People believe that as entrepreneurs, we draw upon inspiration at will. Give us a business problem and we’ll have a ready-made solution within minutes, complete with a step-by-step business plan that even granny could follow.
But we all know that’s simply not the case. “Writer’s block” is just as common in entrepreneurs as it is with, well, writers.
This is why I think entrepreneur movies are great not for just getting inspired, but heck, they’re just great fun to watch.
I love noting down the obstacles they have to overcome, the solutions they propose, and of course watching how it all pans out. What are their background stories? How and why did they start their journeys? Are there similarities with my own journey in business?
After watching entrepreneur movies I’ve often reevaluated concepts I’d been fairly confident in, only to find there were certain angles I’d not previously considered. Sometimes they’re just great for stirring up the pot and developing new and exciting ideas.
So with that said, grab the popcorn and settle into my top 5 entrepreneur movies you must watch before the year’s out:
Table of Content
- Best Entrepreneur Movies To Watch This Year
- The Founder (2016)
- The Social Network (2010)
- Thank You For Smoking
- Other worthy contenders
Best Entrepreneur Movies To Watch This Year
I’ve analyzed 5 entrepreneur movies that will not only help serve as a source of inspiration but also touch upon concepts we actually delve into at ThePowerMBA.
The Founder (2016)
This film tells the story of Ray Croc, a frustrated but ambitious milkshake mixer salesman from Illinois. After coming across a successful southern Californian burger joint with a unique production model (McDonald’s), Croc first convinces the founders to franchise the business, before eventually taking complete control and transforming into the most famous fast-food chain in the world.
The Founder reflects the veracity of today’s business world despite being set back in the 1950s. Its protagonist (Ray Croc) embodies the entrepreneurial characteristics I see in many of our students here at ThePowerMBA.
What I learned
The importance of process automation
McDonald’s implemented an efficient production method far superior to its competitors, replicable in any of its franchise restaurants.
Using this system, employees could prepare hamburgers in under 30 seconds. The speed and quality at which they were made were unprecedented until that time.
I think this is applicable to most businesses; finding the best way to scale production while consuming as few resources as possible.
Scale a business by franchising
One of the models we look at in detail at ThePowreMBA is franchising. It’s a great model that allows you to scale your business thanks to partners who open branded facilities in different locations.
In the case of McDonald’s, their cooking process was also easy to replicate meaning customer experience would be almost identical at any franchise restaurant across the country.
The importance of a unique value proposition (UVP)
McDonald’s was clear on what their clients really wanted (even if they didn’t realize it just yet) and that was speed and quality.
That is why their business was successful; they knew how to perfectly adapt their value proposition to the needs of their clients.
Find your Blue Ocean
What do I mean by Blue Ocean? It simply refers to a new or existing market where there is little to no competition.
In Mcdonald’s case, they were the world’s first fast-food chain. They moved away from traditional restaurants (a competitive Red Ocean market) to establish an innovative business that until that time, didn’t exist, opening a completely new market (Blue Ocean).
The power of marketing and branding
Croc knew the importance of creating a unique restaurant experience but to communicate that message globally, he needed to focus on branding.
He achieved it by placing the large golden arches on the roof of each of his franchises that quickly drew the attention of drivers passing by.
He also wanted to convey the message that McDonald’s was like a home from home – a familiar place for restaurant-goers to meet any time, much like a church.
- McDonald’s Minimum Viable Product (MVP): The business wasn’t wildly successful at first, as although customers wanted what McDonald’s offered, they were neither aware nor prepared to consume it.
- Focus on your star products: McDonald’s decided to scrap most of their menu to focus on the products that resonated most with customers.
- Restructuring the income model: Running out of cash, Croc decided to change the business’s income model. Although McDonald’s would buy the land, it would now be mandatory for franchisees to rent it from them. This increased the business’s cash flow and allowed for quicker expansion and control over the franchisee.
The final lesson I learned from The Founder is that if you get complacent, even for just a second, the market will eat you alive! You cannot afford to stop growing and innovating in such a competitive space if you hope to remain one step ahead of your competitors.
The Social Network (2010)
Harvard graduate Mark Zuckerberg writes a software program where students are invited to rate each other based on looks which, after great success, evolves into what we now know today as Facebook. The movie tells of how he is accused of stealing the idea from two brothers, also fellow Harvard students, in addition to the conflict with his friend and co-founder of the company.
For me, The Social Network highlights just how important it is to have the right talent and partners around you when starting an enterprise. It’s highly unlikely the social network would have gained the traction it did if they weren’t able to adapt so quickly to the demands of its users.
What I learned:
Quickly get an MVP to market
Although Zuckerburg stumbled upon the idea while messing around one drunken night in his university dorm, he soon realized the potential Facebook had. Within less than 24 hours the website began to receive so much traffic that it collapsed Harvard’s servers.
