Feb 28, 2014

Oscars Blog: Wolf of Wall Street for Entrepreneurs

One of the biggest movies at this weekend’s Oscar’s is The Wolf of Wall Street, a film about an entrepreneur who becomes a millionaire. While the film is largely a cautionary tale about the dark places greed can lead to, a movie that centers around business must include some worthwhile lessons.

Jordan Belfort, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, is obsessively greedy and will go to any moral lengths to make a buck. This probably isn‘t something you want to imitate. But it’s his charisma that helps him close deals and carries him to the top.

He captures the room’s attention no matter where he is. Small-time penny stock brokers are awestruck as they hear Belfort make his first pitch. Employees whoop and cheer at his motivational speeches. He knows what people want to hear, and he delivers with overwhelmingly convincing charisma. Sometimes the person talking is more important than the product.

Simple Messages & Focused Responsibilities
The ideas Belfort covers in his speeches are often quite simple. He wants his employees to make more calls and make them more convincing (don’t hang up until they say ‘no’). His employees have one task every day, and if they get really really good at it, he will make them rich. The message is that simple. His speeches say it over and over but from different angles, inspiring employees time and time again to keep improving and dedicating themselves to their focused craft at Stratton Oakmont. And they reap the benefits.

Company Culture
Don’t take this the wrong way. The culture of Stratton Oakmont—parades of prostitutes and drugs—probably isn’t the one you want. But having a company or workplace culture is crucial. It keeps employees happy, dedicated, and productive. Belfort establishes a culture by mixing hard work, loud rallying speeches, and freewheeling (obscene) celebratory fun.  

Belfort also knows where he came from.  He carries the chant he learned (from Matthew McConaughey) as an entry-level employee through his career. It becomes a somewhat spiritual song for Stratton Oakmont's employees, building camaraderie. 

There's lots of good writing on Wolf and entrepreneurs around the web, too:
What NOT to Do Lessons
10 Lessons of Success

Feb 24, 2014

Client Success Story Videos

Check out some of our SBDC client success stories!  Farmer's market frequenters and baked goods enthusiasts might recognize the entrepreneur in the second video.

Feb 3, 2014

Our Three Favorite Super Bowl Commercials (and Why)

Wonderful Pistachios with Stephen Colbert
Why it worked: Self-awareness.  It poked fun at today's marketing world and picked the perfect person for the job: Stephen Colbert, the clever TV personality who makes his living humorously but sharply digging at modern America. It played off ad tracking, instant gratification, and how the product alone isn't considered enough for advertising. It had the random humor of the suited-up eagle. It had the memorable visual ‘OMG’ moment when said TV personality cracked his head open to reveal his inner nut.

Heinz “If You’re Happy and You Know It” (An obvious choice for Pittsburgh!)
Why it worked: Ritual.  It captured the ritual bottom-tapping of Heinz glass bottles by using the beat of a happy song. It had football tailgating! It was slyly funny in that bottom-thunking is a pretty annoying part of Heinz glass bottles. But we all do it. It also played with the ‘old woman out of her time’ trope in that she was using the new fad (the nearly-empty squeeze bottle) and her (presumably) granddaughter corrected her back to the classic glass bottle.


Audi “Doberhuahua”
Why it worked: Memorable image.  A Doberman head on chihuahua body is funny and horrifying. The dogs also take on the personalities of both breeds – very clever. And keep in mind that the ‘compromise’ topic was borne from a relationship dispute – very relatable. Audi gets away with the “rug out from under you,” “This is an ad for what?” technique because the ‘compromise’ connection makes just enough sense with the way cars are sized and marketed today. Audi knows who it is.

-- And a special shoutout to GoldieBlox, the CA small business who got its ad on Super Sunday!  They promote a very cool cause: creating toys that help young girls get themselves on the path to becoming engineers, a traditionally male-dominated profession.  They "aim to disrupt the pink aisle."

Jan 28, 2014

Super Biz Sunday

How Small Businesses can Win the Super Bowl

Super Sunday is one of the biggest consumerist days in America. There are more Super Bowl parties than New Year’s Eve gatherings; and as a country we actually spend more on this one day than we do for Christmas decorations! So how can small businesses profit from this unofficial consumerist holiday?

First: Stay Open!

The game doesn’t start until after 6, and many people will be out during the day picking things up for the big game, spending until the last minute.

Be a Gamemaker
Set up challenges and contests about the game.  In the week leading up to Sunday, run contests to see who can guess closest to the final score, TV rating, or Super Bowl MVP.  The winner (or people who thought they might win!) can come back and get a discount.  

Be Corny
America loves the novelty of everything being football-ized. Whatever you sell can be made Super with Seattle and Denver colors, the Super Bowl logo, or better yet, generic football images that work any year – like a field, helmet, or ball. While food/drink and paper items are the most common (cookies, plates, coasters, etc), don’t stop there. Go for things like welcome mats, cheap lampshades or lights, flags, magnets, clothing, couch pillows. The cheaper and cornier the better.

Be Social
Super Sunday is the perfect day to find common ground with consumers to connect with your market. Twitter will light up about the same football moments and commercials; trending hashtags will abound. Get involved! Use social media to talk commercials and halftime show. Throw your name into the social frenzy and share your thoughts. People love reading all the different reactions, and someone somewhere will agree with you! 

Be Lite the Next Day

After the excesses of Super Bowl Sunday partying, people want to take it easy and healthy the next day. Pitch your healthy options as Super Sunday detox – workout classes, vegetarian options, etc.

The bottom line is to be spirited. Dress up your windows or interior with Super Sunday signs. Bars and restaurants of course have great opportunities: special deals, featured drinks, activities or games for viewing parties, take-out specials, large order discounts, special deliveries until kickoff. But other businesses can take advantage too. People will be out and looking to spend - do some extra business this weekend!

Jan 21, 2014

MLK & Entrepreneurs

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at length about persistence and bravery through hardships - key virtues for entrepreneurs.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

No matter where you are today, somebody helped you to get there. It may have been an ordinary person, doing an ordinary job in an extraordinary way. Some few are able to get some education; you didn’t get it by yourself. Don’t forget those who helped you come over.

Sometimes it's necessary to go backward in order to go forward.

I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. [...] Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.

Entrepreneurs can also channel MLK’s revolutionary spirit. Running your own business is a unique opportunity to do focused social good through your work.

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

We must use time creatively – and forever realize that the time is always hope to do great things.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'

Social and cultural change via business and entrepreneurship has been a topic of recent discussion on TED (twice) and in Central PA.