Valuable StartUp Lessons from Unlikely Sources

For those addicted to the television drama Mad Men, a lot more than you might think can be gained from watching the series. Set in the world of a Madison Avenue advertising company in the 1960′s, the show pokes some fun at the corporate culture of the era.

The latest season begins (spoiler alert for those who haven’t watched!) with the main characters launching a startup ad agency. Here are a few things that USA Today appreciates about the way Don Draper and friends go about building a new company:

Balance team strengths. Don Draper is the driving force behind the new agency, but he’s not an account manager, administrator, or designer. That’s why they’ve pulled together a whole team. All too often, start-up entrepreneurs think they can do it all. They can’t. You can’t. If you want to build a company with a real future, find people who balance your weaknesses.

Stay flexible. When it looks like they may lose an account, one staffer says, “Does this mean I have to cut back to two days a week?” They clearly understood — even in the 1960′s when part-timer employees were unusual — that they might have to expand or shrink staff quickly to meet their needs. And they don’t spend money on an expensive conference table.

Of course, for the sake of television, there must be pitfalls. However, the same issues that are bound to impede the Mad Men entrepreneurs are likely to hinder startups in real life as well.

Lack of staff diversity. Peggy Olsen is their one and only professional who’s not a straight white male. She brings a fresh, different, money-making point-of-view. But even today, long after the Civil Rights laws of the late 1960′s, start-ups (especially tech start-ups) still are composed entirely of only one type of person. Wrong then. Wrong now.

Partner with people you don’t trust. I don’t have access to future scripts, but I can see problems ahead for our “Mad Men” crew. Many of the key players don’t trust or respect each other. Makes for good drama — but do you really want that much drama in your new business?

By trusting all of your employees to make good decisions, interests will align and dramatically improve the value of your enterprise.

Will these Mad Men entrepreneurs be successful? Next time you kick back and relax to watch the latest episode, you may be learning more than you expected.

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