He knew he had to capitalize on the popularity of the social network by expanding to other university campuses as quickly as possible, using lean startup methodology.
Detect a market need
Zuckerberg understood university life revolved around gossip and wanted to create an online platform where these rumors could be made public.
Also, in an elitist class environment like that at Harvard (where private clubs and classist social structure are common) it was highly likely that this concept would work – something Zuckerberg was banking on.
The social network managed to create a feeling of exclusivity, where nobody wanted to “miss out” by not being on the platform.
Building an audience
Attracting a large user base is critical to the success of social networks. If people enter a platform and find there’s next to nobody using it, it’s unlikely to gain any traction.
Facebook managed to build its community extremely quickly (900 people in the first few hours of launching).
Define a business model
There’s a scene in the movie where Zuckerberg meets with his team to clearly outline what the structure of their business will look like; the income model, cost structure, competition – all the key points you’d find on the Business Model Canvas.
Scalability of an online business
Facebook scaled extremely quickly and with little to no overheads. This enabled the company to rapidly expand to other US-based universities and later on to the rest of the world.
- The Importance of networking: Zuckerberg meets a successful entrepreneur from the music industry who helps him to find investors who can help scale his business.
- Maintaining the value proposition: A problem facing many entrepreneurs is finding a way to monetize their products. Very quickly, one of Zuckerberg’s co-founders figured they could so by attracting companies to advertise on the platform – something Zuckerberg thought would harm the product.
The final takeaway for me from The Social Network is how careful you have to be when starting a business with close friends or family because it can really take its toll on your relationship in the long run.
It also highlights why a diverse team, with different skill-sets, is needed to help the company grow. Zuckerberg obviously had the technical skills to build the Facebook platform but it was Edward who helped develop the business.
In 1976, Steve Jobs, a university student at Reed College in Portland OR, decided to drop out and embark on an ambitious project with his close friend and colleague Steve Wozniak – to create a product that would end up revolutionizing the tech industry as we know it.
Jobs gives us an unprecedented insight into probably the world’s most loved entrepreneur: a man with astounding vision, passion, and deep understanding of what his customers wanted.
What I learned:
The importance of having a vision for your brand
If anything characterized Steve Jobs it was his unwavering vision for what Apple would stand for; modern technology accessible for everyone.
When you have such clarity in your company’s core values and long-term vision (as a brand) making difficult business decisions becomes simple.
Does a new business or product idea align with your brand’s vision? Yes or no? If it doesn’t, then discard it immediately and move on – there’s no need to lose time and become bogged down in something that doesn’t fit with your company’s values or “mission”.
Creating an innovative product
The Apple Mac completely changed our understanding of computers. Characterized by their sleek design and usability, and the addition of color and their infamous typeface, Macs quickly showed computers could be used by anyone (not just PhDs at aeronautic engineers).
It’s possible to create a brand new market
While it’s not always recommended to charge into a market and start changing everything, this is exactly what Jobs did, and turned out to be the key behind his success.
While his competitors continued to sell standardized computers to a market completely aware (and content) of what they were buying, Jobs decided to forge a brand new sub-market and attack a completely new audience.
He wanted consumers to connect with Apple on a far deeper level than they were with his competitors by positioning Mac computers as a tool without limits. Something that any user could use to achieve whatever they set their mind to.
Never stop improving the product
Steve Jobs had a fanatic obsession with tweaking and improving Apple products. He took care to analyze the smallest details to uncover ways they could be bettered and listened acutely to customer and market feedback.
The power of advertising
In 1984 Apple released their now infamous Business Model Canvas aptly based on George Orwell’s “1984” novel.
The ad portrayed the Mac as a revolutionary new computing system that brings freedom to the world as opposed to control (Big Brother was of course portrayed as their chief competitor of the time, IBM).
The ad was a huge commercial success, establishing Apple as a mainstay in the computing industry.
- Determine a product’s price point: During the movie, the board of directors (unhappy with profit stakes) decide to increase the price of the product. Of course, this made the product out of reach for the majority of consumers, going against everything Jobs and Apple stood for.
- Differentiating from your competition: One of the mistakes Apple made was trying to make the Mac a “better version” of whatever IBM released. Jobs was adamant the only way to beat them was to differentiate the Mac completely.
The key point I got from the movie is the value in having a simple, yet common vision for your brand that all your employees can buy into. There may be discrepancies regarding strategy and the best actions to take to achieve your goals, but the core brand values must be upheld no matter the cost.
Startup.com is a documentary movie that tells the story of two entrepreneurial lifelong friends Kaleil Isaza Turman and Tom Herman, who decide to create an online startup called govWorks.com, a platform to help with the management of different US municipality state activities.
