#Old Chang CHATS: The concept of ‘brotherhood’ to form a united team in early-stage startups

Written by Chang Zi Qian Published on 

We take another Chinese history lesson from Liu Bang, the emperor of the Han dynasty, on how to build a united team in modern context.

In an early-stage startup, building a united team that can charge forward together is important, but how can we build a united team from the very start?

The ‘brotherhood’ in a startup

We will be exploring one of Liu Bang’s main talents, which is his ability to form a united team and to attract other talents to join him early on.

In my opinion, the concept of ‘brotherhood’, as mentioned in the first stage, is a uniquely asian concept that does not really appear in Silicon literature. It is easy for entrepreneurs in the valley to attend sessions in the hope of looking for a co-founder who matches their skillsets. However, it is very different for Asian founders because we put a lot of weight in trust and focus on building human relationships.

Ability to be humble

While Liu Bang did not have any academic qualifications, he was street smart and was popular among the people in his hometown. He had friends from all walks of life – the butcher, a serial thief, one who plays flute during a funeral etc. These people did not have many qualifications too, but Liu Bang never dismissed them.

Liu Bang’s village had been called upon to report for hard labour in order to build the emperor’s tombstone. However, on their way to reporting, Liu Bang decided that this was against the personal interest of all the villagers, and that he didn’t want to go anymore. Those that stayed with him, suffered hardship and hunger, were the ones that hung out with him in the village.

Liu Bang did not dismiss them, even though it might be easier for him to be alone to stay alive. However, he took on the responsibility to account the lives of those who followed him, and had the ability to lead everyone.

In my experience, there are some startup founders who carry an air of arrogance with them, but this is counterintuitive for a startup. In the early stages where there is no reputation and track record, learning to stay humble and not dismiss anyone is important.

Ability to create unity

Unity comes from two basic elements:

  1. When people accept their position and place with those above and around them
  2. When people accept their rewards as being fair

When Liu Bang decided to not report for hard labour, he made it very clear that since they are rebels and there is a huge risk, those that are not willing to take on the hardship have the option to leave. Those that chose to stay were cognisant of their own background and social status. They knew they needed to stay together in order to stay alive.

At this stage, Liu Bang had nothing but a group of disorganised people. He had no resources and no vision, but the aim of solely to stay alive – not only his, but those that followed him. Unity was very important during this time.

Talent comes in many forms

In light of this, startup founders should never dismiss anyone, and start thinking how to build their brotherhood. There will always be disagreements, but putting in effort in building a united team will help. As a leader, you can paint a picture to the team of the current situation to give a boost of unity and operational success.

Listen to the full podcast here to learn how Asian startups adopted the concept of ‘brotherhood’ to build a united team.

Old Chang CHATS is a podcast that seeks to bridge between the differences of business culture of East and West. In each podcast episode, Old Chang will pick a topic which will interest English speaking founders and professionals by seeking out relevant lessons from Chinese history.

Disclaimer: This article was written by a community contributor. All content is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the writer. If you’d like to contribute, you can apply here


Chang Zi Qian

Chang Zi Qian is the Co-founder at Intelllex. His podcast 'Old Chang Chats', seeks to bridge between the differences of business culture of East and West through stories from Chinese History.


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