understood that how he acted and treated people would remain in people’s memories more than what he said. Maximus understood that the stories people would share would centre on his actions and how he lived his life. The image and legacy he left were important, and Maximus used that to ensure he performed the best he could in any role of his life: from a General to a revenge-seeking Gladiator.
Just like Maximus, any founder should also believe and have this philosophy in mind. Ensure you are doing things for the right reason and treat people respectfully. Respect and Reputation are the only currency a start-up founder has until they start making revenue. At that point, we have the triumvirate of start-ups: Reputation, Respect and Revenue. However until you reach that point, how you act and the reputation you make for yourself is what you are funded on. This currency moves VCs or investors to buy into your story and get behind you. It’s how you rally your support and build a team to achieve your goals and outcomes.
When working in a start-up or small business you need to lead by example. You cannot sit back and have everyone do things. You must work with your team on the battlefield or in the Arenas. Having your team’s respect and being able to be relied upon is what matters in those early days. Do you think Maximus would have had the respect of the soldiers or gladiators if he just sat back and issue orders? How would that have played out in the arena, watching your men get slaughtered while you sit there issuing orders? I know it would have been a very quick movie. One that would have ended over after the first battle.
Only when you rise to the role of the Emperor of the start-up, the coveted CEO position can you sit back and stop being on the field with the team. Until then, you need to work with your team: driving them, working them, rallying them and pushing them as much you push yourself. Maximus didn’t use his position to prove he is better than his team, he rode into battle with him, just as you should.
Leadership is not a title that is granted. As Uncle Ben says, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” I know we’re not talking about Spider-Man here, but the quote works. I may have an entire Anthony Article universe of crossovers here at some point.
There’s another quote that focuses on reputation from Juba, a fellow slave and Gladiator who rallies behind Maximus. He says the following quote to Maximus during one of their talks about how Emperor Commodus would kill Maximus before he gets the chance to face him.
“You have a great name. He must kill your name before he kills you.” – Juba
The idea of the Gladiator that defied Rome becomes more popular than the Emperor himself. The reputation Maximus has earned has provided him with the respect of the people and his fellow Gladiators. The people watching the fights want him to live and not die forcing the Emperor’s hand, but that reputation is what allows Maximus to achieve his goal of revenge and get to where he needed to be.
Gladiator was a Leader, not an Owner.
Starting a business is no small task. Once you begin hiring people, you are responsible for them and their livelihood. Crowning yourself an Emperor or CEO and having that title for the sake of it, will not do you any favours. This act is solely egotistical. You must take responsibility for your actions and the roles you take.
You do not want this kind of culture within your business. You don’t have to have a title to shower power and demand respect. Being the owner will not provide that. You need to be a leader.
Have values and stick to them. Strength and honour are repeated frequently and always chased as the ideal values for Maximus. Sticking to your philosophy and being able to drive that within your team will help you build a loyal team.
The movie opens with preparations for a battle, Maximus is leading Rome’s legions against a Barbarian horde. during these scenes Maximus says:
“At my signal, unleash hell!” – Maximus
He says this to one of his fellow soldiers, then rides to another group of soldiers and prepares them for battle with a speech. From this quote and the subsequent speech, we see the soldiers are ready to follow Maximus’s lead and ride into the barbarians for battle.
As a founder, you will have many battles along your path to success. I use the word battle to paint a picture and not detract from what real soldiers/armies have to face.
The challenges you will face will seem unbearable at times. However, if you have the right team who believes in your vision and will follow you, you will move forward and succeed. Having your team ready to unleash hell and rise to the challenge is what you need. You and your team need to be prepared and work together.
We’ve drawn some solid parallels from Gladiator to start-up life. While life is not as dangerous as the times depicted in the movie, it may feel like you’re in a coliseum fighting tigers and other gladiators.
Remember that your start-up journey will only succeed if you follow the lessons from Maximus.
The key lessons we take away from Maximus’s journey from General to Slave to Gladiator are:
- Focus on our outcome
- The world is not against you
- Teamwork makes the dream work
- Respect and Reputation: the two Rs of start-ups
- Be a Leader, not an Owner