I watched “The Godfather” for the umpteenth time last night. Every time I say I’m going to just watch a few minutes… then they pull me back in! It’s a true epic, and I always find something new whenever I watch it.
As an entrepreneur struggling with the challenges of a small startup, a few things resonated with me last night.
Not everyone is a wartime consigliere
“You’re not a wartime consigliere, Tom.” Tom Hagen is the “brother from another mother” in the Corleone family. He’s trusted and given important tasks like planting horse heads in studio head’s linen, but when it comes to wartime, he’s not the man.
Too willing to compromise, too business oriented. He doesn’t understand that sometimes short term business needs to take a back seat to wiping out the competition.
The people you start with in business may not be suited for the whole journey. You may have trusted advisors like Tom who help you start your company that are not the right folks to help you scale your enterprise.
There may come a time when you have to make some hard decisions about talent and roles on behalf of the future success of your company. Who of your counselors are ready for war?
Find the restaurant and plant the gun
One of my favorite parts of the film is the segment where Michael assassinates Sollozzo and the Police Captain. It’s like a heist film integrated into the middle of this overarching family melodrama.
It’s beautifully executed. From Clemenza prepping Michael, to figuring out how to find out the location of the meeting and how to get the gun to Michael, to the intensity of the discussion between Sollozzo and Michael —there are so many rich details.
My favorite moment is a small “tell” about Michael as he exits the restaurant. Clemenza has told him to keep the pistol at his side and quietly drop it as he leaves. Michael doesn’t do this.
He drops the gun away from his body and spins it with a flourish as he lets go. Michael is not the least bit intimidated by shooting two people at close range (Bada Bing!). In fact, he loves it- he’s found his calling.
The takeaway here is clear. Pay attention to the details. Think about how best to establish and represent your brand. This isn’t just the details of your product or service, it includes all interactions with prospects, clients, partners, and employees and all processes.
Put some thought and design into everything you do. If you can pull that off, you will really differentiate yourself. Not many families could have pulled off that assassination, and not a lot of companies can pull off building a brand.
“Who’s being naive, Kay?”
I’ve heard the main theme of the original Star Wars trilogy described as “The Redemption of Anakin Skywalker”. The main theme of “The Godfather” is “The moral degeneration of Michael Corleone.”
He starts out as a wet behind the ears war hero and ends up a deeply cynical homicidal megalomaniac. It’s a theme that is further developed in “Part II” (gotta love the Cuban kiss).
As Michael consolidates power, and creates immense wealth, he becomes more ruthless and more distant from his friends and family. In his lust for power and “security” he destroys his marriage and the lives of his siblings. Michael gains the world, but at what price? He’s a truly Shakespearean figure.
It’s a good lesson for all of us, but particularly those of us who have jumped into the startup world. Few things are as all consuming as a startup. There are never enough hours in the day.
There is always more to do. When you start having some success, it can quickly go to your head. It’s easy to lose track of why you wanted to be part of a startup in the first place.
I think it behooves all of us to try to learn from the errors of Michael’s wicked, wicked ways. Keep your friends close, and your family closer. It’s a hollow victory if you achieve business success, but destroy your personal life in the process.
Now leave the gun, and take the canolli.