Directed by Mira Nair, Queen Of Katwe is an extraordinary film on the journey of Phiona Mutesi, a child prodigy who rose from one of the poorest sections of Uganda to become the top chess player in the country, fighting against all odds. Her story is really inspiring and I couldn't help noting down a few important lessons embedded in her fascinating journey for entrepreneurs.
1. Don't listen to the naysayers
There's a moment towards the beginning of the film when Phiona starts dreaming about "big things." She asks her mother, "Can you do big things from such a small place?" Her mother replies, "Don't think about such things, you'll be disappointed." Nevertheless, Phiona goes ahead and fulfills her big dreams.
When entrepreneurs start their business, there are a lot of naysayers and it's easy to get discouraged—especially since such naysayers are often the people closest to them.
2. "The small one can become the big one"
When Phiona starts learning the game of chess, one of the girls shows her how the pawn can become the queen if it moves to the other end of the board.
Similarly, startups or young companies can become upstage the established big players if they persevere long enough and keep moving ahead, even it's one small step at a time.
3. The importance of problem-solving and planning
When Coach Robert Katende tries to explain chess to his students in simple terms, he speaks about how it relates to solving the problems of their daily life, such as getting water or selling their products in the market. Entrepreneurship is all about solving real problems by making plans, following them rigorously and making changes when required. Planning is an integral part of problem solving and entrepreneurship.
4. You belong where you believe you belong
Phiona lived in Katwe, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Uganda, and she had doubts about whether someone from her background could win against those who enjoyed greater privilege. Her coach offers an assurance, "Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place where you belong; you belong where you believe you belong." The question to ask yourself is, where is that for you?
Entrepreneurs can come from all kinds of economic backgrounds. There is no set educational qualification, age or gender. This is one place where your past doesn't determine your future. You decide your own future and it's only limited by your dreams and imagination.
5. Losing is a part of life
When Phiona loses an important championship match, she starts feeling inadequate and wonders if she can win against stronger opponents. Coach Katende assures her, "Losing doesn't mean you're a failure. Losses happen all the time."
Every entrepreneur knows that winning and losing are part of the game and while it's easy to get swayed by failures, it's important not to lose sight of the big picture and keep pressing ahead.
6. Never surrender
A natural extension of the win-loss continuum is that one should never surrender. Coach Katende says, "What matters is when you reset the pieces and play again."
For entrepreneurs, whether you've launched a new product feature which hasn't worked or a competitor beat you to the market, setbacks are a part of life. It doesn't mean that you should surrender. You regroup, align your plan to the new realities and work towards a new goal.
7. Any bad decision could be your last
In an interview, Phiona noted, "Chess is a lot like my life. If you make smart moves you can stay away from danger, but you know any bad decision could be your last."
Entrepreneurs should take her advice seriously, as the market is ruthless and may not be very forgiving. Be careful about every step you take in your entrepreneurship journey.