18 movies with valuable entrepreneurial lessons: From 'Startup.com' to 'Becoming Warren Buffett'
- Vikas Jha is a digital entrepreneur who learned a thing or two about entrepreneurship from movies.
- He's compiled examples that feature practical advice as well as displays of grit and determination.
Along my journey as a two-time digital entrepreneur, I've learned a lot of things, including how to learn, implement, and pivot quickly — but also how to manage employees, pitch investors, create marketing strategies, and more.
I started my journey in 2013: I owned a digital marketing agency and then created a news app called Splash. My biggest venture and passion now is a growth enablement platform for businesses called Alore Growth OS.
I've had scores of crazy days when stress levels are high and my spirits were low. Reading a good book or watching a good movie often gave me hope that the hard times would pass and that I'm not the only one struggling.
While I've actually completed a real MBA, I don't deny learning many valuable lessons from films. I lean on data like Brad Pitt did in Moneyball, design and innovation like Steve Jobs in Jobs, and use some hustling tips from The Wolf of Wall Street. I even try to nurture and protect my dream exactly like Will Smith's character in Pursuit of Happyness.
I call this list "The Hollywood MBA." Here are the movies I feel make up the Hollywood school of business, in no particular order.
1. "The Big Short" (2015)What happens when one man gets an early glimpse of the subprime mortgage crisis? This movie is a must-watch for entrepreneurs, especially those interested in economics and finance. If you wish to be familiar with these terms before spinning a dime in the stock market, this is your movie!
Takeaway: Market optimism will simply not protect against a crash. The movie really brings into focus the harm that can be done when leverage is held by large financial institutions in the derivatives and CDOs market. Investors need to pay attention to risk management if they want to protect themselves.
2. "Startup.com" (2001)
This one is a documentary, but it's worth a mention as it triggers thoughts on what to do and what not to do in startups. It's about the Gold Rush of the 1990s. This one is worth seeing, especially if you're a techie, or someone who's interested in understanding the internet bubble. The movie takes you through the inception and downfall of the internet company govWorks Inc., which at one point raised $60 million USD in funding and went bust in the year 2000 – within two years of having started. It's interesting to know that the company relaunched in January 2018.
Takeaway: This movie shows the effect money, greed and power can have on relationships. Friends are not always the best business partners.
3. "The Social Network" (2010)Of course, this film has to be named in every list of movies a entrepreneur must watch, offering a peek into the world of Silicon Valley and how startups run and succeed. Adapted from Mark Zucker-Facebook-berg's real life, the movie motivates youngsters to dream big and chase that dream to no end.
Takeaway: It's not about who has the idea – it's about the one who executes it. Facebook happened because Mark Zuckerberg had the will, the confidence, the vision, and the discipline to make it happen. While it is known that no original idea exists, the real job is to get busy making it a reality.
4. "Jobs" (2013)Based on the life of Steve Jobs, this film is a must-watch. Don't watch it for the acting, but for the story of the great visionary who transformed and fuelled innovation in the technology products industry.
Takeaway: Success takes its own sweet time — Apple took 20 years to become the powerhouse it is today. While drooling over successful ventures, most often, entrepreneurs fail to notice that those things didn't happen overnight. Even Apple struggled as a business, as a company, and as a technology for over a decade, before it was steered in the right direction by being innovative again.
5. "Becoming Warren Buffett" (2017)This documentary tells the story of how the mindset for innovation can be built from a very young age. One of the most essential takeaways from this movie is how to find life goals and objectives unrelated to making more money, and instead, focus on becoming a better human being.
Takeaway: Stick to your plan. The movie teaches viewers that investing isn't about picking stocks or finding the next hot company. It's about sticking with a plan and never making emotional decisions when it comes to your money. Buffett also follows two investing rules: never lose money and never forget rule number one. It also teaches that compound interest can make small differences in your investments grow into big ones over time.
6. "Joy" (2015)Inspired by the real-life of self-made millionaire Joy Mangano and her struggle to do more than make ends meet as an out-of-work mother and aspiring entrepreneur, this movie follows Joy's journey as she struggles with numerous professional and personal obstacles. It's easy to feel wholly enthralled by Joy's determination and won't-quit attitude.
Takeaway: Choose advisors from outside your family. Joy found herself in the not-so-unique situation of having her family as her business advisors. It became a problem as they are too close to her to give any objective feedback.
The best thing to do if your family wants to work with you, is thank them for their concern, but hire professionals. Create a group of proven successful people in similar businesses. Sometimes the greatest ideas and feedback come from people who are not as emotionally invested in you.
