THE STRIPPER PIVOT….
Can this unconventional business model used by BlacChyna be applied to my startup TAGEE?
A few years ago I was given the book The Lean Startup, which many in the tech community over the past few years have revered as the holy book itself. If you have ever read it, it’s belief in overcoming failures by experimentation, would heighten your business success by iterating on ideas tested for the unpredictable nature of startups. Unfortunately for me this idea couldn’t work, as I couldn’t apply that logic to my life to get those results. The reason being that I couldn’t afford to fail while working to pay Sallie Mae. The ability to create a minimum valuable product (mvp) for my life would be a battle with how my bank account was set up. For me and many like me the one size fits all approach provided by this methodology wouldn’t work for those that didn’t fit culturally into the 1%, who with affluence could fail and innovate without any repercussions to their livelihood. However, my startup TAGEE along with some former strippers were proof that this approach didn’t guarantee success. It wasn’t useful for those strippers who transitioned into different industries using their social media influence. The hustle defined their hypothesis for their business and allowed them the freedom to not have to fail over and over again in order to succeed.
I never expected myself to fit the mold of a career driven 9 to 5 black man with a solid savings, a decent 401k and a mortgage. But, I did expect my 6 year “bid” in school wouldn’t release me to the real world with over $100,000 in student loans and no career to speak of. Similarly, many strippers never envision their career path going down a pole versus going to sit at a desk in a cubicle. Over time, it seemed that my life reflected this downwards movement at times, not necessarily a pole, but for lack of better words a black hole. Like other black men caught in this vicious workforce I was losing confidence in my career as I was consistently underpaid and tipped much less than what I was worth.
The major difference between my life and some of social media’s favorite ex-dancers’ lives, ie. BlacChyna and Amber Rose and most notably today Cardi B, was the unfortunate reality that I took out loans for a career that never provided me a decent ROI. I mean who in their right mind takes out loans to get a paper saying a “Bachelor of Science in Architecture” not to receive some sort of satisfaction and success from their efforts. Meanwhile, (cue the Shirley Caeser music) I got loans piling up, defaults, arrears, garnishments, late fees, bad credit, you name it. For dancers across the country from Chicago to Miami, with high bills and low job prospects turning to stripping was an easy career choice. However, many didn’t see the rains of cash falling from ceilings glamorized in songs like Juicy J’s Bandz a Make Her Dance. Instead the exact opposite happened, as the lap of luxuries expected never materialized under the bright lights dancing to trap music ballads of Future and Migos. The truth being for me; there really wasn’t a difference, we all were under the same bright light trying to cash out in society; hypnotized to the allure of the stability promised to us through a career and an education. A couple of lines from Bandz A Make Her Dance from Juicy J explain the the strip club’s appeal for the exotic entrepreneurs who use it to transition into better careers.
“She start twerking when she hear a song
The stripper pole her income.”
Many tend to look down on these women, but to me they have and will always represent what it means to be an entrepreneur, the ultimate hustler. The intelligence and insightful ability to stay ahead of the curve through innovation or in their case curves to remain competitive among a fiery group of women dedicated to making that chicken, bread or whatever colloquial expression referring to the all mighty DOLLAR‼️
Unfortunately, it took sometime for me to realize how to compete in this job market after being faced with setback after setback, missed opportunity, my life entered a downward plunge without a pole needed. Whether it was due to a lack of focus on my part, unforgiving bosses, long hours, low salary or just an oppressive system with little upside. The struggle I faced reflected what many exotic dancers experienced twerking in their 6 inch stilettos to 808 beats that couldn’t be solved by this methodology. The ability for them to convince those Franklins and Johnsons to leave their owner’s pocket to be thrown on stage or in their g-string was their mission. For myself, graduating college none of my missions would be met while I was ill prepared for a stagnant job market where extra money was necessary. I had no skills to hustle, so I learned to pick some up, if it was promoting parties in college, (which I never saw any growth), securing a bank loan to open a rental entertainment venue to host other college students events, (did get that bank loan though), selling outfits for dancers and barmaids (with the help of some good friends who sew, saw some profit here finally). I needed to test my product of myself and use my skills of creativity to develop a solid business built on these very experiences.
As years have passed, the doubt that I couldn’t succeed without a career had started to fade as new opportunities opened my eyes. In the world of strippers, the value of their mvp meant they had the courage not to waste time on poor ideas because when you have little money who has time to test and fail. In a profession, where one can become a money maker over night if their cards are played right. Who has time to test their market and find a niche, many would rather learn dangerous tricks on a pole in months to stay on par with their peers. Learn to sew themselves to make their outfits more risque and sexier to attract a new customer base, learn to do makeup from YouTube tutorials and friends. The option to innovate and be flexible is a trait you didn’t want to not have, besides who wants to look at a stiff stripper. LMAO! Amongst, the grit and glamour of North Philadelphia, I saw firsthand the importance of hustle as I saw the entrepreneurs on every block hustling 2 for 10 bags of weed, oils, incense and every sort of African and Muslim garb. Combine that with the bustling energy of the college students in dorms who needed that additional income after being forced into the frying pan straight from the fire of their neighborhoods. The hustles included selling clothes, to some selling intellect; taking tests and writing papers for other students to the most common of reselling old textbooks and exams. North Philly ensured that you had to learn hustle and pivot accordingly in order to survive.
