“If You’re Afraid, You Have No Chance”

…And other lessons in entrepreneurship from ancient Greece.

“If You’re Afraid, You Have No Chance”
[Books: Laborant via Shutterstock]

The inspiration you need to better lead and manage your team has been with you all along–you just might need to pull out an old college textbook or two for a refresher.


Tasso Roumeliotis, CEO of mobile security company Location Labs, calls on a range of academic disciplines for new perspective on becoming a more effective leader. Interestingly enough, “business” isn’t a subject on his syllabus–instead, he looks to Greek classics, philosophy, and psychology.

Tasso Roumeliotis

Understand Industry Disruptions Through History

“To really understand how things that might seem small now will change things permanently, I consider one of the first disruptions: agriculture. People went from small communities of hunters and gatherers to city-states. You start having specialization of labor, you have free time, and with free time that generates creativity. If you move along other aspects of disruption, things like when people started writing–look at just what effect the freedom of thought and having extra time on your hands did from an innovation perspective, that was immense.

“The steam engine, the printing press, these are all various examples of changes that were permanent changes and also caused other disruptions. That’s what you should be studying if you’re an entrepreneur, because those are the things that have impacted how human beings live their lives.”

Weather The Bad Times With Philosophy

“When you’re in entrepreneurship, one thing I recommend is to read the stoic philosophers: Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus are my three favorites because there are guaranteed to be some ups but there are very much guaranteed to be very low lows in your company, so you need to manage them internally. For me that’s studying stoicism. Stoicism is not about being negative–it’s about when bad events happen, how you interpret them internally.”

Build Your Team Using Psychology

“As an entrepreneur, you’re managing three key stakeholders: your investors and board, your team, and your customers. I would say, and my investors might hate me for this, but the last two are the most important. You need to have a committed team that believes in what you’re doing. Otherwise your products won’t be worthy and therefore your customers won’t be happy.

“From a psychology perspective, it’s understanding what drives both happiness and motivation, and it’s picking the right kind of people. I’m a big believer in giving as much autonomy as I can–letting people pick who they work with, what projects they work on, when they can finish it. Give the autonomy and decisions to your team.”


Push For Excellence With Literature

“When I started Location Labs, in many ways, I’d be taught by the methods of the Harvard Business School–very data driven, some of the more classic rules of management, but there are some values I’ve learned that are liberal arts-based. I’m a big fan of the Iliad, and one of the concepts there is arete (excellence). When we hire people, we talk to them about this meritocracy we have as a company that’s about excellence and what that means and being the one everyone comes to in order to solve the problem.

“The other thing we found is the downs and lows I mentioned earlier are rarely mentioned in business literature–how things can fall apart and how you bounce back from that. We have this concept called molon labe, which is a Greek term from the 300 Spartans: We’re not afraid, we’re going to make mistakes but we’re going to fight back–we’re not afraid of massive obstacles and huge competitors. That’s a core cultural value we’ve evolved over time because we realized the average competitor for the first part of our lives was bigger than us. If you’re afraid, you have no chance.”

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.