Hip Hop, Business, Sales and Lies

I love me some hip hop. If you see me out and about town with a pair of giant Sennheisers on my head, I’m probably listening to some Jay-Z, 2Pac, Run the Jewels or Nas.

The magnitude of whatever I’m trying to accomplish at any given moment is directly proportionate to the height of my heels and the volume of my music.

I started this habit back when I was raising venture capital for the first time. I felt completely in over my head and so I listened to a lot of hip hop because to be honest, it made me feel the way I needed to. Despite whatever odds were against me I could show up and lay it all out in the meeting, just like the hip hop artists I was gleaning inspiration from did on stage.

They were rapping on street corners and in underground clubs. I was pitching in elevators and empty conference rooms. Hustling to get in front of customers and investors, wearing down the soles of my stilettos. I felt like if we ever met, as different as we were, we’d get each other. I wasn’t selling crack, I didn’t have mouths to feed (except my own), and the streets weren’t nearly as mean to me as they were to Jay-Z (thank God), but I felt a kindred spirit in the lyrics.

I’d take solace in turning up the volume and letting the beat and the lyrics create the armor I needed to face whatever.

Growing your business is hard, increasing your sales is hard, laying it all out there to a customer, an investor, or a partner never gets easier.

Nor should it.

Because in the spirit of hip hop, we’re always pushing forward.

Entrepreneurs are like hip hop artists because we’re willing to do the unglamorous stuff. And start right where we’re at, with what we have.

The best rappers knew themselves, and started right where they were. Eminem started off in the Detroit hip hop underground, competing in rap battles (as the only white person), and it wasn’t until he met Dr. Dre that he got a recording contract. But he worked at it for years before he had the opportunity to catch Dr. Dre’s attention.

Eminem didn’t decide to go to music school to learn about rapping. He didn’t make excuses about raising money to produce an album, or needing to move to LA to be closer to record producers. He started right where he was in the Detroit underground, and eventually his album sold 3 million copies in the first week.

The best entrepreneurs started with a product, something to sell. And then they went out and sold it. They didn’t start with a flashy Power Point deck with animated graphics and detailed financial forecasts. They started with a product, a customer, and an offer.

“You’ve only got one shot, do not miss your chance to blow. Because opportunity comes once in a lifetime.”

Under performers believe the lies that they are told about why their business, their sales, and their traction is lagging. It’s so much easier to believe the lies than to look at the painful truth.

Because they’re starting right where they are at with what they have, high performing entrepreneurs tend to move faster because they’re willing to work with what they have, so they don’t have to wait around. This causes them to self monitor their behavior and performance goals more frequently.

They are self aware, they check-in with themselves to see if they are living up to their own standards. Not the standards of some random VC, or what someone else has deemed to be the right way to go. This self monitoring is what helps get them ahead. They are 2.5x more likely to obtain goals, develop accurate plans and follow through on them.

In the past two years, I have mentored, advised and taught 1,000 women entrepreneurs (and some guys too). The similarities I see so far in those who get the most early traction and actually make forward progress is this:

  1. They aren’t waiting for something or someone else to get started. They start right where they are at, with what they have.
  2. They are aren’t in the least bit afraid to admit that they don’t know something, and ask for the help they need. These entrepreneurs are the ones who get the most help, the best advising, and get “lucky” the most frequently.
  3. They don’t have any pretenses that others are going to do the work for them. In fact, they’re often already starting to implement and do the work before they leave the room. They don’t blame anyone or anything else for their lack of performance. Nothing stops them.

This is directly the opposite of the lies entrepreneurs believe that will kill them:

  1. “I need to obtain something (or someone) outside of what I already have or who I already am myself before I can start.”
  2. “I don’t need help, I’ve got this.”
  3. “I shouldn’t be doing the sales/marketing/helping customers/coding/financials/etc. So I’m just not going to. I need to focus on being “the CEO” and someone else should do that stuff for me.”

I’m still a newbie VC, but one of the things I’ve learned so far is that pattern matching can be helpful when trying to spotting success with early stage businesses.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you can give yourself the best early advantage by taking the right inspiration from hip hop and applying it to your business, focusing on growth, and not believing the lies. That’s just the way it is.

Because if we learned anything from Tupac, it’s that “some things will never change.”