3 Startup Lessons from ‘The Wolf of Wall Street'

The much debated ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ based on the memoirs of real life stock market fraudster Jordan Belfort opened to packed screens and divided audiences when it released. A story of our times, a cautionary tale or a merry fable – whatever your take on it is, this film cannot be ignored. Putting aside the much talked about sex, drugs and more sex, there are a few lessons in it for start-ups:

1. Build a great team

Belfort, portrayed by DiCaprio starts his New York investment-banking firm Stratton Oakmont in a spare closet at a used car salesroom. The first thing he does is get together a team of talented sales people, who although might not be familiar with the stock markets, had the key skills required to learn the rest on the job. This is one of the most difficult yet crucial parts of starting and running a business. It is important you realise your strengths and focus on those, while you delegate other responsibilities to skilled individuals. By trying to do everything yourself, it is easy to lose sight of the important things that only you can do to grow the business.

I know you’re thinking how do I get good people to join my team when I haven’t got any money to pay them properly – well, in the scene where Belfort brings his new recruits out for dinner to pitch them the idea, you see how he passionately sells them the vision of what Stratton Oakmont could become one day. By inspiring them to feel like a stakeholder in the business, Belfort manages to get them to buy in to his vision.

2. How to sell

When Belfort walks into a little office with unenthused sales people trying to flog off penny stocks, it’s his sales technique that gets him the high sales and gets him noticed. DiCaprio gives a career best performance as a confident and persuasive Belfort who has a knack for connecting with people. For anyone who has done telesales, you know it is a task that takes a lot of calls but often you get sales people who reel off the same pitch while losing every bit of emotion each time they deliver it. If it’s monotonous for you then just imagine how it must sound to the person listening to you.
So Belfort decides to put away the bland telesales script and engage in conversation. He gets to know his potential customer and puts forward the benefits that would apply the most to them instead of going on about how great the stocks are, as the customer can’t relate to that.

You can connect with people through conversation not through a one-sided monologue whether that’s over-the-phone or face-to-face. Ask questions, give answers and have a normal conversation. But this takes a very confident sales person with a great understanding of the product, the purpose of the call and that if someone says NO it’s not personal.

3. Stand out from the noise

Do things differently. Your product is not just the end thing that someone pays for but the way your company operates, how you look after your colleagues, the relationships, the vision and how you execute it. This will become a story in itself that can be talked about. Your brand becomes bigger than just your products but gives your business a personality. Belfort gets himself noticed by the big players on Wall Street for the way he does things differently although his ways are strongly not recommended (see the film) but the idea of doing things differently and branding yourself are great attributes to disrupt a big industry with established players.

As a start up it is difficult trying to get people to hear about what you do amongst all the noise but it is possible to get great PR even within a limited budget. The key thing to think about is why people would read this – if it wasn’t about your own business would you? So be a newsworthy company for the right reasons and make every aspect of your business a reflection of your values and vision.


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