With the Melbourne International Comedy Festival wrapping up soon, I thought it might be worthwhile looking at what stand-up comedy can teach us about running a start-up.
Keep in mind that many careers ago, I spent a number of years on the comedy circuit.
What most good comedians do is go on stage with a clear sense of what they are going to do.
Their act might look spontaneous, but it has been polished and practiced over a long period of time.
What’s more, it has been mercilessly tested against the ultimate focus group – a live audience.
The comedian knows exactly what they are going to say and how they are going to say it. And based on all that preparation, they are completely confident.
The fact they might look so unrehearsed – ironically – is because they have put in so much preparation.
But, to me, that’s not the ultimate lesson an entrepreneur can take away from the craft of stand-up comedy.
The real lesson is in the willingness of great comedians to deviate from the script in response to something unexpected.
It might be a quirky answer from the guy in the front row to the question, “So, what do you do?”
It might be an off-beat heckle or the poor timing of a mobile phone going off or whatever.
Suddenly, the comedian will throw away his or her script and latch onto that unexpected happening and chase it.
It is a comedy gift – a real, unique moment shared between comedian and audience.
It might result in a 30 second deviation from the comedian’s script or even take over the remainder of the show. But for as long as it lasts, it’s completely unscripted and invariably brilliant because it’s real.
Less experienced comedians are petrified of these moments. They cling to their scripts, terrified that by letting go, they will lose the audience.
Inevitably, after the show, they will castigate themselves for not having the guts to have trusted themselves more.
The lesson? Listen to your audience. And go where it wants you to go.
After more than a year of running my own media-buying website, it’s a lesson I am only now coming to terms with.
From the moment we launched, people would come to our site wanting to use it to buy advertising not for themselves, but for their clients.
“No. Sorry. Can’t do it. That’s not what the system was designed for. Maybe one day.”
A year later we kicked ourselves (which hurt!). We realised people had been asking for something since the day we launched. Who cares what we want!
So we have recently thrown away the script and decided to run with the audience to see where it takes us.
We’ve opened our website to third-parties just like the market has been asking for.
Just like it is for that inexperienced comedian, it’s scary. But it’s also exciting.
And it’s a much better option than kicking ourselves for not having the guts to just trust ourselves and our audience.