Porn, Music and the Art of Entrepreneurship

The Porn MusicalLast weekend I watched Porn: The Musical in Valletta with a few friends. It was a wonderful humorous performance and I can’t wait for it to be staged again to be able to drag more people along.

Being an entrepreneurship nerd, a few business-related thoughts crossed my mind while watching the performance which I will now force-feed you in this post.

The play’s script was written by Malcolm Galea who also directed and starred in the performance. The parallel with the role of a start-up entrepreneur is striking, and surely not the first time made. Yet I believe that entrepreneurs can potentially learn a lot from the process of writing and producing a play.

Act I: Prologue

Imagine yourself, for a minute, having to perform a play that you yourself wrote in front of an audience of several hundred people sitting just a few feet away from you. Think about the level of confidence you would need to have in your product and the value it’s providing your target audience. Now compare this to the last time you found yourself in a position where you had to sell – in whatever way – your company or project to an investor, customer or end-user.

So many entrepreneurs I meet and read about claim to have a fear of selling: the “but-I’m-not-a-salesperson” syndrome. It’s nothing more than a lack of confidence in the product. I have never met anyone, however shy or introverted, who would not wax lyrical about something they truly believe in and are passionate about, be it an environmentalist group, a new diet, a favourite brand; but rarely their job. That is a problem that as an entrepreneur you can’t afford to have.

A performer goes on stage certain in the knowledge that this is what she or he wants to be doing, right here right now, and furthermore that what he’s about to do and say is what the audience wants to see and hear.

Act II – The Twist

Actors, playwrights and directors are not only literally putting everything on the line based on their belief in their product. They typically only have one shot at it.

Performances have a hard and fast deadline. You can’t fudge the dates with a musical. You sell tickets for the opening night on the 23rd of March 2009 and that’s when people will show up. You can’t put up a “coming soon” notice: the deadline is immutable.  And if what was promised isn’t delivered, the reviews, critics and word-of-mouth will be harsh, brutal and irreversible. By that fateful date all the props, backdrops, casting, lighting, costumes, printing, backstage, programmes, staff, acts, rehearsals, make-up, choreography, music, sound effects and refreshments need to be sorted and done. You can’t call your client at midnight and say you’re going to be delayed because you need to fine-tune the lighting sequence of Act 3.

You gotta go with what you’ve got and it turns out to be good not because of a lucky charm that claims it will be alright on the night. It turns out to be good because there’s a built in reserve of value in the entire production that allows for a margin of error. Does your cool new web application deliver such unprecedented value to your users that they are quite willing to put up a Javascript error every now and then because, when it works, it’s so damn wonderful?

Act III – Epilogue

And finally, how does all this get done? If you’ve ever been backstage or involved in a theatrical production you’ll know that there’s a whole host of people involved. They’re getting paid, true, but that doesn’t force the make-up artist to get all his friends to buy tickets, to badger his social networks with invites to Facebook groups and to coerce his journalist sister to publish a press release in the local paper.

It all gets done because the producer follows an excellent recruitment strategy. He doesn’t recruit the cheapest or the fastest. He recruits (casts) the best and the dedicated. Just as importantly, the employees (actors) allow themselves to be recruited because they’ve read the script and loved it. They see themselves in a particular role and can’t wait for their friends and journalists to see them perform that character. The director in turn allows them to shape the character in their own idiosyncratic way.

What you should be looking for is a team that will enthusiastically go home after a day’s work and tell the world to come and enjoy the show!

And that’s how it gets to be all right on the night.

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