I recently watched the movie Exit Through the Gift Shop from well-known artist Banksy. I got a kick out of this film for multiple reasons having liked Banksy’s artwork for years now.
What most amused me though is how well it goes about making you question what celebrity is and how much you can achieve by becoming famous. The key point for me is questioning whether you really need to be creative and innovative above and beyond being famous.
Then Mike Butcher over at Techcrunch went and posted something this morning about startup teams trumping celebrity tech entrepreneurs. In summary, he too is making the point that execution far outweighs celebrity.
Basically, what I’m getting at, is all the parallels you’re starting to see between the startup world and the movie business. I am definitely not an expert on the movie business and can only imagine what it’s truly like from afar. Yet, we’ve all seen enough of it to realise a bit how things work in Hollywood. You basically have a couple large companies or studios as they’re usually called. There you have management at the top who are the power-brokers in the industry. They back films which are used as vehicles to market actors who either succeed or not. If they do succeed, they are cast in further films and a ton of marketing is thrown at these films, regardless of whether these actors have talent or not.
Ultimately, the goal is to make as much money as possible and if you’re the one making all this money, keep other people out so you can continue to make as much money as possible. Sure, there are some stand-out actors, managers and studios who go against the grain but basically it’s an industry optimised to make money. Simplified by me immensely but I believe you understand what I am saying.
Now let’s switch over to the startup world. It’s no longer Hollywood and we’re now a bit north in Silicon Valley. You have a couple firms who call all the shots and are known as Tier 1 VC’s (with some major players like Google, Apple, and Facebook thrown in for good measure).
These VC’s fund firms instead of films run by entrepreneurs instead of actors. Some of these entrepreneurs are successful and some are not. Those who are get funded further by these Tier 1 firms. Lots of companies are started and sold since these power brokers in the Valley sit on each other’s boards and pass deals back and forth. The power brokers continue to make money and those entrepreneurs who don’t lead to successful exits get weeded out (where’s the reality TV version of “out to pasture” for entrepreneurs?)
Ultimately, as in the movie business, you make as much money as possible and keep out the riff-raff who would keep you from making tons of money as long as possible.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am in no way arguing about whether the movie or startup business is right or wrong or skewed in someone’s favour or not. I’m also probably simplifying it too much as well. But the point I am making is that we are in a world where it’s about making money. Sure, you can get your touchy-feely on and say you’re changing the world but ultimately you wouldn’t “work” if it wasn’t about making some money.
Hence, my advice to any entrepreneur is to take advantage of whatever you have if you ultimately want to be successful. If you are naturally good looking, get your face out there. Be on TV and in the press. If it helps you make money, go for it.
At the same time, if media attention doesn’t help you make more money, don’t focus on it. Get your pretty head down to business and execute like hell to innovate, optimise and sell your product. Or have the best of both worlds. Be a CEO focussed on getting your brand or product out there and have a number two (great blog post by Ben Horowitz) who takes care of business. What you need to focus on is making money and being the scrappy entrepreneur that you are, you’ll optimise wherever you can to achieve your goal.
In the end it’s never about who was most popular that determines success. Just think back to all those football players and cheerleaders in high school. (I’ve seen some of them from my high school….thank you Facebook…..and had a good laugh!) So often there are people you never hear about making tons of cash since they don’t need to focus on media.
On the other hand, if Twitter/Foursquare/Zynga/Groupon hadn’t received so much media attention, you think they’d be where they are now? I highly doubt it and I guarantee you that they had a clear strategy in place to use media (and position their founders) from the start. Hence, don’t waste time focussed on the wrong things. If you’re a celebrity entrepreneur who’s counting his millions hats off to you. If you’ve become a media darling and are broke, well tough luck kid. Try something new.
By the way, here’s what Exit Through the Gift Shop is about cut and pasted from Wikipedia. Think what you will about whether it’s a real story or not but reast assured the dollars earned by “Mr Brainwash” were real!!
Exit Through the Gift Shop: A Banksy Film is a Gonzo Documentary which tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles, and his obsession with street art. It is presented as a documentary, but reviewers have questioned its factuality. The film charts Guetta’s constant documenting of his every moment on film, to his chance contact with his cousin, the artist Invader, and his documenting of a host of street artists with focus on Shepard Fairey, and also Banksy though the latter’s face is never shown, and his voice is distorted to preserve his anonymity
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