As a CEO, founder and entrepreneur what can you learn from a movie like “Ghostbusters”? Well, it turns out that if you look closely at the plot, the characters and the unfolding of the events there are a few things you can get from this 80’s classic and take right into your business life and habits – maybe more that you can imagine and recall.
For the very few that don’t know or don’t remember the “Ghostbusters” story, it’s a movie about a group of quite eccentric parapsychologists (Peter, played by Bill Murray, Egon by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd as Raymond) that get kicked out of their cozy places at the Columbia University – where Peter, among other things, loved to flirt with pretty blondes and zap ugly students – and decide to start a business for finding and exterminating ghosts and other paranormal creatures in New York. After a first and pretty unsuccessful encounter in a public library with a spirit, they catch their first ghost (Slimer) in a restaurant thanks to the special technology developed mainly by Egon.
As paranormal activity increases in New York and so does their fame, Dana (a masculine yet very attractive Sigourney Weaver) and Louis (the always funny and very missed Rick Moranis) get possessed by Zuul and Vinz Clortho, two demons that speak of the coming of Gozer the Gozerian, an evil and quite vindictive Sumerian god of destruction.
Meanwhile the Ghostbusters – the only ones that could prevent the catastrophic coming of the angry god – get thrown in jail by Walter, a lawyer that represents the EPA and that accuses them of operating an unlicensed waste treatment service (the ghost containment system where the spirits they catch are stored). As Walter orders the destruction of the containment device an explosion of ghosts invades New York and the team of four (a new member had been previously hired during their meteoric rise, Winston as played by Ernie Hudson) is released from prison and arrives just in time to witness the summoning of the Sumerian god and to destroy him after he has assumed the shape of a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
The “Ghostbusters” startup
Product / Market Fit
As a startup founder and CEO the first thing I noticed in the movie is that the four guys are pretty good at business, for being a group of oddball and misfit parapsychologists. For example we learn in the first scenes that Egon has been studying and tracking paranormal activity in New York and in the whole country for years before starting to work on and eventually develop the basis for his “ghosts capturing and containment technology”.
This sounds to me a lot more advanced and smart than what the majority of entrepreneurs – including me – usually do: we focus on a technology and a solution but we have no idea how share it with the masses, felt and urge the problem we want to fix is and so we end up with extremely cool widgets that nobody uses while the real problems (like having a green and slimy ghost devouring your “all you can eat” buffet) rest unsolved.
Let’s do like Egon, let’s study the market for years (or at least a few months, c’mon!) and get a clear idea of the problem we want to tackle: only then it’s time to start the business and bet the farm on it.
Yeap, that’s the second point: once Egon, Peter and Raymond decide to pursue their venture and build their startup they go all-in (or at least, Ray does as he is the only one that has a “farm” to “bet”): he mortgages his house to the Manhattan City Bank to finance the creation of the ectoplasm containment system.
That’s what you do when you truly believe in your project: you put your skin in the game, you ask for a loan, you put something truly important as collateral, you take risks. To me this is what “startup culture” means: yes, all the perks and ping-pong tables are fun (oh, by the way, they had arcades and a pinball machine in the firehouse they used as headquarter – so much for that) but if you are not ready to invest and to fail personally in your venture, it’s just a game.
And then there is the team. The four guys were perfectly mixed and they formed an extremely well-assorted group: Egon the “mind” and basically the CTO, Ray the organizer and CEO, Peter the salesman, all aided by Winston as supporter.
While in the movie we get this element of the “startup” as a given – the guys know each other beforehand and they hire basically on the spot Winston – having the right mix of competencies and personalities as co-founders or early employees is a vital element in the success of any business.
Too many “minds” not grounded in reality or incapable of selling anything will always fail, even if they are the smartest engineers of The Valley and know how to build the coolest inter-dimensional cannon even imagined. And while we rationally know this is true we still always tend to hire for what we are and not for what we need, looking for people that share our same characteristics and that reinforce our weaknesses instead of complementing our capacities.
Finally, marketing. Their amateurish TV commercial is still a small piece of art in its candidness yet effectiveness and clarity: “Do you have ghosts? We kill ghosts. If you have ghosts and want to get rid of them – call us”.
No mumbo-jumbo about proton pack weapons, ecto-containment chambers or Sumerian gods: just a problem, a solution and a call-to-action.
It’s not that hard yet we often fail miserably at explaining what our startup does, what problem it solves and who should “call” us. Then we blame this on the person listening and we tell to ourselves that they are not ready for our gospel – when in reality we haven’t figured out a way to communicate with people what we do or, even worse, we don’t really know it.
So let the spirit of effectiveness take possession of you.
What can you offer to people? What problem can solve your business? When you have the answer, make it the core of your communication.
You’ll pinch many more customers, especially who was searching exactly one like you.
Be the first name in their mind to call: “If there’s something strange / in your neighborhood / who you gonna call?/ Ghostbusters!”.