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Life on 64 squares: Parallels between chess and entrepreneurship

When I was 7 years old, I was first introduced to the world of chess and was immediately fascinated by it. I loved the strategic complexity of each move, thinking-analysing-sweating what to move next.


The anticipation of my opponent’s response increased my heartbeats and the call of ‘checkmate’, to this date, remains my greatest source of dopamine.



As I grew older, I began to appreciate the mental discipline and focus that chess requires and most importantly, what seems to be a one-person game on the surface, requires a team to be successful (please look out for ‘seconds’ in chess). The parallels between chess and entrepreneurship became apparent.


It always amuses me how these two seemingly unrelated fields share many similarities in terms of the skills and qualities required for success. A big credit for both my scientific research with water purification and success with ventures goes to chess.


Sharing below what I see as parallels between chess and entrepreneurship:


Strategic thinking


Chess and entrepreneurship both require strategic thinking to succeed, largely because the rules are the same for everyone. For example, just as a chess player must anticipate and plan for their opponent’s moves — sometimes several steps ahead, an entrepreneur must anticipate and plan for potential challenges and opportunities in their market.


This requires a deep understanding of the industry, customers, and competitors. And just as every piece in chess serves a purpose, every team member in a startup should serve a well-defined purpose for the entire team to work well #gametheory.

Risk management


Chess and entrepreneurship both involve taking calculated risks. In chess, players must take risks to gain an advantage, but they must also be careful not to leave themselves vulnerable to an opponent’s counter-attack — it’s important to play the board, not the plan, as a move can’t be undone.


Similarly, entrepreneurs must take calculated risks in order to innovate and grow their business, but they must also manage those risks carefully to avoid failure. For example, a startup might invest in a new product or marketing strategy, but they must do so in a way that doesn’t put the entire company at risk. Both in chess and building startups, winning is the ultimate goal, but playing the best moves should be the strategy. Remember, not everyone is Mikhail Tal.

Innovation


Chess and entrepreneurship both require innovation to succeed. In chess, players must constantly come up with new and creative ways to outmanoeuvre their opponents. Similarly, entrepreneurs must innovate in order to differentiate themselves from competitors and capture market share.


For example, companies like Jio, Airbnb and Uber disrupted their respective industries by introducing new business models that didn’t exist before.

Perseverance


Chess and entrepreneurship both require perseverance to succeed, both provide opportunities to pause and reflect on the next moves and both allow room for sacrifices. In chess, players must be able to stay focused and persistent even when facing a difficult opponent. Similarly, entrepreneurs must be able to persevere through the ups and downs of starting and running a business.


For example, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, faced many obstacles and setbacks in the early days of his company, but he persevered and ultimately built one of the most successful businesses in history.


“Chess is a miniature version of life. To be successful, you need to have a clear strategy, be able to think ahead, and make calculated moves.” — Richard Branson




Looking for support in building your next big idea? Contact us today. Know more about build3 at www.build3.org or apply to our startup studio program here.


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