How Your Inner Pirate Can Make $1.5 Million

Shelly Dutton

Pirate_Flag_(6084517123)Life is about experiences. And part of those experiences is trying new things that help advance our personal ambitions and passions: Is this right? Will I be good at it? Am I a fool for even entertaining this idea?

All of these doubts among daydreams of success – and possible fame – swirl around in our brains as we decide whether to move forward or pass.

The same is true in the business world. Just as in our personal lives, leaders who are pursuing expansion into untested markets have the same range of emotion. In their gut, they think they see immense potential – and a hefty cost if plans fail.

It takes a certain level of bravery to make a decision of this nature. I think that why we’ve seen the emergence of events connecting startups with groundbreaking ideas with established businesses. By uniting the right startup with the right brand, both sides of the relationship win. The startup gains the traction they want to continue growing – or in some cases, cash out. On the other hand, established businesses are better equipped to enter new markets and find new ways to wow their customers.

Pirate Summit 2015: Let your inner pirate emerge to find your startup match

Since 2010, Pirate Summit has been a popular forum to cast away startup stereotypes and bring together entrepreneurs, investors, and corporate types. Over the course of this five-day event, startups may snatch a few doubloons (€25,000 from ProSiebenSat1 accelerator) for their innovations. Meanwhile, executives and investors have a chance to see if there’s a working idea or investment advice that can help take their business to the next level.

Last year alone, 1,200 people followed the call of the pirates to a colorful and rusty scrapyard in Cologne, Germany. In attendance was a combination of veteran pirates and new representatives of the growing European tech scene, including Klaas Kersting (flaregames), Mike Butcher (TechCrunch), and Evan Nisselson (LDV Capital).

But don’t be fooled. Even though Pirate Summit is all business during the day, it becomes a party at night that is unrivaled by any ship waving the Jolly Roger flag. Whether you’re zip-lining above the main conference stage, yelling as trains go past, or watching their “Burning Man” set ablaze, you’re bound to create shared experiences with a curated segment of the best in tech. This is where game-changing professional relationships, partnerships, and friendships start.

Want to receive your invitation to Pirate Summit 2015? Prove your seaworthiness via the application process.

4 steps to becoming a true pirate and seize new markets

Whether you decide to attend Pirate Summit or not, this event reminds us that corporate leaders need to dig in and let the pirate in them emerge. No, I am not saying that you should come to work every day three sheets to the wind and take every risk regardless of payoff. Leave behind your notions of Blackbeard, Captain Morgan, or Sir Francis Drake. A true pirate knows how to bargain and grow an empire. Follow the example of Ching Shih (commonly known as Cheng I Sao).

It may be hard to believe, but the most successful pirate was a former prostitute and the wife of a pirate. Shih pillaged coastal villages in the People’s Republic of China with her fleet of 1,800 ships and a crew of approximately 80,000 men, women, and children. Undefeated, she quickly became one of the world’s most powerful pirates. Shih even managed to bargain amnesty for all pirate in 1810 – leaving the table with enough funds to leave her pirating life at the age of 35. Even more remarkable was her ability to adapt and enter a new market after retirement – opening and operating a gambling house until her death in 1844.

Here are four ways you can follow even the most successful pirates, especially Ching Shih:

  1. Don’t go first – second or third is best. Wait for the first mover to make all the mistakes. By watching them uncover pitfalls and mistakes along the way, you can learn from them. Once you decide the time is right, get ready to move quickly.
  1. Do the research. Study the new market’s economic, social, and political landscape; competitors; and possible joint ventures. Although this involves an investment of time and money, companies can quickly determine the best path to entry.
  1. Don’t go at it alone. Forming partnerships and recruiting top talent with local expertise can help leaders understand cultural differences, establish key relationships, and navigate often frustrating legal and political processes.
  1. Know when to let go. When possible, offer some independence to gain traction with your new customer base. When dealing with a new customer, the parent company should try to standardize core business processes such as finance and hiring while the subsidiary or startup puts their own stamp on things.