Entrepreneurship Lessons From The Greatest Showman

Have you watched the newest musical movie The Greatest Showman? If so, that’s great and like me should ponder about the entrepreneurship lessons that were taught in this film. If not, well this post contains a spoiler. It is more than just singing and dancing and promotion of equality of human race, it’s actually more of an entrepreneurship movie.
The Greatest Showman is inspired by the story of P.T. Barnum and he’s creation Barnum & Bailey Circus and the lives of the circus’ star attractions. P.T. Barnum grew up in hardship and like any other kids, he also is a dreamer. He dreamt of the day that he will become rich and famous not only for himself but also for the love of his life Charity who is a very rich girl from an aristocrat family. He grew up, and from being a thief he started to work and he worked as a clerk in one of a shipping company in New York City. He married Charity and they have 2 daughters. He then loses his job as the company went bankrupt. Sounds familiar? Yes, this happens nowadays too, when the company closes and the employees are retrenched, adding to the growing rate of unemployment. P.T. Barnum was smart too, in a cunning way. He filed for a bank loan of 10,000$ and he gave his former employer’s ship as a collateral which is already nested under the South China Sea. His entrepreneurship journey started here.
Below are the lessons P.T. Barnum taught us that we can use in our lives as an entrepreneur:
1. Learn to Take Risk
It is not recommended to do like how P.T. Barnum tricked the bank into loaning him 10,000$. He took a risk in investing this huge amount of money in buying an old museum and cleaning it up and opening to the public. The usual museum of stuffed and dried animals, fossils and old vehicles and torturing machines are the common things that P.T Barnum was showcasing in his museums. However, the risk he took didn’t pay off at first since museum didn’t appeal much to New Yorkers at that time. It did pay-off really well later on.
Any other successful entrepreneurs of today wouldn’t be successful if they were scared of taking risks. In order to succeed, we need to take risks and we need to be able to know how to mitigate risks. Now big companies have Risk Management to alleviate risks, but for start-up entrepreneurs like me, we can do our own risk management by following simple methods. For me, what really worked well is the series of “What If” questions and a simple flowchart. It is simple as identifying the risk and having the option to address the bad, worse and worst case scenarios.
2. Be Open Minded and Listen to Customer Feedback
Even after opening the museum, P.T Barnum is not happy and worried for he has to pay the 10,000$ he loaned from the bank. His museum is not making any money thus he has to figure out to pay the loan. One night, after his return from selling tickets, one of his daughters suggested filling the museum with things that are alive instead of dead and not moving things. At first, he was a bit skeptic about the idea and don’t quite understand how to do it, until the light bulb lit up and he envisioned the circus. He started looking for unique people with unique abilities whom the common scumbags call freaks. These people became the main attraction of the show and that’s how P.T Barnum’s circus became successful.
We need customer feedback and suggestions and we have to be open-minded to whatever feedback we’ll receive, either it is a positive one or a criticism. We have to take these feedbacks constructively in order to improve our business. Our business exists because of customers so they are the best people to tell how to make our business better.
3. Marketing and Branding is Important
How else P.T. Barnum made his business known to people? He invested in creating such colorful and bright posters and posted them on his building. With those really catchy posters, he attracted a lot of people and his audience grew big. He also ensures that he got the right people to be part of his business to attract a different demographic, thus he hired Phillip Carlyle to be his apprentice, who is part of the aristocratic society.
We can be as creative and smart as P.T. Barnum when it comes to marketing and branding. If we want to have different target markets, we have to make sure that we have ways to attract different demographics. Will you be able to attract customers from upper class if your ad is specifically made for masses? You created a website with the bespoke and rose gold colored background but you are selling children’s toys? We have to be consistent in branding and marketing, the right ad for the right target market.
4. Take Care of Your Business and Your People
Business growth is what every business owner is aiming for. When P.T. Barnum’s Circus became famous and attracted a lot of customers and made a lot of money, he didn’t settle for it. While he is running the circus business, at the same time he ventured into being a manager for a famous opera singer Jenny Lind who attracted more audience from the upper-class people. When he realized that being a manager makes more money, he became complacent with how the circus is running and he forgot to personally see his troupe. His focus has shifted thus creating an effect to his troupe. They started feeling down and depressed because they don’t feel the support of the master of their show. Eventually, this caused business failure and tragedy later on to P.T. Barnum.
It is not a bad thing that we as entrepreneurs keep on aiming high. It’s a common thing that we always yearn for business growth and expansion. However, we need to make sure that we can manage the existing business operations before we venture into something new. The business will not run by itself thus it needs focus and attention from us, the business owners. If we really badly needed to expand and grow, we have to make sure that someone is looking after the operations to ensure that it is running smoothly while we focus on venturing into something new.
Whether our business is selling products or providing services, as long as we have human resources we have to take care of them. Manpower makes our businesses run smoothly. Without our staff we wouldn’t be able to provide product or services to our customers thus we need to ensure that they are taken care of. Apart from paying them accordingly in a timely manner and giving them other benefits, we need to give them support as leaders. Our appreciation and support encourage them to keep on improving themselves. How you treat your people will definitely have an impact on your business. The best example is at customer service. My husband and I went into a clothing shop in the city and were surprised that nobody greeted us. I found the top I wanted to purchase and would need someone to assist me as I want to know if there are other colors and if they have sizes available. There are two ladies at the counter and they are chatting and complaining about their boss. I approached them at the counter and asked my questions and they right away said “No, not available” and they went back whining like there are no customers in the shop. As a customer, I find it really annoying that they didn’t even try to entertain me and help me buy their product. As a business owner, I felt sad because the shop lost a confirmed sale that day and at the same time they lost a customer.
5. Be Resourceful and Innovative
Near at the end of the movie, P.T Barnum’s building burned to ashes because of thugs who attacked his troupe. He lost everything he worked hard for. Phillip Carlyle, being the partner invested his shares to bring the circus back but he cannot afford the building. Instead of filing a loan to the bank which is more likely to be denied, they invested what they have in a circus tent and it made the circus even more attractive.
Sometimes we don’t need much money to set up or expand the business. We can do what we have even if it is little and let it grow onward, this is called bootstrapping. Build on what we have and make it grow. When I started my baking business I only have a little amount of money that is enough to buy the exact ingredients and basics tools to make my first cake order. I didn’t apply loan to the bank or borrowed money from my family, I just used the little amount of money that I have. I was using my hand and spatula to cream the butter and sugar and mix everything. I didn’t think of buying mixer after my first order because first, it is not enough, secondly, if I buy, I will not have enough to use as a capital on my next order. After several cake orders, I grew my capital and thus manage to buy a mixer and it made me more efficient and let me double the capacity of orders I can deliver.
P.T. Barnum’s way of building and managing his business was unique, smart and full of risk but eventually paid off. With his story, we can find some of his ways as inspirations that we can apply to our business. His other stories, well, we can use as lessons to remember not to do the same mistakes as he did.
I hope you find my other view of the movie “The Greatest Showman” useful. My apologies for spoiler 🙂
Lots of love,