As, I have learned time and time again, in life there is only one ultimate constant and that is CHANGE. Shit, and change I did and change I would need to make as every moment led me to a different revelation of how to be successful. The lingering question I pondered; how do you decide what business will people choose to pay for? For dancers, it wasn’t complicated, they simply were going to take advantage of their “God given assets” and make sure they are able to offer the best service to their customers. Many without the “God given assets”, would take trips to Dominican Republic for the extra “assets” through surgical enhancements to insure they stay ahead or on par with the competition at their club. Much in the same way, many of my friends found themselves back in graduate school for “degree” enhancements to match the competition. Over the past few years of knowing these exotic entrepreneurs, you learn that staying ahead of the curve is the most necessary of all assets. The ability to know what song is poppin’, to knowing what hairstyle is the sexiest allowed them the ability to understand their product market fit was essential to their growth. While I’m in college taking classes to to take to get my degree, dancers are testing their market with their daily conversations with customers; finding what area of the club scene is really profitable. Many weighing the options from becoming barmaids, club hosts, video models, rappers, singers to even fitness models. It took me longer to understand this concept of learning to pivot between your skill sets could make you more effective at creating a successful business. Especially when the business is your own life. Through the struggles and my necessary failures, I’ve learned all dreams don’t end up your reality, some may end up a nightmare. For me, my dream of graduating and being an architect was becoming just that, my own personal nightmare. I spent so much time with this goal that I couldn’t see something was wrong and stopping my success. Lofty goals without the proper experience is and will always be a recipe for disaster. However, a silver lining was forming, as my experiences started to refine itself into understanding all that was necessary to be a successful entrepreneur. 😏
The idea that “experience is the best teacher of life” was wholeheartedly shown to me during college and after. Who adapted the fastest to building their business was able to grow faster to succeed. Fast forward now 10 years post graduation, life has thrown curve balls as I stand at the crossroads of building my tech startup TAGEE with my 2 childhood friends and quitting my dependable and traditional 9–5. I have finally decided to put myself out there, where I will be courageous and put it all the line, placing myself on the world’s stage to let my ideas and brand out and see what I am truly capable of. My company truly “buckey” naked with the whole world watching to see whether it will fail or succeed.
TAGEE being exposed to the world, meant it would incorporate the business savvy that made me see these dancers as the incredible entrepreneurs they were as they successfully pivoted between a variety of industries related to stripping. The ability to diversify their Most Valuable Product of themselves quickly allowed for them to either succeed or fail. The mantra that change is inevitable made them know and understand their product market fit determined their popularity and if mastered, these key elements would separate them from their competition. No business plan was needed here just a good business mind, street smarts and the willingness to not let anything get in their way. Dancers knew that if they weren’t making as much money dancing, they could become a barmaid and collect better tips, if for whatever reason, they saw an angle to make additional income they would up sell their customers and before you knew it, you would BOOM see them on the cover of a Straight Stunting Magazine at a news stand. The ability to constantly grow and convert your audience to go in new directions with you was the hidden gem that led to success for these dancers and I believed it would work for TAGEE as well.
The Stripper Pivot has taken shape including many industries over the past 10 years but as it evolves so does it’s audience every year. The once taboo nature of the strip club scene has been re-branded itself to include diverse business options. Opportunities created by a culture’s social media influence to support their exotic entrepreneurs.
TAGEE is the brainchild of my inquisitiveness to answer the question how could a larger web community be created to connect users across a multitude of platforms. It was a large goal but the ability to bridge users together irregardless of them being on a social media application or the Internet was invaluable. A platform built with the ability to pivot, grow and scale while engaging an eager audience of loyal enthusiasts of hashtags. A company created to react to the virality of social media with the static nature of your favorite website through communication. The uniqueness of hashtags’ growth and allure on Twitter in 2010 and beyond on social media has showed me a vision for connecting people like never before. The unconventional business model of the STRIPPER PIVOT allowed me to have a different view of social media. It represented the dance, a twerk that revealed a little and created just enough excitement to peak the audience’s interest much in the way, the strip club has attracted a larger audience of onlookers from different backgrounds. The serendipitous nature of the club is the goal for TAGEE to provide by creating endless paths for a user from an idea based on hashtag aggregation at its inception to its top as a fully grown large brand communication platform. Most importantly during this time, for the focus to always be on our audience so that as TAGEE pivots so do they, all while the melody of “Bandz A Make Her Dance” plays in my head as I envision our dream offices in downtown Newark and Brooklyn. Making sure that I always remember the struggle to get to this point and the famous words of ……
“Make that money, don’t let it make you.”
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