“How do we add power to our initial idea, so that when launched it's robust and strong, a real ‘killer app’?”
Great question. Calls for a great response.
I thought you’d find a stimulating answer in this WSJ article (2014 June 26) about Sting’s new startup, “The Last Ship.” Yes, your startup can learn from an entertainer. So here we go:
STING’S STARTUP = "THE LAST SHIP"
- MARKET: Broadway musicals. Not very exciting for most startup people. But read on and discover more.
- OPPORTUNITY: Move into an overlooked, open category: “Original Broadway musicals." WHY? Industry pundits acknowledge that today’s audiences expect Broadway musicals to be mainly revivals, movie adaptations, and jukebox musicals loaded with familiar singalong hits.
“Once upon a time, show tunes and pop tunes were one and the same. Through the 1950s, mainstream music culture was permeated by the works of Broadway teams like Rodgers and Hammerstein, and hits from shows such as "Oklahoma!" and "The Sound of Music." Show tunes helped form the spine of the Great American Songbook and even topped the pop charts on occasion: Louis Armstrong's recording of "Hello Dolly!" hit No. 1 in 1964, ending the three-month reign of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand."
- STRATEGY = FLANK INTO AN OPEN, UNCONTESTED (RISKY) CATEGORY. The project founder, Sting, saw a hole in the market – one ready to enter without facing a gorilla already there. And yes, high risk was also perceived.
“The Beatles, however, and the explosion of guitar-driven rock 'n' roll opened a gap that was seldom bridged by crossover shows such as "Hair." Now, for a generation of stars aging out of the pop game or in need of a next act, Broadway is an increasingly attractive destination. Nevertheless, many virtuosic pros at writing radio hooks struggle to learn the art of advancing a narrative in a musical with every line of every verse.”
- UNIQUE SOLUTION: Create an original Broadway musical (the business project) beginning with the uniqueness of Sting’s personal and professional experiences and skills.
“Sting had been considering a theater project based on his 1991 album "The Soul Cages," inspired by the singer's relationship with his father and his childhood near a once-booming shipyard near Newcastle, England. Then he found inspiration for a story line in a newspaper article about a Catholic priest in Poland who led a group of homeless shipbuilders to construct a vessel of their own.”
- OPPORTUNITY TO BE “FIRST TO GET IT RIGHT”: Industry pundits were very dubious about the project, based on the track record of others who had tried.
“With the musical 'The Last Ship,' Sting joins a long list of rock stars attracted to Broadway; 'Not a straightforward transfer of talents' . . . says Joe Mantello, the director of "The Last Ship."
“Sting acknowledges the mixed baggage that rock stars bring to Broadway. The industry has championed Cyndi Lauper for her recent work (under the tutelage of Harvey Fierstein) on the Tony-winning "Kinky Boots." But before her, U2's Bono and the Edge got targeted as symbols of the excesses weighing down "Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark." For every rocker-helmed hit ("American Idiot," from Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong), there is a flop ("Hands on a Hardbody," scored by Phish frontman Trey Anastasio). Elton John has examples of both on his résumé, including the doomed "Lestat" and the likely eternal "Lion King."”
- UNIQUE MARKET POSITIONING: The fundamental differentiation was focused and clearly evident.
“Mr. Logan, the book writer, says, "It's a very unironic show. It doesn't try to be clever and it certainly doesn't wink at its characters. We will rise or fall on the basis of that sincerity."”
- CHOSE RELATED INVESTORS: The money people were entertainment industry experts and known to the founder years before the project was started.
“The show's investor-producers include music-industry legends Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, the founders of the A&M record label, which released most of Sting's records. Of the $14 million that the production needs to recoup, the bulk is being used to pay its 100 staff members, from the musicians to the shipbuilding consultant. Apart from one climactic stage effect, there is little in the way of high-tech spectacle in the musical. "You could do five of these for the price of one 'Spider-Man,'" producer Jeffrey Seller says.”
- PLAN + PATIENCE: It took half a decade and a lot of hard work to get ready to launch (on Broadway).
