What Can We Learn From Beyonce?
Startups love to compare themselves to other startups. The race to win has resulted in a culture that copies, recycles, hurries, and defends itself with little thought to the question: How will we be remembered?
What Beyonce has shown us in the past few days is nothing short of amazing. Her willingness to challenge the music industry has resulted in unprecedented results. Even with record-breaking iTunes downloads it’s not the numbers that are the most inspiring part, it’s how she did it.
Her path wasn’t about differentiating from the competition. It wasn’t about launching her MVP, followed by more songs to come. It wasn’t about getting to market faster than an anyone else. It wasn’t about creating a new business model. It wasn’t about exclusive deals, marketing partnerships, or big bang PR.
Instead she did everything you aren’t supposed to do.
She took an unlimited amount of time to craft her record. She told her own story in her own way. She made her music only available through one store. She spoke directly to her own fans. She was completely vulnerable in her honesty.
And it worked.
Listening to her story has inspired me to remember that what we are building in companies is so much deeper than the products we create or the cultures we leave behind. They are imprints on the history of time.
Thank you Beyonce for reminding me of these important lessons.
1. Success Isn’t Overnight
“At the end of the day, when you go through all of these things. Is it worth it?” ~ Beyonce
The results of the last five days were 23 years in the making. As a nine-year-old, on the TV show Star Search, she learned a lesson I believe she has never forgotten.
“The reality is, sometimes you lose. You never are too good to lose. You are never too big to lose. You are never too smart to lose. It happens and it happens when it needs to happen. And you have to embrace those things.”
Losing my mom and my company are experiences I will never forget. They have forever changed who I am. And those experiences are so ingrained in my soul that they drive me to make every day matter.
Beyonce is here because she never gave up.
2. Be Willing To Share Your Story
”It’s important we made this a movie, we made this an experience.” ~ Beyonce
Starting a company is an incredibly vulnerable journey. It requires you to go against the cultural grain to create when everyone tells you that it can’t be done. And out of that drive comes a personal story. It’s a story you may not fully understand or even be willing to share, but nonetheless it is a story that belongs to you.
Beyonce’s album reflects her willingness to share the most personal parts of her story. Which makes the entire discussion not about the music or the features or the quality, but instead about her narrative. She captivates you with images and words that can’t be challenged, just accepted.
The best part is that her story is honest. She uses simple language in a conversational format that creates an instant connection with the audience. She knows not everyone will listen, but those who do, will be the customers she pours her heart into.
3. Have A Purpose
“At this point in my life that is what I’m striving for: Growth, love, happiness, fun. Enjoy your life, it’s short.” ~ Beyonce
Beyonce’s story comes full circle in this release. Through her victories and her struggles you learn that her motivations are both internal (love, happiness, fun) and external (changing people’s lives).
Having a purpose in the startup world is hard. The culture is built around ideas instead of meaning. Which is best exemplified by everyone’s two favorite questions: What do you do? and How big can this be?
Surround yourself with creators who first ask why you do it.
4. Your Customers Are All That Matter
“I didn’t want to release my music the way I’ve done it. I am bored with that. I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans. There’s so much that gets between the music, the artist and the fans.” ~ Beyonce
I remember when our sales team used to tell me that GoPro’s strategy to focus on their customer first, and retailers second, was a mistake. Even though they committed high treason (selling on their own website before selling to retailers), they were right in making their product available wherever and whenever their customer demanded, regardless of what the retailer wanted them to do.
Beyonce did the same thing. She bucked the trend and demonstrated that if you focus on what is best for your customers, the rest will work itself out. Target is so angry they even went on record with a bullshit quote that if you read through the lines, can be translated to mean: All we care about is our bottom line.
“At Target we focus on offering our guests a wide assortment of physical CDs, and when a new album is available digitally before it is available physically, it impacts demand and sales projections,” ~ Target spokesperson Erica Julkowski
The people who buy and consume your product are the customer. Make every decision by putting them first, everyone else second.
5. Brand Awareness > Distribution
In an over-saturated society that communicates in 140-character sound bites, Beyonce demonstrated that brand awareness trumps distribution. By concentrating all of her marketing power towards a single store she proved that capturing consumer mind share is all that matters.
A lot of startups get hung up on partnerships and distribution deals that, on paper, promise incredible exposure for your small brand. These deals generally result in spending all of your time shouting at a partner that didn’t deliver. Instead, you can take that valuable time and those limited resources and use them to be obsessed with how to impact more customers.
It has taken Beyonce 23 years, but she has created a movement that is tidal wave in size.
If you are building something I challenge you to look outside the startup world to find your inspiration. Spend time with yourself, understand what really makes you happy, and from that your best work will emerge.
I’m just starting that path now and although I’m terrified about where it will lead, creators like Beyonce give me hope that if you put your heart on the line amazing things will happen.
*Image Credit: Asterio Tecson