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The expertise and insight needed to successfully run a new business can come in many different forms and from many different places – oftentimes the most insightful lessons can come from places where you least expect them.
We all know the usual places that entrepreneurs go to get the guidance they need to launch their startup – TechCrunch, Mashable, Fast Company, BusinessWeek, HBR and a host of local gems (like Built-in-Chicago) – but what about the less-than-obvious outlets of inspiration? Being that I have an OCD-type of addiction to all things “movie”, I decided to look back at some classic films from the 1980’s to see what startup knowledge, if any, entrepreneurs could takeaway from them. And what better place to start than with a cornerstone of any 80’s movie collection – Ghostbusters
Takeaway #1: The first steps of an entrepreneur are usually predicated by adversity
“Call it fate, call it luck, Karma, whatever. I think we were destined to get kicked out of this dump for a reason.”
At the beginning of the movie, our 3 main protagonists were all working comfortably in their college laboratories while exploring all the possibilities behind paranormal studies (not to mention using fake ESP tests to flirt with unsuspecting coeds.) Then, in the midst of developing their ghost-capturing plans, the University Dean elects to cut-off their funding, hands them their pink slips and shows them the door. Losing their jobs and having their research discredited by their peers was the very event that prompted the Ghostbusters to take their knowledge to the private sector and go into business for themselves.
This is an all too common scenario for many entrepreneurs. Taking the leap into entrepreneurship is rarely the product of a perfect set of circumstances. More times than not, the genesis of this journey can oftentimes start with the most ominous of beginnings. Furthermore, a lot of times when entrepreneurs begin thinking outside of the box and speaking in terms of true innovation, the people around them will make an earnest attempt to downplay their ambitions by pinning them as dreamers or making the task at hand seem insurmountable. Whether from losing a job, being unhappy with a less-than fulfilling career or facing a major personal crisis, these seemingly perilous situations can be just the nudge a would-be entrepreneur needs decide to launch their own venture.
Takeaway #2: Finding your first round of funding is simple (not easy) – put skin in the game and expect to self-finance
Venkman: “You’ll never regret this Ray”
Ray Stantz: “My parents left me that house. I grew up there!”
Venkman: “You’re not gonna lose the house; everyone has 3 mortgages nowadays”
Ray Stantz: “But at 19% interest! You didn’t even bargain with the guy.”
After losing their jobs and deciding to go at it on their own, the next step the Ghostbusters team had to take was to get the financing they needed to finish building their product. With options limited, and after some debate, the team finally elected to take out a personal mortgage to raise the initial seed round which ultimately allowed them to put up their shingle and start selling their ghostbusting services.
The name of the game in the startup world is acquiring capitalization – whether through external investment, bootstrapping or selling goods. Having capital lets a founding team acquire the resources required to build, grow, pivot and maintain an opportunity to succeed. Unless they have a resume full of startup IPOs and exits or an extremely well connected professional network, chances are that most people electing to launch their own business will not be able to generate a large, early round of outside investment. Given that most entrepreneurs won’t have the luxury of externally financing their seed round, they have to walk the path of the Ghostbusters and initially forget about getting the A, B and C rounds funding, and instead find a way to raise their “me-round.”
Takeaway #3: Be confident, have bravado and fake it until you make it
“If someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES!”
In the final confrontation with the ghost-lord, Gozer, the Ghostbusters are faced with needing to vanquish this monster in order to save the Big Apple from annihilation. After an initial exchange, Gozer asks one of the Ghostbusters if they were Gods, in which they responded a sheepish “no” and then Gozer proceeds to kick the crap out of the team. It took some re-grouping, but the team found resilience after this setback and were able to ultimately defeat their enemy.
While far less theological or apocalyptic, entrepreneurs face similar situations all of the time. One of the most critical realizations that founding teams need to come to is that by virtue of just planning and building their new ventures that they are in fact already an entrepreneur. Potential clients, would-be investors, friends and even family members will be judging how entrepreneurs carry themselves early on, and being timid about your own capabilities is just the seed of doubt that they need to not take a new venture seriously. Entrepreneurs have to display the right amount of confidence (note: not blind arrogance) and optimism with their ambitions and ability to execute on a vision. There will be more questions than answers in these early stages – but even as entrepreneurial acumen accrues it is critically important that founders adopt the persona of success as an entrepreneur and display that confidence accordingly. So if someone asks if you’re an entrepreneur and ready to walk that path you say YES!
So yeah, Paul Graham, Reid Hoffman, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and all of the other startup/technology/business players out there can certainly provide insight that we could all learn from when starting new businesses. While the lessons from these moguls are taken as gospel for many entrepreneurs, I would make the less exalted argument to also add Ray Stantz, Peter Venkman, Egon Spangler and…[what was the character’s name played by Ernie Hudson again?] to your list of visionaries that serve as a source of startup guidance – particularly if you’re launching a venture focused on professional paranormal investigation and elimination.