Startup Edition: Leadership Lessons To Learn from Movies and TV Shows

Startup Edition: Leadership Lessons To Learn from Movies and TV Shows

Given the dismal macroeconomic outlook for 2023, the year will, undoubtedly, pose various challenges for startups. But a bad economic environment can also provide opportunities for entrepreneurs who are able to negotiate the ups and downs well. We got HR leaders, startup founders and venture capitalists to list TV shows, films, and documentaries that contain valuable lessons that will help you sail smoothly through these stormy waters. Here’s what they identify as must-watch films and shows – storylines that are chockful of ideas, warnings, and inspirational anecdotes. 

China Gate

The 1998 film, directed by Rajkumar Santoshi, is recommended by Mukul Chopra, CHRO at the edtech firm, ConveGenius. With an incredible cast, including Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and Danny Denzongpa, the Hindi film sees a bunch of ex-Army officers, with many differences, join forces and work together towards a cause that drives them all. “Each of the ex Faujis has a different motivation to work towards this cause; each individual has his biases or other failings, but the plotline shows how people can put their differences aside and work well together – even find success – provided they are determined to,” Chopra shares. He feels it’s important to be able to compartmentalise and leave the differences at the door

Also read: 10 Movies and TV Shows Every Founder MUST Watch

Office Space

Gaurav Chopra, Group CHRO, Middle East and India, Innovations Group, believes this 1999 satirical film holds a host of valuable lessons for entrepreneurs. When Milton (Stephen Root) is repeatedly made to shift his desk further and further away from his co-workers, and ultimately finds himself in the basement, the lack of human interaction, is a stark reminder of when the pandemic forced us all to work in isolation. Not only do you work better when surrounded by equally motivated colleagues, but referrals from the connections you make in a workplace can also pave the path to your success.

Also read: 6 Steps to Create a Better Employee Experience for Deskless Workers


The 2013 biographical drama’s inclusion on this list is, perhaps, predictable. But venture capitalist Viki Aroraa believes that’s because if there’s one film that everyone in the business can learn a lot from, it’s this one. “The storyline underscores the need to not only innovate and adapt but also to pivot, when called for and to move to new verticals,” Aroraa explains. After being ousted from Apple, Steve Jobs was unhappy but moved on to something else, and he went on to sell this company to Apple eventually. The value of persistence is also highlighted in the movie which shows that Apple’s first investor only grew interested in the company because of Jobs’ relentless pursuit of that investment.  

Also read: WFH was Harsh on Fintech, But the Sector Adapted and Boomed: Sapna Sukumar, Cashfree Payments

The 2001 docufilm is highly recommended by Sandeep Mallya, a startup founder himself. In 2015, Bangalore-based Mallya founded a digital agency, Startup Cafe Digital, to help small and mid-sized businesses leverage SEO, social media, and content marketing to grow their traffic and generate qualified leads for their business. His pick follows the real-life struggles of startup founders Kaleil Tuzman and Tom Herman, whose efforts went in the other direction. Tuzman and Herman were the force behind, a startup that folded even though it had raised $60 million in funding. “Aside from being a stark reminder of the boom and bust of the dotcom bubble, the film is also a cautionary tale of how friendships can turn into bitter rivalries because of internal politics. Massively underrated, it’s easily one of the best startup movies of all time,” says Mallya.

Also read: Startup Hiring Guide: How to Craft a Powerful EVP On a Budget


Based on Michael Lewis’s book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, this 2011 American sports film, another recommendation from Gaurav Chopra, Group CHRO, Middle East and India, Innovations Group, is the story of how Billy Beane, the manager of Oakland Athletics baseball team who triumphed against unbelievable odds. by putting together a team of undervalued talent. And he did so, by working with Peter Brand, an economics graduate from Yale. The film underscores the value of listening – Beane remained open to Peter’s perspective – recognising the difference between perception and reality and perhaps most importantly, the film highlights the power of an adaptive leadership style and being open to change.

Also read: Top 8 Inspiring Movies that Every HR Should Watch

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse

Streaming on Apple TV, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is a 2022 animated short film directed by Peter Baynton and Charlie Mackesy and written by Jon Croker along with Mackesy. The film, based on Mackesy’s 2019 book, comes recommended by Ankur Pahwa, Managing Partner at PeerCapital. “Although Charlie Mackesy’s book – which is essentially a compilation of illustrations with wonderful messages and reminders on how to live a better life – seems aimed at kids, the book actually has a host of wonderful messages for startup founders, too,” says Pahwa. He points out that people hate the idea of asking for help, for example, but in fact, asking for help is not giving up; it’s actually refusing to give up – it’s very important for startup founders to really understand this. If they can reach out for advice and help when they need it, it could seriously improve their chances of success.

Also read: Startups Should Make ‘Agility’ Work to Meet Business Goals

How many of these have you watched and gotten inspired from? If our list missed out on more such movie gems, do let us know in the comments section below.


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