What Can You Learn About Building Your Start-Up from Westworld?
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Last night, the first season of Westworld came to a dramatic, shocking end. Westworld, in its first season on HBO, has kept critics and fans on the edge of their seat all season with interesting storytelling, beautiful scenery, and thought-provoking ideas about an Artificially Intelligent world.
This post should not contain major spoilers, as we will look at the themes of Westworld rather than the actual plot and should be suitable whether you’ve watched the show or not. That said, having an understanding of the characters and the backstory will help with the concepts laid out.
So what is Westworld? It is a land of fantasy. Set in the wild west, visitors visit this adult-themed amusement park with few rules and endless possibilities. If Westworld was a start-up, it would be a unicorn with founders who executed their vision with amazing precision and an insane burn rate. This is the model of success as day at the park can cost up to $40,000 and business is booming.
Westworld is the utopian version of the world, where Artificial Intelligence hosts are able to make every fantasy a reality for the visitors of the park. Want the thrill of a bounty hunt? Want to fall love with the girl next door? Or make your darkest fantasy come true? Westworld has it all.
While much of the allure of Westworld may not be suitable for your start-up, many of the themes and concepts shine through very clearly and can easily be applied to your start-up. Here’s a look at the 6 concepts you can learn about building your start-up from Westworld.
Start with the biggest of idea, but don’t let the execution of it hold you back
Westworld is a grand idea, taking years of execution to get to where we pick up the story. But the idea took time, energy, and ingenuity to get to where it is today. The founders spent years building a tweaking the hosts before the Westworld park ever opened. The hosts weren’t perfect and neither will your project, service, or idea.
From the first bartender to the piano player in Dr. Ford’s office, the prototypes for the hosts were nowhere near as advanced as the final product, nor did they have every feature that would eventually be part of each host. But they still launched and kept improving. You need to get to “good enough” or as they say, to MVP (minimal viable product) and launch!
The huge idea that was Westworld changed and morphed over time. Without letting people into the park and learning from the interactions, they never would have made it as far as they did.
The Takeaway: Dream Big. Launch Fast. Improve Every Day.
Learn what people want
Much of the AI developed for the hosts in Westworld are designed to find signals from the visitors and respond accordingly. Westworld works because their hosts know their role and stay on script, but have enough room to improvise to create a personalized experience. This ensures the hosts have a home base in their messages but have room to “sell” where needed.
When creating your story and vision for your start-up, ensure you have a robust and engaging story to tell but find ways to ensure that message can be personalized on all interactions. Find ways to learn from user behavior. Test. Tweak. Repeat.
The Takeaway: Build a Robust Message. Learn. Personalize.
Once you know what people want, give them the best version of it
If they are there for a love story, give them Teddy and Delores. If they are there for an adventure, give them a treasure hunt with a gun fight to boot. If they want a party, send them to Clementine and Maeve. The world is your oyster, but when you decide to do anything, do it best. Westworld has endless possibilities, so each storyline must be meticulously executed and honed to perfection.
You’re start-up also has endless possibilities and a backlog full of amazing ideas. Focus on the features that have the greatest appeal and make sure they are the best. Find employees that fit your vision and put them in a role that lets them thrive.
The Takeaway: Possibilities are endless. Hire winners. When you decide to do focus on something, make it the best.
Take each customer on a personalized journey
One of the major themes throughout the entire first season of Westworld is the idea that each visitor to Westworld will find their own fantasy. While many of the attractions and stories are the same, each visitor will experience the world in their own way. Some will find what they need quickly, jumping into the first activity they see. For others, like the Man in Black, it takes much longer to find what they are looking for.
Remember the personalized journey when building your roadmap for your start-up. Understand that your users will be diverse and will represent ideas and experience beyond your team. There is no perfect way users will interact with your brand, product, or service. Make sure your take your user feedback seriously and test with groups outside of your discipline to ensure they understand what you’re trying to do.
The Takeaway: Create experiences. Personalize everything.
And stay within your messaging “loop”
The season opens in Westworld with Deloris, where we find very quickly lives within a scripted loop. Each day, she wakes up and kisses her dad and heads to town. Most days are the same for Deloris, but her script diverges each time she meets someone new and while her story stays similar, each day there are new wrinkles in her loop.
Your start-up needs consistency but has to be willing and able to adapt to each customer. Rather than building features that force users down pre-defined paths, create a framework or platform that allows each individual need to be met.
The Takeaway: Stay consistent. Build a platform. Personalize the experience.
But never forget that at any time, the world can change. Be ready.
No matter how successful a business, whether a theme park or a start-up, the only thing that stays the same is the driving force of change. Westworld is no different and major changes are coming in season two.
Your start-up needs to be agile and never settle for status quo. Each and every day, spend time innovating. Take a day every quarter or every year with your whole staff and build something new. In one day. Together.
The Takeaway: Don’t settle for what you’ve accomplished, no matter what. And never give up.
What did you learn from the first season on Westworld that you can apply to your start-up? Let’s keep the discussion going in the comments and on Twitter.