Old Gray Advice

During the early part of the 20th century, New York City’s Tin Pan Alley district was the epicenter of American popular music. During its heyday, Tin Pan Alley musicians devised an inexpensive yet effective method to obtain free, expert advice – they played new songs to elderly doormen and solicited their opinions. If the doormen could hum or whistle the tune after hearing it once or twice, then it was deemed suitably catchy for publication.

Ultimately, this simple marketing litmus test became known by the derisive term, the “Old Gray Whistle Test” (OGWT), as many of the doormen and other pro bono musical advisors used by Tin Pan Alley musicians had gray hair.

The OGWT is an interesting historical anecdote, but what can modern-day entrepreneurs learn from elderly doormen and hackneyed musicians from nearly one hundred years ago?

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Kiss of Death – Contract Provisions Entrepreneurs Should Avoid at All Costs

Agreements with Big Dumb Companies (BDCs) are like DC Comic’s evil villainess, Poison Ivy. Both are seductive and alluring and both are potentially fatal.

As a startup, your most meaningful agreements will likely be struck with BDCs. You will no doubt craft agreements with companies of similar or even smaller size compared to your own, but the risk associated with such agreements will be tempered by the fact that you will negotiate such agreements as a relative peer. As such, your greatest risk and greatest opportunity will arise from the deals you cut with larger entities.

Fortunately, it is possible to craft lucrative deals with BDCs that do not limit your adVenture’s ability to charter its own destiny. Just as Batman must avoid Poison Ivy’s kiss of death, so too must entrepreneurs avoid the Kiss of Death provisions which BDCs often attempt to include in their agreements.

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Thrill The Messenger – How An Entrepreneur Can Put Words In Media Messengers’ Mouths

After patiently listening to a messenger deliver the Persian King Xerxes’s request for Sparta’s capitulation, the Spartan King Leonidas unceremoniously kicked the messenger down a well.

Anger at receiving bad news is a natural human reaction. Sophocles, Shakespeare and the Bible all reference the killing of the bearer of bad news. When someone is critical of your adVenture, it is natural to dismiss the detractor and even demonize them to undercut the validity of their message. Fortunately for your competitors and detractors, you do not have a license to kill. However, as an entrepreneur, you do have a license to thrill.

Every successful entrepreneur must eventually learn to delegate. An even more challenging skill is learning what to delegate. As noted in PR Passion, shaping your adVenture’s messaging is not something you should leave to others. Control your messaging by crafting it yourself and exciting your messengers to the point that they willingly deliver your company’s message on your behalf.

Energize your messengers and encourage them to tell your story in a spirited, fervent and accurate manner.

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Pulp Facts – Entrepreneurial Press Releases Should Generate Revenue

“When I looked up from the menu, I was staring into the eyes of a man who had been dead for three years.”

– Opening sentence from “Time of Terror” by Louis L’Amour

“When Speeke came at last to water, he was two days beyond death.”

– Opening sentence from That Man From the Bitter Sands by Louis L’Amour

Successful pulp fiction writers like Louis L’Amour had to grab their readers with their first sentence. They did not have the luxury of hoping readers would warm up to their stories after a few pages. Most pulp fiction fans flipped through the magazines before buying them and purchased the stories that grabbed them by their shirt collars and compelled them to read more.

Your startup’s press releases must be as compelling as pulp fiction. If the reader is not engaged at the outset, it is unlikely they will take the time to read the remainder of your release.

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PR Passion – Why Startups Should Never Outsource Public Relations

You have been planning to ask your long-time girlfriend to marry you for months and the big day has finally arrived. In order to reduce your risk of failure, you ask your roommate, who has proposed to several women previously, to pop the question on your behalf.

Sound crazy? This is the approach many startups take when they communicate their story to the market. Rather than directly explaining their value proposition with all the passion and heartfelt stridency that only an entrepreneur can deliver, they outsource this communication to a Public Relations (PR) firm. PR agencies are expensive versions of Cyrano de Bergerac. Their best attempts to woo the media will never equal your ability to sing your own praises.

Startup PR does not stand for “Public Relations.” Rather, it translates into “Passionate Relationships” and passion cannot be outsourced.

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Bro Factor – Intimate Relationships Which Provide Your Startup With An Unfair Advantage

Bro – abbreviation of “Brother”, meaning friend or dude. A term of endearment used to denote a familiarity beyond a casual friendship.

In the world of Big Dumb Companies (“BDC”), there is little likelihood you will establish a professional relationship with someone outside of your company that goes beyond a casual friendship. At large companies, such behavior is often discouraged and in many organizations, it is even considered unprofessional. However, in the world of startups, relationships that go beyond a casual acquaintance can provide your adVenture with a significant competitive advantage.

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Best of Show

Warning: tradeshows are highly emotional, ego-driven events – do not get sucked into the hype.

Despite what the most earnest Marketing Executive will tell you, tradeshows never make or break a company. Ignore your sales and marketing people when they tell you that your company will be embarrassed if you do not purchase an expansive, $150,000 booth. They should be embarrassed for uttering such ludicrous advice. If one or more of your team members has booth envy, require them to memorize the refrain from Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe the Hype”.

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Personal Pitch

Panhandling techniques cover the spectrum from menacing demands to sophisticated appeals for help. You can angrily shout, “Hey, got any change?” and you might net yourself a nominal number of donations from fearful passersby. However, your overall productivity will likely be poor. Alternatively, you can deploy a more sophisticated and correspondingly a far more effective panhandling approach, in which you first establish a personal connection and then make a specific request.

Networking is akin to Corporate Panhandling. Instead of seeking spare change, your goals are far more lofty. In order to enhance your adVenture’s chances of success, you must convince potential Donors to hand over their precious time, valued relationships, advice and money to your adVenture. A quick review of street panhandling techniques offers interesting insights into enhancing the effectiveness of your Networking efforts.

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The Tribe

You may not realize it, but your adVenture’s Core Team is akin to a primitive tribe. The Core Team is of the three to five key individuals upon which your company’s leadership and direction is derived.

Thus, understanding the tribal organizational structure is vital to gaining an appreciation of the various roles played by your Core Team. The tribal structure works, as evidenced by its survival over eons, ultimately leading to Man’s position at the top of the food chain.

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Follow John’s Startup Oriented Twitter Stream!


Follow John’s Startup Oriented Twitter Stream. He promises to never Tweet about sunsets, kittens or awesome burritos.

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