There are gatekeepers in every society. Self-appointed overlords who having reached the zenith of their industry, decide who gets in behind them.

I once heard an African-American actor speak about his experience in Hollywood. My heart broke a little when he said it didn’t matter that he was talented or good-looking. He needed someone to let him in. And even after scoring some great roles, they still determined whether he remained successful or not. This narrative is a familiar one in different sectors.

Gatekeeping boils down to a number of factors and I’ll share a few.

Power and Control

Some people are addicted to power and need to control access. These individuals derive unnatural pleasure from seeing others kowtow and genuflect.


For others, at the heart of gatekeeping is self-preservation and a scarcity mindset. Having suffered to get to the top, they don’t want anyone to eat their lunch or to derive so easily what they struggled for.

These people don’t believe there’s room at the top for everyone. So, like the ancient Pharisees, after entering the kingdom, they shut the door behind them, making it hard for anyone else to come in.

How to Unlock the Door

To circumvent the gatekeepers, there are a few cards you can play.

Find a Sponsor: Look for someone who believes in you. In the movie, The Big Short, the young investors at Brownfield Capital needed the help of a retired securities trader, Ben Rickert. If you’re lucky, you’ll find an industry player who likes you or recognizes their younger self in you and so decides to help.

Be Crazy Creative: Another way past the gatekeepers is to innovate something they do not understand, or better still, something they look down on. Before they know what’s going on, you’ve made a killing. Case in point – Airbnb or Spanx.

But speed is important. Your first-mover advantage only lasts for a short while before the big guns buy talent and know-how in order to crush you. It’s the reason why young innovators take venture funding early. It provides access to institutional backing and serious capital to capture market share.

Power is Power: In Africa, where the dark arts and business often mix, it helps to know God and to deploy his alternative power in the marketplace. Any other type of mystic force invariably turns you into the very people you’re trying to beat.

Appeal to the Public: With online virality comes strength in numbers. Sometimes, the social media mob decides to elevate an interloper and this act of support provides a brief window for success.

But, what you do in the first few days of community acclaim determines if you will have staying power later. My advice is to immediately find a well-known talent agent or manager. When you’re hot, they will take your call.

There are Other Ways

Of course, there are other ways to steal the keys from the gatekeepers. You can use money from industry disruptions – Cryptocurrency and FinTech come to mind. Grassroots politics has also gained some people an introductory seat at the table.

Whichever path you take, know this – Man is not God. The same people who ascribe gatekeeping to themselves were once nobodies. They like to forget this, but it’s true.

They were promoted to elevate others but quickly became self-serving. When your own time comes, may you do better.

For more, please read Young CEO

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