“It took about five years to bring "The Last Ship" to the stage. That pace is normal for new musicals, but it is glacial by rock 'n' roll standards—The Police's entire discography only spanned five years. . . The process behind the "The Last Ship" began in 2009.”
- BEGAN WORK WITH A CORE TEAM KNOWN TO FOUNDER: The initial handful of people were all well known to Sting. He began with one and others quickly followed.
“Harmonizing with Sting on that initial demo recording was the first person the songwriter recruited for help: Jimmy Nail, a well-known singer, actor and producer in the U.K., whose father was a foreman in a plant that built scientific instruments, now plays foreman Jackie White in "The Last Ship." He grew up about 2 miles from the home of young Sting (nee Gordon Sumner) and played in a rock band called the King Crabs in the '70s. But it wasn't until a decade later that the two men became friends.”
- RECRUITED OUTSTANDING PEOPLE: Sting was able to attract the best of the best experts to join the project. Here is one example:
“Sting started developing the characters and narrative with Brian Yorkey, the writer of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Next to Normal." They worked on songs with Mr. Mathes, an accomplished music producer, during stints at Sting's estates in Italy and England.”
- CONTINUOUS ALTERATION OF INITIAL IDEA: Significant changes were on-going, coming week after week.
“The team tried and discarded various character combos before settling on a love triangle: Gideon comes home after 15 years at sea to settle his dead father's affairs and court his childhood love, Meg (Rachel Tucker). But she is settled in with a man, Arthur (Aaron Lazar), who works for the new owner of the shipyard.“
- FUELED BY PASSION OF FOUNDER: The founder was deeply committed to doing this project; it was deeply personal.
“Sting's flood of writing for the musical ended an eight-year stretch in which he kept busy but was unable to write new material.” . . ."I think it was a darker period for people around him than it was for him, such as the record company [Universal] and some fans, who wanted pop songs," says Ms. Schenker, who has worked with Sting—first in public relations, later as his manager—since his first U.S. gig in 1978, with The Police at CBGB.”
- EARLY PROMOTION PR: PR began shortly after the project got underway and has been never ending since.
“Sting has been prodigious in promoting "The Last Ship." There were 10 performances at the intimate Public Theater in New York, where Sting surrounded himself with musicians from the region that gives the music its Northumbrian folk sound. The benefit concerts at the Public Theater were expensive (costing almost $250,000 alone to bring in the musicians), but the show was useful in helping people understand what the coming musical was about. “
- BUILT BUZZ: Building on initial PR successes, the team expanded efforts that generated buzz about the project.
“At the recent Tony Awards, Sting's first, he received an initiation of sorts when performer Neil Patrick Harris gave him a (preplanned) lap dance during the telecast. When Sting performed his musical's title song, a shanty with lyrical references to the Resurrection and a "mountain of steel" making its way to the sea, it came across as a stirring respite from the award show's frenetic song-and-dance assault—or a dirge-like bore, depending on your perspective.”
- STRATEGIC PARTNERS WERE IN PLACE BEFORE LAUNCH: Well before the grand opening on Broadway, key organizations had been contracted.
“The concert was licensed for television by PBS, BBC and other broadcasters. Sting also repurposed the show, including stage patter about the influence of show tunes on his music style ("If you scratch me, I'll start singing 'Carousel'") for a TED Talk and other forums.”
- BUILT COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE ON MORE THAN FOUNDER’S FAME: Sting deliberately avoided singular risk; He broadened the appeal of the project by adding many more elements to its competitive advantage.
“When asked if some Sting fans might be buying tickets under the mistaken notion that he's starring in the musical, Mr. Seller says, "I assure you they're not because my advance sales are not gigantic." Neither the producer nor Sting ever considered him as a potential cast member. "Bringing a rock star to Broadway is no insurance policy against failure. A star will help you for the months that he's in it, but not beyond that," Mr. Seller says.”
How will it succeed? We'll have to check that in coming months and years.
BOTTOM LINE: There you have it, plain and clear. Now apply those methods to your plan for your startup. It's how serial entrepreners do it, in all industries, in all markets. That's how they succeed. That's how they build unfair competitive advantages. So can you!
I wish you The Best on your Adventure!