Greek mythology has a character named Caerus. He is the youngest son of Zeus, and is the personification of things like opportunity and luck. Caerus, also known as Kairos, is usually depicted being on tiptoes, with wings on his feet. This is to indicate how fleeting and ephemeral opportunity usually is. Caerus is also depicted with a very unusual hairstyle. Think of it as a radically reversed version of a mullet, a hairstyle famously described as “business at the front, party at the back”.
Caerus had hair on his forehead, the sort that covers his face, not allowing people to recognise him easily, but was bald at the back. The moral was clear. If you had to prosper, you had to grab opportunity by the forelock, for once it fleet-footedly goes past you, there will be nothing for you to grab it by.
As with anything else where luck can play a significant part, being successful at starting up is of course much like trying to grab Caerus by his forelock. But the real fun in entrepreneurship lies in two things. One, how do you recognise Caerus despite all that hair obscuring his face? And two, how do you still grab Caerus if you miss grabbing him by the forelocks?
There is a flaw in this otherwise excellent parable of Caerus’ hairstyle. It assumes that the only way to recognise Caerus is by sight. It is not all that horrible an assumption, given how most people depend on sight for recognition. But those who wish to start up, should know that their best chance lies in recognising Caerus even with his face covered. They should be able to smell him coming. Or know the sounds of his footsteps, as slight as they may be, so well, that they hear him coming.
If you are an entrepreneur in food-tech, possibly even know what Caerus tastes like. And there is only one way this can happen. A lot of observation, and then importantly, letting all that observation inform your intuition. So if you plan to start up, once you have figured out the field of human endeavour you plan to address, just observe. A lot. Identify every player in that ecosystem. Know exactly how each of those players interact with each other. Keep looking for inefficiencies in these interactions. That is usually where Caerus is hiding, unrecognisable to an untrained eye. But you should be able to sniff him out in complete darkness even.
Of course, more often than not, despite all this observation, Caerus being the master of camouflage that he is, you will fail to grab him, and only see his bald pate as he runs away from you. Here’s where the other skill that is very necessary for entrepreneurs comes of use. Patience. Fine, you missed him as he went past you. But the world being round, he will be back. You may miss him the second time too. But you now have new crucial information. You know the speed at which he is running. You may have to let Caerus run past you a few more times, before you are confident about his patterns. But once you are, all you have to do is to just stand in the way of opportunity, in a way that there is no way it can go past you. Grab Caerus, forelock and all, and prosper.
That really is the true charm of startups. Unlike the rest of life, opportunity is more than just a slippery bald man who is hard to recognise.
The author heads product at a mid-sized startup in the real estate space