The Hollywood MBA: 18 movies every entrepreneur should watch – Business Insider
Along my journey as a two-time digital entrepreneur, I’ve learned a lot of things, including how to learn, implement, and pivot quickly — but also how to manage employees, pitch investors, create marketing strategies, and more.
I started my journey in 2013: I owned a digital marketing agency and then created a news app called Splash. My biggest venture and passion now is a growth enablement platform for businesses called Alore Growth OS.
I’ve had scores of crazy days when stress levels are high and my spirits were low. Reading a good book or watching a good movie often gave me hope that the hard times would pass and that I’m not the only one struggling.
While I’ve actually completed a real MBA, I don’t deny learning many valuable lessons from films. I lean on data like Brad Pitt did in Moneyball, design and innovation like Steve Jobs in Jobs, and use some hustling tips from The Wolf of Wall Street. I even try to nurture and protect my dream exactly like Will Smith’s character in Pursuit of Happyness.
I call this list “The Hollywood MBA.” Here are the movies I feel make up the Hollywood school of business, in no particular order.
Takeaway: Market optimism will simply not protect against a crash. The movie really brings into focus the harm that can be done when leverage is held by large financial institutions in the derivatives and CDOs market. Investors need to pay attention to risk management if they want to protect themselves.
This one is a documentary, but it’s worth a mention as it triggers thoughts on what to do and what not to do in startups. It’s about the Gold Rush of the 1990s. This one is worth seeing, especially if you’re a techie, or someone who’s interested in understanding the internet bubble. The movie takes you through the inception and downfall of the internet company govWorks Inc., which at one point raised $60 million USD in funding and went bust in the year 2000 – within two years of having started. It’s interesting to know that the company relaunched in January 2018.
Takeaway: This movie shows the effect money, greed and power can have on relationships. Friends are not always the best business partners.
Takeaway: It’s not about who has the idea – it’s about the one who executes it. Facebook happened because Mark Zuckerberg had the will, the confidence, the vision, and the discipline to make it happen. While it is known that no original idea exists, the real job is to get busy making it a reality.
Takeaway: Success takes its own sweet time — Apple took 20 years to become the powerhouse it is today. While drooling over successful ventures, most often, entrepreneurs fail to notice that those things didn’t happen overnight. Even Apple struggled as a business, as a company, and as a technology for over a decade, before it was steered in the right direction by being innovative again.
Takeaway: Stick to your plan. The movie teaches viewers that investing isn’t about picking stocks or finding the next hot company. It’s about sticking with a plan and never making emotional decisions when it comes to your money. Buffett also follows two investing rules: never lose money and never forget rule number one. It also teaches that compound interest can make small differences in your investments grow into big ones over time.
Takeaway: Choose advisors from outside your family. Joy found herself in the not-so-unique situation of having her family as her business advisors. It became a problem as they are too close to her to give any objective feedback.
The best thing to do if your family wants to work with you, is thank them for their concern, but hire professionals. Create a group of proven successful people in similar businesses. Sometimes the greatest ideas and feedback come from people who are not as emotionally invested in you.
Charlie Sheen totally embodies the role of a power and success-hungry man who is ready to skirt the law to get what he wants. We all know someone like that in business — don’t we?
Takeaway: Greed isn’t always good, but a little greed can keep us motivated to succeed – everyone likes the perks that come with a fat wallet. But making the acquisition of money the sole reason to wake up in the morning is an act of self-sabotage.
In the movie, Gekko’s unmitigated greed is his undoing, but the real lesson is what Bud Fox learns. Fox spends money he doesn’t have on the big apartment, expensive dinners, and fancy art to emulate Gekko, even though his entry-level stockbroker job can’t sustain that kind of spending spree. So, he resorts to insider-trading to pay his bills, even betraying his own father in the process. And, for what? A nicer suit?
Takeaway: Welcome change. John Chambers once said, “If you don’t innovate fast, disrupt your industry, disrupt yourself, you will be left behind.” The movie sets the right picture of what he meant. Grady was fired as he was not ready to adapt to the new approach required in the circumstances.
Takeaway: This movie shows how two young men were pitted against each other, striving to grow in a cut-throat business. You’ll definitely relate to the character development from nerd to psychopath, as both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs experience their rise and subsequent backslide. While the movie focuses primarily on their rivalry and the early days of Microsoft & Apple – it also gives you an insight into how talent is formed and potentially suppressed by rigid traditional corporations.