7. "Wall Street" (1987)The amount of sales dialogues one can learn from this film is insane. In a world of hunger where nothing can ever be enough, this movie showcases the passion and madness that takes over a businessman when he is maniacal about success. It sheds light on the level of craziness businesses will go to succeed – a notable quote: "greed is good."
Charlie Sheen totally embodies the role of a power and success-hungry man who is ready to skirt the law to get what he wants. We all know someone like that in business — don't we?
Takeaway: Greed isn't always good, but a little greed can keep us motivated to succeed – everyone likes the perks that come with a fat wallet. But making the acquisition of money the sole reason to wake up in the morning is an act of self-sabotage.
In the movie, Gekko's unmitigated greed is his undoing, but the real lesson is what Bud Fox learns. Fox spends money he doesn't have on the big apartment, expensive dinners, and fancy art to emulate Gekko, even though his entry-level stockbroker job can't sustain that kind of spending spree. So, he resorts to insider-trading to pay his bills, even betraying his own father in the process. And, for what? A nicer suit?
8. "Moneyball" (2011)Based on the life of Billy Beane, this film highlights the role innovative leadership takes in business. Needless to say, it shows how analytics aces instinct in business. It's a must-watch. Think about this quote from the film: "When your enemy is making mistakes, don't interrupt him."
Takeaway: Welcome change. John Chambers once said, "If you don't innovate fast, disrupt your industry, disrupt yourself, you will be left behind." The movie sets the right picture of what he meant. Grady was fired as he was not ready to adapt to the new approach required in the circumstances.
9. "Pirates of Silicon Valley" (1999)Another masterpiece on the competition and meteoric rise of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the titular pirates of silicon valley. My favorite quote from the film is "Success is a menace. It fools smart people into thinking they can't lose." I dearly wish Blackberry, Nokia, and Kodak CXOs had seen the film in time and adapted to change before things went wrong. Some may argue that they blundered themselves into economic ruin by not adapting fast enough to the changing market environment. Others may argue they were victims of technology giants Apple and Google.
Takeaway: This movie shows how two young men were pitted against each other, striving to grow in a cut-throat business. You'll definitely relate to the character development from nerd to psychopath, as both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs experience their rise and subsequent backslide. While the movie focuses primarily on their rivalry and the early days of Microsoft & Apple – it also gives you an insight into how talent is formed and potentially suppressed by rigid traditional corporations.
10. "Office Space" (1999)
This classic film has probably motivated thousands, if not millions, of entrepreneurs globally into leaving their cushy 9-to-5 jobs and answering their callings. In the setting of an IT company, the film takes a humorous look at what it's like to do something you don't love, don't value, or that doesn't inspire.
Takeaway: The biggest takeaway is the effect of micromanaging — empowering employees with autonomy for better outcomes is a tried-and-true approach.
The layers and layers of bosses at Initech not only demonstrate what micromanaging is but how it demotivates employees from putting forth their best efforts (or any efforts at all).
11. "Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year" (2009)This is a must-watch movie for all budding entrepreneurs, and will surely entice you with its inspirational plot. This movie can teach you a lot about sales, corporate life, and the real world. It educates viewers about original methods of working with clients and the subtleties of relationships between buyer and seller.
Takeaway: The movie demonstrates how we should treat our customers and how we should network with them. It also shows us that one must have passion for what they do, and be dedicated to achieving their goals. The movie also teaches entrepreneurs to recruit smartly: if you want to build a successful team, it is essential that you recruit people who have the right skills and are willing to work hard.
12. "Catch Me if You Can" (2002)Okay, so I understand that this film is about social engineering and the story of real-life con artist Frank Abagnale, but hear me out on why this film makes this list. The level of creative thinking the protagonist displays is amazing. This is the growth hacking mindset every entrepreneur needs. You have to always be thinking about growth and new ideas as a young business.
Takeaway: There's always a new area in which you can find success. When Abagnale is eventually caught by the FBI, he receives a job offer from them and is released from his prison sentence.
Is this an opportunity Abagnale sought out specifically? Not exactly. But it was a very small opportunity that he took advantage of.
Instead of entirely relying on word-of-mouth to get traction, find opportunities for yourself — continue demonstrating your skills to pull yourself up in the world.
13. "The Pursuit of Happyness" (2006)A timeless classic, this movie is a must-watch for every entrepreneur out there with a dream. Based on the real-life story of Chris Gardener and portrayed by Will Smith, the film is an excellent window into the life of a common man with uncommon dreams, and his determination and perseverance to achieve them.
It also shows how no struggle is too tough if your dream is important to you. The film also reminds us that what matters at the end of the day is happiness, and life should be invested in the pursuit of it.
