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What Startups Can Learn from Lady Gaga

Being home for the Holidays means lots of driving in my family. Driving, in turn, means listening to the radio. Right now, listening to the radio means listening to Lady Gaga. As both my sisters are big fans, I started doing some research into the Gaga phenomenon and have been utterly amazed at both the rapid rise and business acumen of the Lady. Even Mayor Bloomberg is a fan.

And apparently I’m not the only one interested — Victor Niederhoffer has a great post on Daily Speculations titled, Lady Gaga: 10 Things We Can Learn

For the uninformed, Lady Gaga has now sold 4 million albums and 20+million singles tracks. Yet, as recently as 2005 she was just a lowly NYU Student. Here’s a pretty spectacular piano performance she gave while attending New York University:

Reading Niederhoffer’s post I was immediately struck by how much startups can learn from Lady Gaga. Read his full post, but three things in-particular jumed out to me as related to startups:

1) 1000 true fans. If you have read Kevin Kelly’s thoughts, it won’t surprise you that Lady Gaga has gone on record numerous times attributing her success specifically to an early community of devoted gay fans.

2) You have to be technical to be a success. Lady Gaga is no Milli Vanilli. She is a seriously talented technical singer and can write her own tracks. She is both a maker AND a manager.

3) What’s in a name? Changing her name from Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta to Lady Gaga allowed her to create a tremendous brand. Was Lady Gaga a Googlewhack? I bet it was. Gaga is also two syllables — I remember once having Luke Nosek tell me that the Founders Fund only likes to invest in companies with two-syllable names because they are the easiest to remember and brand.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://topsy.com Brian Merritt

    Interesting, but haven't we already heard this advice repeatedly?

    1. Build, respect, and nourish your community.
    2. Know your shit.
    3. Pick a good name and embrace branding and marketing.

    None of those ideas feels new to me. How to do those things remains more art than science, however. Can Lady Gaga help us with that problem?

  • http://www.leveragingideas.com Sam Huleatt

    Yep, we have.

    Truth be told, pretty much everything that could be written about
    startups has been said — at least at a high level. If I have some
    super amazing piece of data or strategy, it's unlikely to be shared
    here because it has more value the fewer people who know about it.

    Much of what I write is more for myself (see my About Page):
    clarifying thoughts and thinking through things on mind. I choose to
    publish some of this as I believe it may be helpful to someone,
    somewhere. People have become obsessed with actionable, lean startup
    tips and tricks. IMO there aren't any, and if there are, they become
    diluted when everyone else knows about them. Startups are not a
    science, they're an art.

    In part I wrote this article because I have been fascinated by Lady
    Gaga and I found the parallels interesting. In part I wrote the
    article because I was interested to see what sort of traffic would be
    garnered by simply having the name “Lady Gaga” in the title (the
    answer btw is “lots”).

    One of the great things about blogs and the web is that it has
    afforded anyone and everyone to have a voice. The downside of this is
    that for people who read everything they can in a niche subject area
    like startups, much of the information and themes become repetitive.

    Hopefully you at least took one of the following:

    a) a better appreciation for Lady Gaga
    b) a new RSS subscription to Victor's great blog
    c) some thoughts that may trigger something actionable for you later on

    Someone wrote me earlier saying the article had been helpful to them.
    If that's true, then this post served a purpose.

    Apologies for the lengthy response, but I have had a few emails like this today.

    Best,

    Sam

  • http://topsy.com Brian Merritt

    No worries, Sam. I appreciated your post and your reply and definitely gained an appreciation for Lady Gaga that I did not previously have. I also meant my last question sincerely – can we apply strategies used within the entertainment or mainstream media industries to building startups? I think we can, but as you said, actionable ideas are much harder to generate, find, and unfortunately, share. Definitely food for thought. Thanks!

  • http://www.leveragingideas.com Sam Huleatt

    Hey Brian —

    I think yes and no. Obvious again, but the same main ingredients required for success in businesses tend to transcend industry/vertical. Outliers by Gladwell offers a slightly different perspective on that, but overall I tend to think it less random.

    My current favorite performer is John Forte. If you don't know John, or his story, read up here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Fort%C3%A9

    Again, lots of parallels. However I think the most important thing any entrepreneur can do (in any industry) is simply to meet and know the 'right' people. In John's case, Carly Simon got him out of jail, no small feat. You gotta know the right person to pull that off. Tim Ferriss, Lady Gaga, etc…sure they all have been wildly successful based on their intellect and abilities, but above all else, they know people — good people who connect them with even better people.

    IMO It's the reason VC's like second or third time entrepreneurs — sure they have more experience, but what's really to like is a bigger rolodex. Caterina Fake talks about working on the “right stuff” — she can do that with Hunch because she doesn't need to waste time trying to 'optimize for seo,' 'cold call Vcs' and 'scrounge for press' — all the minor things first timers focus on (and rightly) trying to get traction and momentum. When she wants press, or a VC meeting, she lobs in a few phone calls and she gets press and meetings. Subtle stuff maybe, but the differences are huge, especially when compounded.

    So yes and no. I myself have stopped reading blogs for anything but news and new perspectives. My experience is that the biggest bang for your buck is buying everyone you can coffee and developing genuine, reciprocal relationships. In part, rather than reading tons of blogs, I write because people tend to respond and comment which leads to more coffees :)

  • http://500hats.typepad.com davemc500hats

    thanks for pointing me to this sam… great shit :)

  • http://www.leveragingideas.com Sam Huleatt

    awesome. thanks Dave — we still need to connect sometime :)

  • ladygaganewyork

    its always a treat to listen to new kind of music
    like this !

  • andym09

    Amazing post indeed. Lady Gaga is a brand and your points regarding creating a brand like it was like hitting the nail on the head.

    ————
    Andy

  • http://www.leveragingideas.com Sam Huleatt

    thanks andy!

  • peteba25

    Lady Gaga is a total marketing babe and very smart. I think any start up can benefit from the points you made in your article. If you think about it she probably started off slow. Singing in small venues. This way she had a chance to see what the people liked. Changed her style, her name, and music to appeal to those people. They have done a great job of marketing her brand to the rest of us. Having a devoted following allows you to focus on your product. Those follower will help your brand grow.

  • http://leveragingideas.com/ Sam Huleatt

    Great points Pete! Thanks for the comments

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