Everything I needed to know about Entrepreneurship I learned from a Comedy Troupe (SERIES)

The Importance of Relationships (1 of 3)

My friend Mickey and I  decided to start The Callbacks after we were unsuccessful callbacks for another group at Boston University in 2009. The senior members of that group called Mickey and I to encourage us to continue with comedy and even try to start our own group. To everyone’s surprise we actually did. That same year we won “Best New Student Group of The Year”, had one of our videos nominated in the College of Communication’s Film Festival and attracted the most Facebook fans and Youtube views of any other comedy group on campus.

But comedy is hard. And starting a new comedy group is even harder. What’s fascinating is that the lessons I took away with me I have readily applied to every startup I’ve worked with and will in the future.
the callbacks

The Relationship of the Founders


The strong relationship I had with my best friend made it so much easier to command attention from the other members when we first became a group. I met him the first week of college volunteering with FYSOP for disabilities and we quickly became inseparable. He was a huge Alaskan hockey player and I was a tall lanky kid from Queens which made for a unique dynamic people found hilarious. The other founding members quickly meshed into our clique as we transformed from comedic misfits into a respectable comedy group.
Lesson Learned: The strong leadership my friend and I had coupled with the budding friendships within the team allowed us to focus on other things (i.e. being funny) which in turn made us more attractive to prospective talent. Your organization could have the best talent in the world, but if they don’t mesh well then the work will suffer. When your team enjoys each other’s company (both professionally and personally) they will work harder and more creatively to reach common goals. The organic culture this fosters will be more attractive to prospective talent in search of fun companies with innovative solutions.

Bootstrapping the Business

We couldn’t get any funding our first year. The Allocations Board was our VC and they don’t give away money to a group that hadn’t proven its worth yet. So we had to split money for props, film equipment, production services- you name it. As the leader often does, I personally had to shoulder most of the debt, but it ended up paying off in the long run as we’re now profitable on every show.

Lesson Learned: Bootstrapping sucks, but staying lean is important to the longevity of the business. We made our own props, used the most inexpensive venues and cut any corners that didn’t take away from the image of the brand. Bootstrapping forces you to focus on what matters most and trim the fat on what doesn’t. Create that minimum viable product (which for us was an ancient Greek mythological sketch with toga costumes fashioned with our bed sheets) and if your customers like it then you’re in business.

The Power of Networking

I became a manager of the Student Activities Office the same year I founded The Callbacks so I already had relationships with the people that gave us group recognition, funding, event paperwork and marketing materials. Instead of having to wait in line and get my questions answered by an anonymous employee, I could easily arrange sit-downs with managers or even the administrators of the student activities office.

Lesson Learned: Having the right connections when you enter an industry can bring tremendous value to your company. Even if your competitors are more established, having already positioned yourself as a thought leader and being well connected can allow you to bypass a lot of roadblocks. If you are fortunate to already have a strong network in the space then leverage it as often as possible calling meetings with influencers to update and advise you on your product. That way when the time comes they’ll be familiar with it enough to help you make the sale.

Relationships are important in all aspects of life both professional and personal. When you’re working with a team in an  early stage startup those lines are often blurred and foster great success or failure depending on how it’s managed. A nurturing and creative culture will attract great talent and develop incredible networks. Building the beta, coordinating a team and creating a company is difficult. It’s even harder when you don’t have much time or money to commit to its success. But hey, if startups were easy everyone would do it.
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