What ‘Ghostbusters’ Taught Me About Entrepreneurship
I think we can all agree that throughout the rich and vast history of cinema, one film stands out among the rest. Forget about Citizen Kane or Casablanca. I’m referring of course to the 1984 classic, Ghostbusters. In addition to being my favorite movie of all time (Fun fact: when I was five years old I insisted that my mother refer to me exclusively as Peter Venkman), I’ve found that it is full of valuable lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Lesson 1: Most innovative ideas seem crazy at first
Truly unique and innovative ideas tend to be few and far between. In general, it’s typically safer to iterate on an existing notion after others have proven out the concept in the marketplace. Steve Jobs epitomized this approach, guiding Apple to perfect concepts like smartphones that consumers found somewhat familiar. It is far riskier to introduce a totally original idea. When Pete Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler decided to go into business for themselves as paranormal exterminators, everyone thought they were crazy. However, they persevered and made the most of the opportunities that came their way. Eventually, their crazy idea caught on with consumers, and they managed the impossible: They created an entirely new market.
I’ve experienced this firsthand at BodeTree. When we founded the company, our goal was to create an entirely new market for small business. We knew that consumers needed a financial management solution that was easier to use than an accounting system and focused on the qualitative aspects of the business as well. The only issue was that nothing like it existed in the marketplace. The good news was that we didn’t have any competition. The bad news was that no one knew what we were. It took perseverance and a few lucky breaks for us to gain traction, just like the Ghostbusters.
Lesson 2: You need a well-rounded team
Each member of the Ghostbusters brought a unique set of skills to the team. Peter was the mouth, serving as the face of the team and the de facto leader. Egon was the brains, designing the equipment, and Ray was the heart of the team. The unique traits each person brought to the table combined to create a highly functional and efficient team dynamic. There was very little overlap, and each person knew their role in the organization.
I failed to take this lesson to heart when I started BodeTree. My co-founder and I have similar backgrounds and personalities. During our first few years in business, that similarity caused us to step on each other’s toes and arrive at predictable conclusions. We didn’t have a strong team dynamic, where each’s unique talents create something greater than the sum of its parts. In our case, we both tried to be the mouth, brains, and heart of the organization. As you can imagine, it didn’t work out particularly well. Eventually, we settled into our respective roles. My co-founder is undoubtedly the brains of the organization while I’ve become the mouthpiece for the company. We’ve settled into our roles well over the past few years, and our entire organization is better as a result.
Lesson 3: Watch out for the regulators
The real villain of Ghostbusters isn’t Gozer the Gozerian. It’s the unassuming Environmental Protection Agency representative Walter Peck. Peck is the quintessential regulator, fearful of what he doesn’t understand and eager to shut down anything that doesn’t align to his narrow worldview. Ultimately, it’s Peck’s brash actions that cause the paranormal chaos that overtakes New York City in the film’s climax. He represents an existential threat to the Ghostbuster’s organization and eventually gets the entire team arrested and thrown in jail. Only after the team successfully pleads their case directly to the mayor are they able to get around Peck and save the day.
At BodeTree, we focus heavily on serving banks and other heavily regulated financial institutions. As a result, we work with compliance officers and regulators on a regular basis. Typically this doesn’t pose much of a problem for us, but every once in a while we encounter our own version of Walter Peck. These are the naysayers and reactionaries who are fearful of new solutions. Rather than work to embrace change and adopt new technologies, they find it easier to simply shut them down. Much like the Ghostbusters, my team and I have learned to take our case directly to the key decision makers and help them to understand the long-term vision of what we’re trying to accomplish. More often than not, the decision makers we approach understand and help to remove our internal regulatory and compliance roadblocks.
Sometimes, the best business lessons come from the most unlikely of places. For me, it took an 80′s comedy about scientists fighting ghosts to teach me about innovation, team building, and managing obstacles. As entrepreneurs, it’s up to us to pay attention to the world around us and find inspiration wherever we go. So, the next time you’re looking for a little entrepreneurial inspiration, who you gonna call? That’s right, the Ghostbusters.
Originally published at www.forbes.com on April 24, 2015.