About dramatic changes to chessboards and startups

In these precarious Corona times, it dawned on me there’s yet another chess experience that pertains well to the current Startup environment. I previously wrote a post describing what chess has taught me about Startups and Venture-Capital investments. In a similar theme, here goes another analogy.
The greatest player of all time, who’s also the most expersive
Garry Kasparov. The greatest chess player of all time, who is also the most expressive. Credit: Lennart Ootes

In a chess game, you could be working on a winning position for hours, slowly improving your position towards the kill. Then one sudden damned mistake, and everything changes completely. The carpet is pulled out from underneath your feet. Everything you’ve worked hard on for so long is gone. You face a disastrous situation, and you need to start fighting for your life, not to lose.

This is where you learn valuable lessons:

  1. Reality can change so very rapidly. What you’ve been focused on one move ago — winning in chess, or growth in your Startup, is no longer relevant. You have a new board position to play, with different goals.
  2. It gives zero value during the crisis to dwell mentally or emotionally on what you had just a moment ago or on beating yourself up for your mistake. You do that later, postmortem.
  3. What is needed is a rapid courageous realization that things have changed. You are now playing a different game with a different goal. Forget the previous hours of play (or years of effort on your Startup) and start playing this new board. Adjust fast.

My analogy here is simple.

Chess makes you mentally and emotionally prepared for a circumstance where “the board changes” on you rapidly.

All experienced chess players have had to deal with this situation multiple times. You learn to be resolute, adapt, and fight the new war without blinking an eye and without wasting time or energy on what the situation had been before.

Any Startup today that is still reminiscing on the “previous board position” they had only a month ago, is borderline crazy. The depth and magnitude of change in the economy, in your ability to forecast sales revenue or on future cash flow, is unclear — but looks dire for many Startups who were solely focused on growth until recently.

Start playing the new board position, now!


If you are a founder, and your dilemma is about cutting too deep and coming out weak on the other end of Corona, remember that it’s the far better option vs. not cutting deep enough, and not coming out at all.