The Karate Kid: A Parable for Your Startup

A long time ago (cough 2011), on a podcast far far away , I listened to a very clever, funny, interesting guy tell me about one of his many startup ideas and a story about how it would end up successful. I, lacking filter as per usual, told him he’d seen the Karate Kid too many times. This is the blog post (screed?) that explains that comment. I recently discovered it in my drafts folder and spruced it up a lil.

SCENE: A kid. A girl.


Suddenly more kids. Focus is on the odd kid out.

THE ONLY NON BLOND (nope, there aren’t 4 of them, nossir, what’s goin’ on?). Odd Kit Out (OKO) is gettin’ sand kicked in his eye by scary sun-bronzed adonises.

Hint: You are OKO.


Enter: the mysterious helpful ethnic elder. Humble yet powerful.

And for some reason willing to tutor your whiny ass.



Wax on, wax off. Scrub scrub scrub. Chop wood, carry water.






Chopstick + flies = gross! But… yay?!


Ooooh! You get tested by the unbearably cocky bastard… AND YOU PREVAIL!


Tournament time! Nobody knows what you’re gonna do!




You nearly don’t win!!


You have a little injury but that just makes you sexier to…

The girl!!



There’s just one problem: it’s just a fucking movie.

You’re no karate kid. There is no Mr Miyagi.

If you did find a Mr Miyagi, though, you’d be doing that whole floor scrubbing thing for years. YEARS. There’s no awesome montage music that skips you through the crappy parts.

But wait, there’s more! More terrible news. The worstest.

Ready? Here it is:

Nobody’s against you. You have no enemies.

In fact, you have NO DRAMA to move your plot forward. ZOMG!

“Duh, Amy? What about my competition,” you say? Yeah dudes. YOUR COMPETITION DOESN’T CARE. ONE LICK. ABOUT YOUR SORRY ASS.

“Ooooh,” you can hear the 37signals saying. “That brunet kid can catch a fly with his chopsticks. We’re quakin’ in our custom made leather-interior Italian sports car SO FAST IT’S ILLEGAL TO GARAGE IN THE USA boots. Ooooh. Geeeeee. Scary.” Nailbiting. “Ooooh.”

No, no sunbronzed nordic Adonises are even gonna give you the time of day. Not even to kick sand in your face. Not even to laugh at your tacky Jersey clothes.

They don’t even know you exist. Or care, if they do.

Life : The Movie is a book about this exact problem. It’s about how we all believe SO HARD in narrative causality. We think we know which way a given “scene” is gonna go… or how it should. But we don’t know. And it won’t go.

Case in point:

Nobody shits in the movies.

Unless — UNLESS! — while they’re shitting, they are devoured bodily by a T-Rex.


If they can leave out defecation and yet shimmy perfectly beneath our limbo bar of subconscious believability, what else is missing?

Every single thing in a movie happens because the author willed it so. Inciting incident? Repercussions? Climax? Denouement? False, all of them. And nothing the author doesn’t want is ever even mentioned.

Real life is not a story.

There are no acts. You do not have sidekicks. You are not beset by enemies. There will be no conclusion, no triumphal fade to black as you pump your first or kiss the girl…

… or deposit your vesting bonus

… or clip a lav mic to your polo shirt lapel on the set of CNN.

You can imagine it so hard it can seem real, but even in the vanishingly unlikely event that it happens, you’ll wake up the next day and the thought that hammering your probably-hungover skull will be:

“Now what?”

Consider the source.

When you go to the theater, the scenes that make you go “YES!!” and thrill to the poetic justice of it all… are synthetic experiences, engineered by a person whose job it is to manipulate your feelings so you won’t notice them fishing in your wallet. (Or your term sheet.)

But we human beings learn from observation, and you’ve spent several thousand hours observing totally false realities, and zero hours observing real business people make shit happen.

You’ve invested all your monkey-see-monkey-do eggs in in the worst absolute basket.

Like you’ve gone to the zoo and spent every minute of your zoo experience ogling the sign that reads “Reptile House Ahead.” Without ever seeing a single reptile. Not even a snakeskin.

What does real business even look like? You don’t know.

What does it feel like? You don’t know.

All you can know is what the scriptwriters want you to “know.” Even when you get some firsthand experience, the scriptwriters in your head are trying to spin narrative causality out of straw.

(This explains all the OMG-IT’S-ALL-SO-MOMENTOUS blog posts the startuposphere is rife with.)

This is not your fault. But you have to fix it.

Because your fantasies aren’t even your fantasies.

…if you imagine a montage of GREAT IDEA! — long nights at work — success, a big investment check! pop the champagne! — watching your social graph explode — a spot on the Today Show — those assholes from high school trying to make nice nice on Facebook — CHANGING THE WORLDfade to black.

Then… what? You die? It’s over? Mojito Island time?

Where’d that montage come from? Is is the most authentic expression of what you, as a unique individual, desire above all else?

That’s a movie, my friend, written by a hack screenwriter. Sorry.

The antidote?

See the Recommended Links below. I handpicked them for your enjoyment & edification. Begin your real-world-biz education, right here.

Then go to BaconBiz, and watch the first talk from our bootstrappers’ conference (back in May).

Then find & follow a bootstrapper on Twitter. Hell, follow 5! 10! Follow my students! Follow entrepreneurs who think I’m a gasbag! Read their blogs. Watch. Learn.

Wax on, wax off.

Get my next bootstrappy gettin-shit-done essay delivered straight to your inbox. (And be first in line for tickets & discounts.) Drop your name in the box!


  1. Matt J.

    Great stuff Amy. Thanks.

    I think a corollary to this is that watching thousands of hours of movies is also the worst possible prep to a sustainable marriage too. YEARS of chop wood/carry water works there too, contra the montage.

  2. Lucas Arruda

    Fabulous post and really bullshit-free!

    It puts you on track with the important stuff and makes you see that most things won’t add you much value.

    Probably most startups won’t do anything so awesome that will change the world, but that’s ok if they are solving a real life pain.

  3. Jesse

    Amy you’re my new favorite blog as of this morning. Have like 12 tabs of your articles open.

    Every read Ayn Rand’s “Romantic Manifesto”? Awesome read about this “fiction more interesting than reality” phenomenon. Obviously Rand herself is quite the hot debate, and her other books tediously long, but Romantic Manifesto is short and very good


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