Movie BusinessHow to assemble the right team like Danny Ocean

I didn’t realise that Ocean’s Eleven came out in 2001. This movie is 21 years old. I never thought that 21 years later, that 15-year-old who enjoyed the film would be writing an article about the parallels of Danny Ocean’s heist and your startup or small business. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, I’m not sure why you haven’t, but it’s hugely entertaining, and the heist is put together perfectly.

As a 15-year old, I didn’t take away too much from the movie besides always having spare batteries.

However, as this movie popped into my head recently, I gave it some thought and here we are writing another movie-business mashup article. What I understood from this movie today is another thing that start-ups and businesses need to do, surround themselves with the right team. We need to follow the same principles as Danny Ocean and pick the right team for the job.

Just like Danny Ocean, played by George Clooney, you need to have an idea, in his case, to rob a casino. In your case, your product is the idea or your specific service offering and just like Danny, you can’t do it on your own. He knows he won’t achieve his goal unless he surrounds himself with the right team. The right team isn’t just full of good people but specialists who can execute a specific role in the story. The same applies to business. You need to surround yourself not only with good people but the right people to assist you in reaching your business objectives and goals.

Suppose you don’t follow a method of getting the right people and only have good people. In that case, you run the risk of stacking your team with too many similar personalities and skillsets, which can cause a lot of pain, headaches, and tension among the team and for yourself. You won’t get anywhere if you hire the same role or skillset unless that’s what’s necessary for the early stages, but then you will face a bottleneck, and your growth will stagnate. Your business will have problems, and you will struggle to get out of the putting-out-fires phase.

However, it is easy to hire the wrong kind of skillset in these early stages as you try to do too many things. However, I urge you to assess what you’re working on and outsource or delegate everything you don’t like doing. If you spend time on tasks that you don’t like but need to be done, you will do those tasks poorly or slowly. When working on things you like, you do them better and quicker. It might seem daunting and a waste of money to outsource or delegate small tasks you don’t like, but that’s what needs to happen to build your business to be a well-oiled machine and not rely on you for everything.

Danny is the CEO / Owner / Founder. He’s the visionary who comes up with the idea and is in charge of the top-level operations of the business. Danny has a strong belief in an idea and does whatever he can to make it happen. He knows things can’t stay the same if he wants to achieve his goals; something has to change. This excellent quote show’s this thinking.

Cause the house always wins. Play long enough, you never change the stakes. The house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet big, then you take the house.



Now back to the team gathering mission of Danny, his first recruit is Rusty, his right-hand man. Rusty is the character that everyone needs on their team. He’s the man you can rely on to ensure things will happen. You’re the visionary and generally not the person who works in the business but on it. Rusty is in charge of operations and making sure things happen.

From my own experience, I have been a Rusty and have found a Rusty in my own business, and you need someone that you can absolutely rely on. Without this person in your business, you will constantly be worrying or micro-managing, causing delays and tension and who wants this?

Instead of trying to weave characters through a narrative, I’ll outline the characters and why you need them on your team. This should make it easier to read and follow along.



If you need a Reuben on your team, you’re a start-up that’s looking for funding and investment. He’s not your team member but your investor, just like in the movie; he bankrolls the heist for a cut of the profit.

As a start-up, you have a fantastic idea and start building it, but unless you have had a successful business or product beforehand, coming up with the funds necessary to push forward and give the idea a chance is very challenging.

To seek investment, you either have to have a fantastic idea and a prototype or proof of concept that gets an initial investor interested or have proved that you can build a business around the concept and generate some income on your own. Then you can go and find your Reuben or group of Rueben’s who will invest their money in your idea and get you to the next level.



Within the movie Linus is the protege or next in line to become Danny and take over the crew, he comes from a family of famous thieves and is willing to prove himself to his peers. As the most inexperienced on the team he needs to learn from those around him and build up his skills to become equal.

As a startup, you don’t need a Linus in your team, but you may be a Linus instead of a Danny depending on your experience. You will end up hiring plenty of Linus’s throughout your business’s lifetime as the junior or graduate staff can become valuable resources over time through training and mentoring. We see this Linus in Ocean’s Thirteen where the Linus becomes a much larger part of the heist plan and adds ideas and value to the plan.



You need a Frank when you need an inside man. Frank is the inside man in the movie, positioned as a dealer who helps them pull off the heist. I’m not telling you to follow this model strictly and be charged with corporate espionage. In this scenario, our Frank is a resource with domain knowledge and experience in a similar product or vertical.