Takeaway: Recognizing an opportunity and grabbing it at the right time is easier said than done. But it is what paves the path to success for an entrepreneur.
For Gardner, the opportunity presented itself in the form of an internship at Dean Witter. It was an extremely risky choice to make considering his financial and personal situation. In one scene, his wife is seen scoffing at him — "Salesman to intern is backward." But Gardner knew that he needed to take a step back to make a leap forward. He was willing to constantly learn and adapt because no one's ever too old to do something new.
14. "Jerry Maguire" (1996)This is an excellent film on the power of passion and the entrepreneurial zeal to make your own mark. It also pleasantly shows the importance of work-life balance and has many motivational dialogues within. I love the movie for resonating with what I believe in strongly — valuing those who value you. Having a strong support system around you is a blessing in life.
Takeaway: Focus on quality and customer experience. Jerry got fired from the company for choosing people over money.
Jerry's journey becomes a struggle at the beginning of the movie for the same reason. The story shows that while the idea of focusing on improving the lives of people seems counterintuitive in the short term, in the long run, it brings loyal customers and sustainable business.
15. "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006)Set in the ever-evolving fashion industry, this movie provides a delightful insight into what it takes to be at the top and how identifying a leadership style that works for you is important. What I also like about the film is how Anne Hathaway's character transmutes into a smart and confident young woman, which shows it doesn't matter if you start with no knowledge. Hard work can teach you to be the best version of yourself.
Takeaway: Confidence is key. No matter how nervous you are, fake it 'til you make it. Projecting a smart, self-assured persona is half the battle in most scenarios. Remember Miranda Priestley's elevator exit that left everyone awe-struck and intimidated? That's a great example.
16. "Nightcrawler" (2014)
It follows the story of a stringer played by Jake Gyllenhaal who is self-motivated, focused, and understands constant improvement. It's a dark drama about how a guy hustles his way from rookie to a pro in his game. It teaches you to — utilize an opportunity to its fullest.
Takeaway: Build a hunger for success — Hard work and hunger can simultaneously go with each other and can really set one apart. Lou was hungry for success and money, and was willing to go to great lengths to achieve his goals. His choices were immoral, which is why he most certainly should not be your role model. However, he was ready to go that extra mile. If applied morally, in the real world, hunger for your goals, and hard work backing them up, can really help you in the long run.
17. "The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013)
This movie leaves you bewildered at times but will also wow you with the energy and sales-hacker mindset of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio's character). Moreover, it also gives you moments of truth about how things can spiral out of control if you're not mindful.
Takeaway: Enjoy the process more. Belfort and Stratton Oakmont made so many crazy decisions, and although they paid the consequences for those choices, they had a ton of fun.
Running a company is enormously challenging. Therefore, it is essential to enjoy the process. Endless stress can only make it more difficult, so remember to take life a little less seriously.
18. "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994)Though not a business-inspired film, this film is an excellent reminder of the power of the human spirit when the odds are stacked. It teaches perseverance, planning, and patience in a way no movie can. Entrepreneurship is a similar setting. Sometimes odds and situations spiral out of control, and only a calm mind, knowledge, and planning get you out.
Takeaway: Hold on to hope. The movie reminds us that hope is a good thing. When Andy first entered Shawshank, it's likely he felt despondent at his circumstances, which would break most of us. Yet, he chose to hope, and eventually found that freedom was tangible. There are moments when we lose hope. Andy shows us that no matter how bleak the circumstances are, there is always the potential for them to be better.
I've learned some incredible business lessons through these films
On one hand, I'm a believer in the fact that readers make great leaders – but I also understand that reading is not the only way to fire up your soul.
I've found myself feeling motivated after watching a great film with lessons I can transpose to my entrepreneurial journey.
Watching a great film can be a masterclass on navigating a storm in your own life. You can relate to it and analyze it better when you see it happen in someone else's life on-screen.
Vikas Jha is a digital entrepreneur and founder of Alore Growth OS.
- A 53-year-old longevity researcher says his 'biological age' is a decade younger thanks to 4 daily habits — but the science behind them is mixed
- OnePlus Nord CE 3 leaks ahead of launch – specs, expected launch date and more
- New CEO of TCS Krithivasan gets a thumbs up from analysts who are betting on his experience & leadership skills
- US condemns attack on Indian Consulate in San Francisco; pledges to defend safety, security
- Paul Grant who played Ewok on Star Wars passes away at 56
- Sensex, Nifty50 edge up in morning trade led by gains in financial services, PSU bank stocks
- Always open for negotiation: Putin tells Xi Jinping on Ukraine peace plan
- Time to accumulate bonds and lock-in attractive yields with peak rates around the horizon