The Beatles’ career may be one of the most inspirational success stories ever. They started from total obscurity, worked exceptionally hard, and endured set backs, failures and fights before becoming arguably the most famous rock and roll band in history. (Some estimates claim they have sold over 2 billion albums!). Their long rise to stardom isn’t just a model for other bands, but a template for entrepreneurs as well.
The similarities between music and business might not be obvious, but anyone who’s started a company (or band) from scratch understands the struggle and creativity it takes to succeed.
Plus, some of the most famous entrepreneurs of our time are noted musicians. Reportedly, Kayak founder, Paul English credits being a musician as the best training for founding a business. Other well-known founders who also play music include Steve Case (AOL), Steve Wozniack (Apple, co-founder) and Paul Allen (Microsoft, co-founder).
The Beatles’ story provides some specific lessons for any entrepreneur (it also doesn’t hurt that it has quite the happy ending). Do these apply to your small business?
Choose the right team members (i.e., not necessarily your friends from business school)
Working with friends can be a blessing and a curse. You already have a short-hand with each other, and probably share the same passions and business goals. If you’re fresh out of business school, it can be tempting to simply choose the people around you. But if you hit a snag, the relationship can quickly turn sour and personal, and stall your company.
The Beatles went through a handful of members before finding the perfect balance among them. We commonly know the band as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, but they didn’t begin that way.
Lennon originally started playing with a childhood friend, but fired him once he met McCartney. Meanwhile, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison formed a band with drummer, Pete Best, but replaced him a couple years later with Starr.
The Beatles didn’t settle for just anyone. Having the perfect team was a big priority, as it should be for any entrepreneur.
Persistence pays off
Most people know The Beatles as either a pop band from the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” era, or from their shaggier, more experimental albums like Abbey Road. But before any of their noteworthy music, they were simply known as a club band in Europe. Specifically, they honed their chops between 1960 and 1962 when they played endless eight-hour sets in Hamburg, Germany. As a musician, I can assure you that playing 8 hours of music would be totally exhausting.
On the other hand, nothing makes you more efficient and productive than practicing your craft over and over… and over. They wouldn’t have become a household name if they weren’t expert players and an exceptionally tight band.
They also endured disagreements and problems throughout their career. George Harrison famously felt shut out by Lennon and McCartney, which produced a serious divide in the group. But despite all of this, they never gave up.
Likewise, starting a business requires a very high level of commitment and persistence. It may be the hardest thing you ever do; it may also be the most rewarding.
Love the process of what you’re doing
Every new business progresses on its own track, although marketing guru, Seth Godin once estimated that success for entrepreneurs comes after about 6 years of hard work.
If you’re starting a business, make no mistake: you’re in it for the long haul. Like content marketing and other forms of reaching customers online, be okay with waiting. This will require patience, relationship-building and above all else, a love for what you’re doing.
Entrepreneurs actually have to enjoy the process of running a business. You don’t need to love the pain of setbacks or even necessarily be enamored with your products and services (although it certainly helps). But a love of problem-solving is a must.
It’s estimated that The Beatles played for 7 years before finding success. What kept them going? A love of music. In the early days, Lennon and McCartney would ditch school to write songs. If you’re studying and learning music as a teenager, you’re most likely doing it at school. To seek it out on your own time demonstrates a true passion.
Gaining success didn’t come easily, either. The band played relentlessly and went through several members and band names, including The Blackjacks, The Quarrymen, Johnny and The Moondogs, The Silver Beats and more.
Stay open to unexpected and bold ideas
Entrepreneurship isn’t necessarily for people who crave structure and consistency. This might seem counterintuitive, as business traditionally functions on these qualities.
If you’re starting a company, creativity is a must. Even with a sound plan and projections, things don’t always go as expected. You have to be able to improvise, and be ready to embrace unfamiliar territory.
Indeed, figuring out how to turn areas of the market that seem inhospitable to business into sources of income that provide value to people is where entrepreneurs can thrive.
By comparison, The Beatles could have easily maintained their trajectory as a popular pop band. Instead, they chose to completely reinvent themselves over time, while still maintaining their melodic sensibilities.
They followed their instincts to create unique music, incorporating the innovative production of producer, George Martin, drawing on Harrison’s love of Eastern music, and experimenting with instrumentation and song structure.
The band endured because they weren’t afraid to be bold.
Be prepared to devote your life to the business
Working for other companies is not without its perks. Chief among them is the schedule. You may work long hours, but ultimately, the success of their business does not depend solely on you. You can officially check out at the end of your work-day.
Not so for entrepreneurs. Many small business owners are always on the clock. You leave an office at a certain time, but the work continues. Even when you’re officially having personal time, your brain is still trying to work through problems, go over schedules, etc.
In other words, work becomes your life.
Similarly, The Beatles lived for their music. Early on, they traveled constantly between Liverpool, England and Hamburg for two years, playing as much as possible. They probably spent as much time, if not more, being in a band than leading thriving personal and professional lives. They grinned away, while slowly building a fan base.
Of course, the pay off is that, if you play your cards right, a light awaits you at the end of the tunnel.
Embrace competition… but don’t smother it
The competition between John Lennon and Paul McCartney is legendary. Both were masterful songwriters and to some extent, they knew it. Or at least, they were very much aware of each other’s talents, and refused to be outdone. If Lennon came up with killer part for rhythm guitar, McCartney would write an even more infectious chorus.
Fortunately for us, their competition produced some of the best rock and roll ever recorded. But rather than let their egos ruin everything, the two songwriters kept them from imploding the band. This is key, as it highlights competition in its best form.
Having friendly rivalries can up your game, especially as an entrepreneur. Whether it’s among your own team, or with another small business, use competition as a motivator to be more creative, and to come up with newer, innovative solutions. But don’t let it consume you. It’s always good to know what the competition is doing, but at the end of the day, you have to make your own success.