I’ve seen start-ups fall into two groups:

  1. A founder with ideas who moves forward with them and does not have much experience in that area or; 
  2. A founder working in an industry where they have gained experience and comes up with a product for a need that they’ve identified.

With scenario one you always need a Frank to help you out and teach you the things you don’t know yet. Your Frank becomes invaluable and helps guide the direction. In scenario two, you are already part Frank and part Danny.



Basher is your expert. In the movie, he’s the technical and demolitions expert. He speaks using Cockney and technical terms, making it twice as hard to understand. When you have a Basher on your team, you have an extremely technical person who is not the easiest to understand and work with, but they are skilled at their craft and can deliver the outcomes necessary.

I’ve seen plenty of Basher’s who speak in very technical terms that most people in a meeting don’t understand them; This becomes a problem when technical jargon is used to confuse or intimidate other people. I’ve also seen this happen to customers and founders; they try to prove their superiority as they start talking. This version of a Basher is not the kind you want in your team, as you enjoy a team player who fits within the culture your cultivating in your start-up.

Depending on your business’s product, your Basher may be a lead programmer, engineer or hardware designer, etc. Basher is the team member who will get down and dirty in the details and execute the idea’s vision and deliver a working product.


Virgil & Turk

Virgil and Turk are the team members who perform the business as usual tasks, or as some people like to call it, the grunt work. Doing grunt work is not a bad thing. You need team members that will be able to do the day-to-day work; otherwise, your business will fail.

When you begin your business, you will also be a Virgil or a Turk; however, over time, you will need to hire people to take on this part of the business as it grows. Your Virgil and Turk make up your support staff, development team, and consultants, depending on your business. They will be the team members who deliver upon the product at the end of the day and would most likely work under a Basher as the lead.




Your Livingstone is your tech guy, as seen by his ability to hack systems and equipment via his computer skills. He’s the technical implementor; without him, the gang wouldn’t be able to execute any of their plans.

If you’re building a brand new startup and are working on a tech product, you might not have a Livingstone available to you, or you are a Livingstone, a coder with an idea. Without a Livingston on board, you can work with a team of Livingstones by working with a software consulting or development team. If you’re lucky enough to have a Livingstone onboard or as a partnering founder who will be in a great position, you will have the technical knowledge to know what is needed to build your tech product.

We’ve found in the past that startups without a Livingstone on their team can often make mistakes and jump into development too quickly or make mistakes with teams who deliver the wrong product as not enough care is taken from their end. The client doesn’t have enough knowledge to understand what’s happening during the development.



Your Saul would be the most experienced person in your team. They have had plenty of exposure in your product/service domain and provide a wealth of knowledge and experience. There would be two different characters within your business Saul would play, just like he plays different characters in the movie.

  1. Saul, the founder
  2. The seasoned, experienced team member
  3. The older advisor

Most people think young people always found startups, but a startup founder’s average age is 45; if we focus on Unicorns, then they started the business at 32. compared to a University student or graduate, they would have a wealth of knowledge to bring to that business.

The second Saul character your team could have would be the employee who has worked in your target industry and comes along to your team because they want to work on something fresh and bring all the inside knowledge you don’t have.

You don’t have to have a Saul directly on your team. In this case, you would find an advisor who shares the same qualities as Saul; experience, knowledge and contacts. This Saul will help you but will not be directly involved in the day to day of business.



Yen is a specialist and he’s brought into the team to help with the physical acts of the heist that no one else can do. He uses his acrobatic and contortionist skills to fit into tiny places and plays a pivotal role in the vault heist.

Yen would either be an expert contractor brought in to help your team or that very specialised developer or engineer within your team. Being very technical in something that most cannot do, he can provide extreme value to the team when those specific projects arise.

You don’t always need a Yen in your team as most businesses are working on BAU ( business as usual activities). Suppose you’re a development or consulting firm. In that case, you will occasionally need that specific language, tech stack or obscure sector and business process that can only be worked on by someone with experience.

When you begin your start-up journey, you will be every person on this list at different times. As your business grows, you will start to hire people for specific roles; you will begin to work collaboratively to grow and expand the business. The growth and hiring process doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes it’s challenging to know when to hire and let go of a specific role. Still, when you do, you will be happy you did as it then frees you up to focus on more specific areas of the business and keep pushing towards your dreams.

What does your team look like? Are you a Danny, a Rusty, or someone else from the crew?
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