This classic film has probably motivated thousands, if not millions, of entrepreneurs globally into leaving their cushy 9-to-5 jobs and answering their callings. In the setting of an IT company, the film takes a humorous look at what it’s like to do something you don’t love, don’t value, or that doesn’t inspire.
Takeaway: The biggest takeaway is the effect of micromanaging — empowering employees with autonomy for better outcomes is a tried-and-true approach.
The layers and layers of bosses at Initech not only demonstrate what micromanaging is but how it demotivates employees from putting forth their best efforts (or any efforts at all).
Takeaway: The movie demonstrates how we should treat our customers and how we should network with them. It also shows us that one must have passion for what they do, and be dedicated to achieving their goals. The movie also teaches entrepreneurs to recruit smartly: if you want to build a successful team, it is essential that you recruit people who have the right skills and are willing to work hard.
Takeaway: There’s always a new area in which you can find success. When Abagnale is eventually caught by the FBI, he receives a job offer from them and is released from his prison sentence.
Is this an opportunity Abagnale sought out specifically? Not exactly. But it was a very small opportunity that he took advantage of.
Instead of entirely relying on word-of-mouth to get traction, find opportunities for yourself — continue demonstrating your skills to pull yourself up in the world.
It also shows how no struggle is too tough if your dream is important to you. The film also reminds us that what matters at the end of the day is happiness, and life should be invested in the pursuit of it.
Takeaway: Recognizing an opportunity and grabbing it at the right time is easier said than done. But it is what paves the path to success for an entrepreneur.
For Gardner, the opportunity presented itself in the form of an internship at Dean Witter. It was an extremely risky choice to make considering his financial and personal situation. In one scene, his wife is seen scoffing at him — “Salesman to intern is backward.” But Gardner knew that he needed to take a step back to make a leap forward. He was willing to constantly learn and adapt because no one’s ever too old to do something new.
Takeaway: Focus on quality and customer experience. Jerry got fired from the company for choosing people over money.
Jerry’s journey becomes a struggle at the beginning of the movie for the same reason. The story shows that while the idea of focusing on improving the lives of people seems counterintuitive in the short term, in the long run, it brings loyal customers and sustainable business.
Takeaway: Confidence is key. No matter how nervous you are, fake it ’til you make it. Projecting a smart, self-assured persona is half the battle in most scenarios. Remember Miranda Priestley’s elevator exit that left everyone awe-struck and intimidated? That’s a great example.
It follows the story of a stringer played by Jake Gyllenhaal who is self-motivated, focused, and understands constant improvement. It’s a dark drama about how a guy hustles his way from rookie to a pro in his game. It teaches you to — utilize an opportunity to its fullest.
Takeaway: Build a hunger for success — Hard work and hunger can simultaneously go with each other and can really set one apart. Lou was hungry for success and money, and was willing to go to great lengths to achieve his goals. His choices were immoral, which is why he most certainly should not be your role model. However, he was ready to go that extra mile. If applied morally, in the real world, hunger for your goals, and hard work backing them up, can really help you in the long run.
This movie leaves you bewildered at times but will also wow you with the energy and sales-hacker mindset of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character). Moreover, it also gives you moments of truth about how things can spiral out of control if you’re not mindful.
Takeaway: Enjoy the process more. Belfort and Stratton Oakmont made so many crazy decisions, and although they paid the consequences for those choices, they had a ton of fun.
Running a company is enormously challenging. Therefore, it is essential to enjoy the process. Endless stress can only make it more difficult, so remember to take life a little less seriously.
Takeaway: Hold on to hope. The movie reminds us that hope is a good thing. When Andy first entered Shawshank, it’s likely he felt despondent at his circumstances, which would break most of us. Yet, he chose to hope, and eventually found that freedom was tangible. There are moments when we lose hope. Andy shows us that no matter how bleak the circumstances are, there is always the potential for them to be better.
On one hand, I’m a believer in the fact that readers make great leaders – but I also understand that reading is not the only way to fire up your soul.
I’ve found myself feeling motivated after watching a great film with lessons I can transpose to my entrepreneurial journey.
Watching a great film can be a masterclass on navigating a storm in your own life. You can relate to it and analyze it better when you see it happen in someone else’s life on-screen.
Vikas Jha is a digital entrepreneur and founder of Alore Growth OS.