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Go big or go home

07 May 2012

Taking a risk can make or break you but if you never ever do it you’ll never ever know… success or failure.

New York born musician Stefani Germanotta has a marketing phenomenon on her hands. Her alter ego is Lady Gaga. 

Germanotta’s Gaga has, in just over three years, rocketed from being a supporting act in a reunion tour of the boy band, New Kids on the Block, to being one of the best selling music artists of all time. The ‘support act’ now has five Grammy awards; two spots in the 2011 Guinness Book of World Records: one for the most followed user on Twitter, the other for “Most Searched-For Female” as recorded by Google, and was ranked in 2011 at number 4 on Billboard’s list of top moneymakers.

But according to a recent piece in the Harvard Business Review with Harvard Business School Associate Professor Anita Elberse, who uses Lady Gaga’s meteoric career in her Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries course, astute management decisions, an ability to take calculated risks and maybe a little luck were part of what made the difference for Germanotta between going big or going home with her tail between her legs.

It was, believes Elberse, Gaga’s management, including manager, Troy Carter, who faced the daunting and sudden task of launching the performer’s first major solo concert tour in 2009. When it became obvious that her ties with rap musician Kanye West to do a joint big arena tour had to be cut, Gaga had to decide to either stay home, do the big arena as a solo tour or do a scaled down smaller venue tour. Elberse puts her students in Carter’s shoes to “understand the economics and intricacies of the concert and music business” as well as the strategies and choices involved in engineering between success or failure.

The Lady Gaga case also looks into the use of social media as a tool for driving success. “The power of using popular social media avenues such as Facebook and Twitter to build a strong support base, fan by fan, and Gaga’s ability to maintain close control over the various avenues” has played a massive part in her appeal and ongoing success.

Starting or thinking about starting your own business shares a number of things in common with the Lady Gaga case study.

Beginning a business needs a business plan.

Putting that plan together is where the real fun starts: you need to find your benchmarks. They are most likely to be, but not always, the other businesses and your competition in the area in which you are thinking of setting up. 

Positive benchmarks – successful businesses in your area doing a similar thing to what you are doing, fall into the positive category – provide you with the level you need to reach if you are to succeed. (Negative benchmarks help you decide where you won’t go and what you will try and avoid doing if you want to succeed.) The methods of operation employed by the business (the successes and failures available publicly via watching what a business in your physical area or area of expertise does) can also provide you with free material to analyze and assess whether your business idea has legs and if it does, how you can be as good as, or better than your competitors.

To check whether that entrepreneurial hunch you have has the commercial legs to run and for how long, answer (not in any particular order) all 6 (six) of these questions:

1. Where will the business be situated physically and or virtually?

2. What will the business offer? You need to define what the business does in as much detail as possible keeping the big picture in mind. 

3. Why will the business work?

4. When will the business open and operate?

5. Who will the business target? This is about deciding who or what your market is, among other things.

6. How will the business be run from beginning to end? This includes looking at how you will fund the business with its mindfield of possibilities, such as using friends and family or not…

For more on courses and business start-up information, browse