This documentary covers almost everything an entrepreneur experiences when starting their business: securing investment rounds, growing the company, dealing with competition, managing structural and personal problems within the organization, etc.
What I learned:
You must validate your product
There’s a great scene where Kaleil and Tom are in a restaurant deciding on what they’re going to name the company.
They leaned over to a gentleman on the table next to them and asked him which (of the two names they were discussing) seemed best to him.
I thought it was a great reminder of how important it is to always validate your business idea before you get too deeply involved with a project. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to go down to your local restaurant to achieve this, market surveys or focus groups can be equally as effective.
Be clear on your value proposition
During filming the two founders clash heads when presenting their business idea to investors as they introduce two completely different value propositions.
It is essential to have a clear value proposition that all partners and employees are aligned with.
I really enjoyed following the founders in their search for that magic $60m investment round. It painted a very realistic picture of just how difficult and expensive it can be to secure funding, with dozens of meetings, calls, and the unnerving uncertainty as deadlines loom ever closer.
Allocation of resources
Great! We’ve finally secured that funding round from “X” group of investors…but now what do we do with it?
This is a common conundrum amongst entrepreneurs. We can get so caught up in securing capital investment that when it finally arrives, we are unsure of exactly where to allocate it. As the movie highlights sometimes not everybody is on the same page and splintering factions can emerge within the company.
Importance of strong leadership
Throughout the documentary, Kaleil demonstrates strong leadership skills, especially when getting employees to buy into the long-term vision of the company, something that he defends with unwavering enthusiasm. Having a leadership figure like this helps the organization overcome difficult times and gives them a figurehead to rally around.
Making tough decisions
There’s a couple of key moments during the movie where Kaleil must terminate the contracts of two long-standing employees (one of them a co-founder). As an entrepreneur, you’ll find as your business progresses different roles are required to help the company grow. Unfortunately, in this case, Kaleil’s founding partner wasn’t really suited to this new role change and had to be let go.
- Importance of media coverage: throughout the documentary Kaleil appears in several media: TV interviews, newspapers, even in a meeting with US President Bill Clinton..all giving additional visibility to the company.
- Work-life balance: if you are an entrepreneur it’s important your life outside of work is healthy since it can and inevitably will influence the decisions you make when at work.
Ideas by themselves are worth nothing. What’s important is building a team that can develop that idea and really bring it to life. Once it’s been firmly established you can then start searching for people to invest in the company and help ensure the long-term success of your product.
Thank You For Smoking
Nick Naylor is the spokesperson for big tobacco companies in the US. His job is to lobby on their behalf against public opinion all while trying to remain a role model for his 12-year-old son.
This movie isn’t just about entrepreneurship, but also useful for understanding sales and the commercial side of a business. It also shows just how important communication is in influencing the public opinion of a brand.
What I learned:
How to sell an idea
Naylor is an expert in persuasion tactics and sales, with the unenviable task of defending an industry increasingly attacked by public health institutions and society as a whole.
He successfully sells the idea that everybody has the right to decide whether they smoke or not, playing on the powerful American sentiment of freedom. This is much more powerful than focusing on the product’s value proposition (and more so knowing the health risks involved with smoking).
He tries to divert the conversation to a scenario that he can control, somewhere his detractors can not attack him because by doing so, they’ll be attacking the concept of freedom.
He uses many of Robert Cialdini’s laws of persuasion that we teach here at ThePowerMBA. Even if you are wrong, even if the competition has a far stronger product than you, it’s possible to make customers believe that you are.
Changing the value proposition
After constant attacks against the industry by aggressive anti-tobacco lobbyists, Naylor has an idea of how to reverse the situation.
He wants to make tobacco and smoking cool.
By appealing to an emotional response Naylor bypasses the rational counterarguments
against tobacco (it has zero benefits, is expensive, and is damaging to your long-term health).
- Knowing how to negotiate: Naylor is great at putting himself in someone else’s shoes, understanding what both sides want from a deal and how to steadily turn it around in his favor.
- Public speaking: non-verbal communication, that is, our “body’s speech” transmits just as powerful a message as the words coming out of our mouths.
Thank You For Smoking really shows you how much people want to believe what they are told, and how the media can sway public opinion so easily.
It is a great lesson in how anything can be sold if marketed correctly.
Other worthy contenders
The Wolf of Wall Street: to learn about sales and leadership.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: ins and outs of financing.
Silicon Valley Pirates: competition helps your business grow.
The Pursuit of Happyness: the importance of passion and sacrifice.
Hopefully, you enjoyed my list of what I consider the best entrepreneur movies from which you can learn some relative concepts (and put them into practice in your business) all whilst having a little bit of fun.
I’d be fascinated to hear which movies have inspired your entrepreneurial journey! Let me know in the comments below.