I’ve learned something valuable from the example of each of the business figures cited below:
1. Sumner Redstone, Viacom: Content is indeed king, but it’s the new distribution models that unlock content’s value. One without the other isn’t worth a warm bucket of spit.
2. Rupert Murdoch, News Corp.: Murdoch is a hands-off CEO who looks at the big picture. Still, at any moment, he can barge into one of his local offices and review all of the finer details of what makes an operation hum along. Not one to be the first onto a given trend or opportunity, once he recognizes its potential, he can accelerate better than anyone else to capitalize on it.
3. Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway: Buffet puts management candor above everything else in personnel decisions. When it comes to investment decisions, he only invests in what he understands. If you want to produce content, you need to understand the content business, and the kind of content you produce has be something you’re passionate about and relate to. Otherwise, you’ll give up before you become successful.
4. Mark Cuban, Broadcast.com, Dallas Mavericks, HDNet/AXS: Cuban was famous for saying yes to clients and then learning how to deliver the product or service after the fact. Content is the same way. If you can produce great content and can convince a client (licensor or advertiser), it’s naturally better to have the demand lined up beforehand.
5. Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com: Bezos isn’t an MBA, but he gets marketing better than most. When he started Amazon, he flew from the East halfway across the country and then drove up to Seattle so the legend of Amazon could be that he “drove across the country to start a business.” Everything from the company’s name, logo and execution boils down to branding and goodwill. We got criticized for blasting our logo on everything, but it’s paid off, especially when using out-of-home venues such as cabs, malls, airports and gyms.
6. Steve Jobs, Apple: There was a time when every wantrepreneur quoted Steve Jobs’ attention to detail and perfectionist ways. What I appreciated from his example was that the first models he invented were in fact rudimentary, and he valued those who shipped more than those who just talked a big game. In content in particular, you have a lot of people who are full of it, so it’s important to hire people who can deliver quality product on time.
7. William Randolph Hearst, Hearst: Hearst borrowed $10 million from his mother, eventually building a company that generated that much in profits each year (it’s much more than that now, obviously). He was also a hands-off manager who hired the right people and got out of their way. But he didn’t lose sight of the details, famously poring over the newspapers titles, headlines, layouts and fonts. In the content business, context — titles, thumbnails, metadata etc. — is as important as the content itself.
8. Richard Branson, Virgin Group: Branson is known to have fun and be a bon vivant. He’s a good reminder that you don’t need to have your last name on the company letterhead to live, breath and drive the organization. For me, the best lesson is that it’s good not to sell your business. American entrepreneurs have basically been conditioned to build to flip. Branson has made a fortune by going against that grain.
9. Nick Denton, Gawker: Denton has built a massive empire that is profitable, popular, and thriving. His Linkedin Profile’s Advice for Contacting Nick is epic. What I like: “I don´t do speculative business development, nor any deals without a minimum revenue floor.” Too many media companies and executives give away the cow for free and then wonder why no one wants to pay for their milk. Denton got it right.
10. Shane Smith, VICE Media: Too many content executives are either too focused on the business or the content end of things. Shane Smith sits at the intersection of both. He’s not ashamed to talk about his company’s business aspirations, nor getting his hands dirty in the content creation process. The best content executive is the one who gets his business’ P&L and balance sheet inside and out. The only way to do that is to live and breathe production and sales.
Any lessons you want to share? Do so in the comments section.