From wondering ‘what if’ to knowing when to say no — here’s what Matthew McConaughey has taught us about being an entrepreneur

From wondering ‘what if’ to knowing when to say no — here’s what Matthew McConaughey has taught us about being an entrepreneur
Image: Gary Miller/Getty Images.
This article is sponsored by Wild Turkey Longbranch to investigate the possibilities of asking, ‘What if?’

You likely know Matthew McConaughey from his films, including Interstellar, Dallas Buyers Club and How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days. But you might not realise the Academy Award-winning actor is also a highly successful entrepreneur.

The 51-year-old star is also the creative director at Wild Turkey and has a growing successful business portfolio. McConaughey knows what he’s doing, and there’s a lot to be learned from his entrepreneurial pursuits.

Here are the six things every entrepreneur can learn from McConaughey’s successful career in both business and acting.

Start with why

McConaughey recently joined the faculty at Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas, Austin, and in a video series about advertising, marketing and public relations, the actor shared that a great pitch answers the fundamental question of ‘why is your product needed?’

“What problem are you fixing? How are you making someone’s life better? Is your product more convenient, more sustainable, more enjoyable? Help me understand why I need it as a consumer,” he says in the video.

You need to deliver a clear and concise answer for why your product is useful to help investors and customers understand what need you’re fulfilling. 

Know when to say no

When Matthew first became a successful actor, he worked in numerous high-paying romantic comedy roles. As a result, he became known as the rom-com guy. And while the star knew he could continue being very successful if he kept taking those roles, he decided to do the unexpected and walk away from them. 

McConaughey knew that if he wanted to become a dramatic actor, he’d have to reassess his brand and start turning down offers.

“Right after I had done like… four romantic comedies and had been very successful at them, I wanted to change my career and do more dramatic work. But I wasn’t getting offered those jobs. So, because I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, I just stopped doing what I was doing,” he told Entrepreneur in 2020.

The actor began turning down huge paycheques, including one for $14.5 million, to pursue his dream of becoming a dramatic actor.

“One side of me is like… You’re getting great offers to do work that you like to do in these rom-coms,” he said. “Just do them. Be happy about them. But the other side is like, ‘No, no. I want to hold out and find some work that challenges the vitality of my life and who I am in it. And if I can’t do that, then I’m not going to do any work.”

After not landing a role for 20 months, he persevered and successfully “unbranded” himself as the rom-com guy and found roles in Mud, Magic Mike, True Detective and Dallas Buyers Club, which won him an Oscar.

Go all in

In his book Greenlights, Matthew shared that he wanted to become a lawyer when he was growing up. But when he realised he’d have to spend most of his 20s studying before actually making a mark on the world, he realised he didn’t want to be a lawyer.

He was writing short stories at the time, and a friend told him his character work was impressive, and he should consider a career as an actor. While Matthew wasn’t sure about acting, he did like the idea of a career in the arts.

When he called his dad to tell him of his decision, he expected his father to attempt to change his mind. But instead, his father shocked him by simply telling him, “Don’t half-ass it.”

It’s a simple idea, but the green light Matthew needed to kickstart his successful career. 

Trust your gut

When McConaughey was working with Wild Turkey Master Distiller Eddie Russell on creating Longbranch, a bourbon inspired by the actor’s Texas roots, the pair worked on the drink for two years before finding the right product.

“We tried many different samples and when Matthew tried the sample that’s now Longbranch, he immediately said, ‘That’s it. I don’t want anything else with it, I want it served neat,'” Eddie explained to AustralianBartender.com.

Just like that, after wondering ‘what if?’ for so long, there was no turning back. This was the one. 

Now, of course, sometimes you can’t trust your gut alone. Sometimes, data is king, but the right decisions usually come from a mixture of both the data and your instincts. So in times of uncertainty, don’t forget to listen to that inner voice.

Commit to your vision

For his role in Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew lost almost 20kg to play an HIV-positive patient. In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, the actor shared how he didn’t think he’d gone far enough during the transformation. So, he continued pushing the weight loss further until one day, a crew member came up to him and asked, “Are you okay?” The same day, numerous other people pulled him aside, worrying if he was alright.

That was the light bulb moment that told him he’d finally achieved the weight loss he needed. 

You need discipline, determination and willpower to succeed in the world of business. So, ask yourself how far are you willing to go for your vision?

Be yourself

One of McConaughey’s most famous lines: “Alright, alright, alright,” comes from his film Dazed and Confused. But did you know that line was never in the original script? Director Richard Linklater overheard Matthew constantly saying it to crew members as he’d get ready to go on set. Linklater thought it was catchy and told McConaughey to say it in the film. 

A similar thing happened on the set of Wolf of Wall Street. There’s a scene in the film where McConaughey is sitting at lunch with Leonardo DiCaprio and he starts thumping his chest and humming to prepare himself for the trading floor. He tells Leo it gets him relaxed and ready, and it soon becomes a thing in the film.

This is another thing McConaughey did to prepare himself before going on set that director Martin Scorsese spotted and decided to include in the film.

Remember, being authentically yourself is essential to your success. People can always sense if you’re not authentic, so let the real you come through in your business and with your staff.