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What Stand-up Comedy Can Teach You About Growing Your Start-up

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I’m addicted listening to podcasts. Among many that I follow there are two that came to mind which has something relevant to the headline up top.

Both of them are from Tim Ferriss show and I’m pretty sure most of you are well acquainted with his podcast. He studies the world’s best actors, performers, writers and entrepreneurs to discover what makes them so successful.

First one is with the actor and producer BJ Novak – and last one with actor, Jaime Foxx. Both of them engaged and struggled with stand-up comedy at some point.

BJ Novak stand-up comedy

BJ Novak performing

BJ majored in English literature on Harvard University. He knew how to write clever jokes. But after writing it, he started thinking he could just say them too. He decided to put himself out there. He booked a week of stand-up shows in advance. He did this to force himself to go through with them. Once something is set up-front it’s less likely to bail out.

His first shows weren’t that good. Actually he was pretty terrible at it. But after forcing himself to do those shows and working on the jokes, he managed to get 2 or 3  pity laughs out of 20 jokes from the crowd. Now he knew what was working. After a while, he got one that worked really well. That became his opener. Next good one became the closing joke.

When Jaime was starting his stand-up career, he already had a great personality. He looked good, dressed well and knew how to talked with people. But on two occasions he bombed BAD.

The first time, at the age of 21, he performed before an older crowd. But, his material wasn’t resonating with them. After 15 painful minutes on stage, he had to take a break. As if he wasn’t ashamed enough, the dishwasher who was working at the bar, took his apron off and replaced him on stage. He killed it. He used old-style jokes and audience loved it.

Jaime Foxx stand-up Comedy

Jaime Foxx

This was a huge revelation. Jaime started working on the jokes even harder. He came up with 40 minutes of material that supposed to target black audience. But he used it on the shows where most of the crowd were white people. He logged in the jokes that got laughs. Those were the winners.

Other times, when there were mostly black crowd, he used more high-brow, political jokes and checked which ones got laughs. Now he had a repertoire, he can use on every situation. Because it’s been tested on the field and on different audiences.

The second time he didn’t perform well, was because he got lazy. He had recognition from before and started paying more attention to his looks, then his material. He opened the show, but couldn’t get it warm. The next one up stage was a thin boy with a tank top and baggy jeans. He smashed it. People were peeing in their pants. That guy was Chris Tucker.

Now, what does that has to do with Start-ups? A lot, when you think about it.

1. First of all, you have to have the guts to go on stage. Show the people out there what you have. It will probably suck first time. It might be terrible, even. But maybe it was the presentation that sucked, not your service or product.

2. Have something good to offer. Work on your product. Keep making it better and better. Change something when it doesn’t work and try it again. Remove features to get to the core. Tell only the jokes that are working perfectly – remove the ones that are not.

3. Test the shit out of everything. Growth Hacking is speedy, scrappy and smart. There’s no time to be afraid and be self-conscious about it. Try SEO, Reddit, bugging reporters or hacking Craigslist. Something will work. You will prove it with those sexy spikes in your analytics data. Those are your winning jokes. Openers and closers, son!

And lastly, BJ said about Hollywood: “Everybody who gets a job in showbusiness, they have a story that’s not replicable”. What’s the story of your start-up. What makes you unique?