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A lonely outpost somewhere in the middle of Afghanistan in 1897. Just 21 soldiers to defend it. A sudden siege by an army of 10,000-plus. What do you think happened next? Legend has it that those 21 took down 600 enemies in an astonishing display of courage in the face of overwhelming odds. The Battle of Saragrahi is known as one of the bravest last-stand battles in history.
Fast-forward to 2010. A team of three co-founders of Celsee Inc. wanted to enter the world’s largest business plan contest, Accelerate Michigan, but they could not afford to buy the tickets, so they volunteered. A year later they returned to compete in the same event not just to survive the cash crunch but also to gain credibility in an ecosystem that did not value newcomers. They won the grand prize of $500,000, beating 300 companies from around the world.
Two different stories, two different outcomes, but both a testament to human performance under extraordinary pressure; a do-or-die situation, literally in the former and metaphorically in the latter. In the business world, this concept is called the “nothing-to-lose strategy.”
Most modern business plans are built around risk mitigation. However, similar to warriors on the battlefield, entrepreneurs sometimes have no other option but to seize the risk, turn it into an opportunity and win in the face of tremendous odds. This strategy is not a secret sauce; it should not be interpreted as a reckless jump into the unknown. In fact, to win using this strategy, you must embark on a meticulous planning-and-execution quest.
Here are five keys to mastering this strategy.
1. Find your purpose
Fighting for a positive purpose or cause that’s bigger than yourself empowers you to scale greater heights. In fact, science shows that purpose-driven people are 50 percent more likely to be leaders and 42 percent more satisfied with their well-being. In the case of Celsee, the drive to develop a technology that would save cancer patients propelled them toward their victory. So, fellow entrepreneurs, whenever you face an insurmountable situation, go back to your original vision and remind yourself of your purpose. This profound introspection will infuse you with the courage to take up any challenge.
2. Do it with a team
Most of us must have marveled at the stories of a fictional superhero who swoops down to rescue the world. But how can ordinary people like you or me achieve heroic victories in the real world? Why by harnessing the power of a team, of course! The three co-founders of Celsee were rookie entrepreneurs on their own. However, they combined their efforts and poured their experience into their new CEO, their representative in the contest. Because the team lived and breathed the common goal, they worked harder and smarter together. The secret to Celsee’s win was one team, one goal. Remember, most real-life wars have been won with well-organized military acts, not by a single person.
3. See only the goal
In an ancient Indian tale, a teacher tests his students on their archery skills. The aim was to hit the eye of a bird sitting in a tree a few yards away. As the student archers took their positions, he asked each of them, one by one, what they were seeing in front of them. The answers ranged from the clear blue sky to seeing bird nests in the tree to the bird’s color. The teacher dismissed all but one. When asked, this student, focused and ready to shoot, said he only saw the eye of the bird. The teacher inquired again and the student reaffirmed. As soon as he let him shoot, the arrow pierced the eye of the bird in a perfect shot. When you use the nothing-to-lose strategy, there is no margin for distraction.
4. Overcome your fears
Ask any strategist in this world. They will tell you that one can take all the risk mitigation measures in the planning and execution steps. Still, no one can guarantee the outcome of entrepreneurial ventures where the variables are too many. When external conditions are unpredictable and treacherous, whom do you rely on? Now is the perfect time to tap into your inner resources. Most people in this world are trapped in their fear of failure. Since to try a new thing means there is a chance they might fail, they don’t try at all. So, what makes entrepreneurs different? Are we not worried about failure? The truth is that entrepreneurs hate failure as much as any other person in this world. But what makes us different is that we have overcome our fear of failure. We do not like failure, but we refuse to bow down to it. When pushed to a corner, use the nothing-to-lose strategy by overcoming your innate fears of failure. Know that when you got nothing to lose, then nothing stops you either.
5. Keep moving forward
Win or loss is a matter of perspective. Overcoming failures is vital, but so is the ability to escape the trap of early success. A shrewd entrepreneur knows how to turn losses into a powerful force to move forward while not getting blindsided by early victories. For example, before Accelerate Michigan, the Celsee team had applied to Bill and Melinda Gates award. Unfortunately, the team lost, and for an inexperienced team, the failure was upsetting. However, in this low moment, the team used this pain to pivot to a better business plan. It was this improved plan that ended up winning the Accelerate Michigan grand prize. This win was not the end of the startup’s struggle. The team would have to fight many more battles and ride over numerous changes till they reached the exit. They lost some, they won some, but they never gave up. The ultimate secret to mastering the nothing-to-lose strategy? Endurance. The ability to keep moving forward no matter what.
Dear fellow entrepreneurs, take a look around this world. Never before has the world needed innovators and change-makers to manifest a better future. The odds are scary. Over 90 percent of startups fail to make it. But leave your fears aside and take the plunge. Dare to use the nothing-to-lose and revel in knowing that you did a noble deed regardless of consequences. Humanity will always count you as one of the legends, just like those 21 soldiers of the Battle of Saragrahi.