Some sage entrepreneurial advice from ‘Mad Men’

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Mad Men. Who doesn’t love this show? There are a number of lessons that this show can teach people in the advertising and marketing industry. The show has certainly turned perceptions about the ad industry on its head. In between the cigarettes and alcohol infused conversations of Mad Men however, there are some key lessons for startups.

So here are some pearls of wisdom from the crew over at Sterling Cooper & Partners:

“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” — Don Draper

Disruption. For our society to keep moving forward, innovators need to constantly disrupt their industries. There are a lot of people out there who want to be entrepreneurs but not all of them are listening to the conversation or are willing to change it. Starting a company is about understanding what already exists and improving on it not just simply replicating it. So find the problem and solve it.

“Let’s take it a little slower. I don’t want to wake up pregnant.” — Don Draper

Starting a company is not a 100 meter race to the finish where the fastest wins the day. Sure some entrepreneurs work that way, but for most it’s a marathon. You may want to take it slow in some areas and speed things up in other areas. Sometimes your tech needs to patiently wait for the times to catch up with it. Though most of the time slow means understanding the market and doing so much-needed research before you go in guns blazing.

“You want to be taken seriously. Stop dressing like a little girl.” — Joan Holloway

Tech entrepreneurs tend to get into this head space where they want reenact the Mark Zuckerberg’s “I am the CEO, bitch” scene from the social network. Really? That’s how to get taken seriously? If you go into a business meeting with heavy financial types who are seizing you up by what you say and how you look to decide if they can trust you with 100-million of their money, you’d better play their game and look the part. If you want to be taken seriously by investors show the investors that you are a serious person who should be taken serious.

“Am I to entertain your ballad of dissatisfaction, or has something actually happened? Because I am at work, dear.” — Lane Pryce

Compromise. This is a biggie. No one cares about your company more than you do and no one will put more blood, sweat and tears into than you. You have to learn to differentiate between the small issues and big ones. That’s not always easy, because in the beginning all the problems seem like big ones. Think about the problems with the business in mind, what concerns the business and what will help it move forward and on a scale of one to ten does this affect the business in the long run with devastating consequences? So do you want to spend most of your day entertaining ballads of dissatisfaction or are you building a company?

“You know what they say about Detroit; it’s all fun and games until they shoot you in the face.” — Roger Sterling.

Know the competition. Pretending that you’re the only animal in the wild is a fast way to get eaten. There is nothing wrong with a little friendly competition and its great to have someone to measure your progress with and share the successes with. Understanding your competition helps you build a better product and aware of the pace of the industry and the kinds of animals playing in it. Don’t get eaten by the competition.

Don’s pitch for the Kodak Carousel — what do consumers need your product for?

If you are building a B2C product you have to answer the question of what consumers need your product for. Sure you can get marketers to sell it for you when you’re done but those marketers aren’t magicians they need a place to start with it. I love this pitch where Don explains that consumers need to see how something can fit into their lives and bring them something that time has taken away a feeling of nostalgia. What need does your product fill?



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