Five Important Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Straight Outta Compton


This is a post from my good friend and fellow Marine Justin Constantine.  If you’d like to hear Justin’s personal story he is on episode 26 of the Veteran On the Move Podcast.  Justin survived a sniper round to the back of the head in Iraq and endured more pain and suffering as a result than most of us can imagine.  He overcame a life threatening combat injury to become an inspirational and motivational speaker.  In addition to being a wounded warrior, Justin is also a veteran entrepreneur with a great perspective on veteran’s issues and entrepreneurship.

Five Important Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Straight Outta Compton

Entrepreneur Lessons from Straight Outta Compton


I wouldn’t say that NWA was my favorite group in the late 80’s and 90’s, but I certainly listened to my fair share of them. There is no doubt that the members collectively and individually had a huge effect on the music industry, and to overall American society to a certain extent. So I recently rented Straight Outta Compton, and was interested to see some of their back story and how it all came together for them.

Ultimately it is not really important whether I liked the movie or not, but one thing that jumped out at me is that there are a number of lessons that entrepreneurs can learn from the movie and the individual characters in it.

1. The first business you start most likely won’t be your last

This is a common lesson to budding entrepreneurs. Although I officially launched my first business in 2008, I have started several businesses since then. As you learn more about business in general and expand your network, you will find out about many other business opportunities. Coupled with the experience you gained from starting your first business, these opportunities may very well lead to new corporations in your personal portfolio.

Before the group camp together in the movie, Eazy-E was a drug dealer, and Dr. Dre convinced him that “if he can sling dope, he can sling records.” E certainly proved to be quite a natural as a music entertainer. Also, we saw Dre move from working for NWA to a contract with Suge Knight and then start his own label. And certainly we can’t forget Ice Cube, who transitioned from writing most of the rhymes for NWA to start his own successful record label (Death Row), script out the blockbuster movie Friday, and launch Cube Vision, which ultimately produced Straight Outta Compton. Perseverance is the name of the game, and once you have proven yourselves, others will gravitate towards you as a trusted resource and subject matter expert.

2. Official paperwork is important – pay attention to it

Although other small business owners advised me to just use Quick Books for my accounting needs, I simply don’t like that kind of work and am worried I will make a critical mistake. Thus, I pay for a professional accountant, and the peace of mind is worth the cost. I also use contracts for all of my speaking engagements, even if they are pro bono, just to ensure that I cover my bases and that everybody is on the same page.

NWA was incredibly popular soon after they committed to working together and hit the radio. However, they had significant contract problems, which ultimately led to their demise. Eazy-E met music manager Jerry Heller early on, and they agreed to work together to build something big. Unfortunately, E was the only member with a contract, which really angered Ice Cube to the point where he left the group. Also, late in the movie Eazy-E’s girlfriend reviewed the financial paperwork and identified that Jerry had taken advantage of E and that he had no money. Don’t take shortcuts on these fundamental issues – the money you may save in the short term is not worth the potential long term damage.

3. You will have to make lots of decisions on the fly

Perhaps the best thing about being an entrepreneur is that you are your own boss and have a lot more control of your schedule than when you work for somebody else. However, with that control comes a lot of responsibility, and often the need to make quick decisions right away. How many of you have pushed forward on a marketing campaign without taking all the precautionary steps advised by entrepreneurship professors and other experts? How many of you have approved promotional collateral based on “your gut” without first testing it out with a focus group? Sometimes entrepreneurs just do not have the time and/or resources to check all the boxes before driving forward. During a break from recording Straight Outta Compton, all the band members are harassed by the local police who insist they are gang members. As a result, Ice Cube writes the hit song F*** the Police, which sets off a firestorm across the country. Not only does the FBI warn NWA not to play that song any more, but right before their concert in Detroit, the police chief warns them not to play it and threatens arrest if they do. Cube decides during the performance to play the song, which kicks off a lot of drama.

4. Surround yourself with good people

Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E were all very good at writing, producing and performing. However, as is probably the case with many musicians and superstars, they weren’t so good at ensuring the people around them had their best interests at heart. Of course, inviting women with handgun-carrying boyfriends to your hotel party is never a good idea (Eazy-E), and neither is starting a record label (Dr. Dre) with a greedy and vicious partner (Suge Knight) who is not afraid to use violence instead of the courtroom to settle legal disputes.

For those of you who are not celebrities, this lesson is equally important. As the saying goes, “A man is known by the company he keeps,” and it is generally true that people will mentally categorize you by whom you spend your time with. I choose to surround myself with people who not only embody character traits that I admire, but also whom I feel want to see me succeed, as I do them. Good people are those who have your back in the good times and the bad, who help motivate you when you are stretched thin, and who are truly present in the moment when you spend time with them. Find these people, and hold on to them!

5. There is no replacement for hard work

There are only so many hours in the day, and your time is valuable. Successful entrepreneurs know that they are always facing a lot of competition, and if they aren’t working diligently on their particular craft, plenty of others in their marketplace are.

Having a special talent or unique market proposition is only part of the equation – putting in your best effort at all times is also critical. Yes, it is true that if you do something you love you it is not work, but entrepreneurs are also the people who gave up 40 hour-per-week jobs to work 80 hours per week for themselves! In Straight Outta Compton, we see a handful of rappers/producers/performers who start with nothing and work extremely hard to provide an excellent product, create brand awareness, market themselves and drive sales. The end of the movie provides a montage of the surviving members of NWA and their careers – although Eazy-E passed away from AIDS, Ice Cube continues to make music, is a movie star and writes and produces movies, and Dr. Dre made Eminem a star and sold his Beats by Dre brand to Apple for $3 billion.

I am not saying that Straight Outta Compton was the movie of the year, but I did enjoy watching it and seeing some of the backstory behind these musical revolutionaries. That aside, as an entrepreneur I could relate to some of their issues. The lessons highlighted above jumped off the screen and proved that many new-ish entrepreneurs often face the same challenges and can certainly learn from others before us.

Joseph Crane

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