Detroit; We got our Ford, Dodge, Durant and Chrysler. We got our Strohs, Illitch, Karmanos & Gilbert. We got a whole slew of up-and-comers, most all had modest upbringing and rose to success through vision, risk, and hard work. True entrepreneurs.
However, my favorite Detroiter-turned-entrepreneur of all time is the one-and-only Berry Gordy
I am fortunate to have grown up in Detroit listening to Motown music. I am even more fortunate to sit on the Board of Trustees for the Motown Museum and experience first-hand the history of this American icon. I am most fortunate to experience in person the culmination of a fifty-year mutual-respect relationship between Motown and The Beatles. I am also blessed to be able to play these great songs myself for my personal enjoyment and fun.
There are many books and articles written about Berry Gordy and Motown which you yourself can read, so let me get to my point.
Berry Gordy was an entrepreneur extraordinaire who knew the rules of the game before they were even written:
- He understood his target audience – Everyone. That was risky, especially when the market was becoming fragmented.
- He mastered the compelling reason to buy, which was songs with a first-person perspective.
- He completely understood whole product – songwriters, the ‘sound’, quality-control, talent, the ‘look’, etc…
- He negotiated like crazy with his partners and allies, including Brian Epstein, who negotiated great royalties for the Beatles but in the end was a winning collaboration for Motown.
- His distribution model was expansive, he knew how to make hits and get vinyl to the masses.
- Competition? If he couldn’t beat them, he hired them!
- He knew that his talent had to be positioned to present themselves in a classy, professional manner.
- He priced his product to sell and was an extremely shrewd salesman.
- Next Target? Do you know how many labels he started so that he could have multiples of hit records? Check it out!
He was also a genius at running a “Lean Startup“.
- He ran iterative sprints for the development of his agile product.
- He constantly built MVP‘s to preview songs under production.
- He hosted, literally, demo days which presented product to his staff for review.
- He ran customer validation processes with his target audiences. He gave customers what they wanted.
- He begged to get funding and made sure that his investors, which also happened to be his family, governed their investment and got the proper return.
- He surrounded himself not only with music talent, but also business talent, no matter what color or gender.
- He hit the road to sell, sell, sell!
- He pivoted. This is where I don’t always agree with his vision. By leaving Detroit for California, he may have enabled new relationships and opportunities, but he left ‘the sound’ behind, and it never was the same again. Financially it may have made sense, but a lot of people, me included, were disappointed.
Want to know more? Come visit the Motown Museum and discover for yourself!