What The Beatles can teach us about Entrepreneurship

Through everything they’ve done, whether it’s their music, movies the way they expressed themselves, the Beatles changed the course of history with their imagination and exceptional innovation.
It might be dismissed by some nay sayers as a pop culture byproduct, but nobody can argue that their creativity shaped the form of the 60’ and is influential till this day.

I’ve been a Beatles fan since a very young age, thanks to my mother. Countless of books and articles had been written about that phenomena that lasted less than a decade. It seems like there is an endless amount of anecdotes and most of them are quite brilliant. I find the ones that go into the economical perspective of the band and the “Beatlemania” particularly interesting.
For example, did you know that in less than 2 weeks since the Beatles arrived to the US for the first time, Americans had bought $2.5 million worth of merchandise  One typical item was an ice cream sandwich called “Beatle Nut”, another popular one was a wig in the style of their haircut at that time (one newspaper described them as “75% publicity, 20% haircut, and 5% lilting lament”).

Besides the economic side of things, what I find interesting is the course of events that took place, and the innovation spirit (some of it attributed to experimentation with drugs). Some stories from that time can teach us about entrepreneurship, as running a startup is as unpredictable and exhilarating as leading a successful hippie era mega pop band .

Playing loud for the Germans
Not many know but in their early days, the Beatles performed mainly in nightclubs around Hamburg, Germany. Their Hamburg period was similar to that of an early stage startup. Struggling to survive, making almost no money and eating instant noodles (“Ramen profitabile”) but putting lots of hours into improving and being “out there”. Lennon said about those days - “We had to play for hours and hours on end. Every song lasted twenty minutes and had twenty solos in it. That’s what improved the playing. There was nobody to copy from. We played what we liked best and the Germans liked it as long as it was loud”.
Playing loud for the Germans is what every entrepreneur knows as that period when you try to market your product before you even built it. You pitch your idea and make changes according to people’s reactions. Your MVP looks like something you hacked out, but hey, at least you are not working for The Man.

Reinventing and merging ideas
In their songs, the group had shown originality and out of the box thinking. When covering other people’s songs they were sometimes taking a great idea and making it awesome. “Twist and Shout” was originally recorded by the Top Notes and become famous when it was performed by the Isely Brothers. A few years later the Beatles’ version of that song succeeded quite well, reaching #2 in the charts (it didn’t reach #1 just because another Beatles song, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, was at the top at the same time) and is to this day one of their most famous songs.
When looking around for ideas, it seems like all the good ones are taken. It’s not so often that we hear about a truly original concept that disrupts (apologies for using that cliche of a word) its industry, and even those great ideas are almost always derivatives and mash ups of prior ideas (we borrow, steal and transform). The ability to take a great idea and make it awesome is what differentiate a successful entrepreneur from a failed one. Dropbox were not the first to hit the market with cloud based sharing, Facebook were not the first social network and Buffer is all about making one common everyday activity (sharing to social networks) - magnificent.

Another great song that can be made out as an example is “A Day in the Life”. What’s unique about this song is the fact that it is actually two songs glued together by a spectacular bridge. The songs written by Paul and John were combined by a 40-piece orchestra improvisation.
That sort of hack is often seen in startups, where two different ideas can be merged to speed up user acquisition rates. At WisePricer, we have used a product we call WiseUPC to help online merchants complete the missing bits of information on their products (such as the barcode or Amazon’s unique identifier). Helping them improve their data helps us give them a better service when they use our main product, WisePricer. Our vision is to offer a wide set of tools to make the merchants wiser under one roof, similar to the way 37Signals help businesses collaborate and make decisions online.

Unity
When being asked whether he believes in God, George answered, “We haven’t decided yet”. That sort of example illustrates the strength of the Beatles that enabled them to act as one person. Unity is the key to any successful endeavor. Your startup will rise as you bring more awesome people aboard, and as more awesome people join, the more lucky you are to succeed. Keeping the moral high is a key element. A group of people that spends most of their waking hours together should be united to fulfill one goal, that is to make the startup succeed. The Beatles made it because they were united. Acted, dressed and talked the same, the group maintained their brand by setting trends together. Unity asserts power, and makes your brand memorable.

Inconsistency is fine
One day the Beatles set out to buy a Greek island where they intended to live and work among family and friends. They flew there, rented a yacht to show them around and spent hours swimming, sunbathing, singing 'Hare Krishna' and tripping on acid. They eventually decided against buying. They changed their mind but got to enjoy the ride anyway. As Paul put it, “Probably the best way to not buy a Greek island is to go out there for a bit”. In a similar way, when running your startup you might think you know where you are headed and what you want, but new facts present themselves each day and force re-framing of your mindset. It’s fine, and you shouldn’t get too worked up about it. Just remember to go out there and put your assumptions to the test. Keep in mind that it’s OK to be wrong as long as you enjoy the ride and learn from it.

Oh, and even though the Beatles didn’t end up buying an island, that venture turned out to be profitable. Currency exchanges from British Pounds to Greek currency and back, made them over £11K from that unrealized deal.

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