Ghostbusters is one of my favourite movies from the 1980’s. Ghostbusters is about three parapsychology professors, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), who having recently become unemployed from their jobs decide to go it alone and open up a paranormal removal service. I have watched it many times over the years but the funny thing is, when I started to spend time researching online business I started to see Ghostbusters in a new light. I have now noticed that the movie had some pretty solid business and life lessons in it.
1. The importance of complimentary partnerships
The strength in the success of the Ghostbuster’s business was the partnership of the trio. Partnerships made of of people whose skills compliment each other are generally much stronger. Peter, Raymond and Egon could have possibly had individual success if they had launched solo businesses, but when they combined their strengths together they were able to achieve much more collectively than if they had worked alone.
What Dr Peter Venkman lacked in book smart he made up for in confidence and salesmanship. Peter is the partner who thought big and took chances, he is essentially public relations and marketing. Opposite to Peter is Dr Raymond Stantz, who doesn’t concern himself with the marketing aspect of the business, in fact, he probably had the least business concern out of the trio. What made Raymond invaluable to the team was his child-like fascination and curiosity to the product. Raymond’s essential core contribution to the business was product development. The last piece of the puzzle is Dr Egon Spengler who is the brains behind the team. Although both he and Raymond could be credited for the development of the equipment used in their business, it is Egon who brings to the team the research, facts and analytics which the business is founded on.
The Ghostbusters were extremely fortunate that they lost their jobs around the same time that there was a huge outbreak of paranormal activity in their city. They saw a problem, unfriendly paranormal entities on the loose, and they provide a solution, capture and exterminate them. You will have a much higher success rate if you can find a way to frame your products and services in a way that is provides a solution to your potential customers existing problems. I have no stats to support this, but I would bet that the words ‘how to’ would be proceed most Google search queries.
3. Find the silver lining in set backs
When the guys had their university grants cut it would have been very easy for them to feel sorry for themselves, instead they decided to find the silver lining. What was their silver lining? They decided to go it alone and open up their own paranormal service. How many times have we seen this happen before? So many people dream of starting their own business but unfortunately it often takes the blow of loosing a job to take action. It’s understandable. Life is complicated. We have responsibilities, bills to pay, food to buy and If we have kids the stakes are much higher. We might become influenced by well-meaning family and friends who think we are mad to want to leave a secure job .
There’s great sadness in this. Don’t wait until you lose your income stream to start that business you have always wanted to. There will never be that ‘perfect’ time to chase your dreams so you might as well pick this moment to take action towards that dream. You don’t need to quit your job. Work around your job. Wake up an hour earlier, work on your business during your lunch hour, if you watch TV – cut down. The point is that if you want something bad enough you will find a way.
However, if like Peter, Raymond and Egon you end up loosing your job unexpectedly, or in fact are faced with any unexpected blow, look for that silver lining and ask yourself; is there any way I can flip this negative around and turn it into an opportunity? If there is no tangible opportunity to be had, perhaps there is a lesson you can take away from the set back. Taking a lesson from a bad situation can not only help to soften the blow but it can also help you to move past it.
The Ghostbusters business was modelled on delivering a solution to a problem. They were first to market and as such didn’t have a polished product or service but they understood the concept of minimum viable product. The core product of their business was a proton pack, which was equipment that Raymond and Egon developed for the purpose of weaken and capture paranormal entities. The proton pack could be called a beta version as it did have some bugs, as Dr Egon explained ‘Don’t cross the streams… It would be bad… Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.’
Obviously in the real world you should never release a product if there are known safety issues, and life stopping instantaneously is a pretty significant safety issue, however if your product is a software product or app for example, releasing a minimum viable product is a great way to smooth out the bugs and find out what works and what needs improvement and more importantly it will help you open up a dialogue with your customers/audience.
5. Branding, branding, branding
The Ghostbusters branding is phenomenal. The movie was released 30 years ago and people are still wearing the Ghostbuster tshirts to this day! The logo for the film was designed by Michael Gross and features a simple red no ghost symbol. The logo is usually on a black or green background, sometimes with the films tagline ‘Who ya gonna call’ . The branding aesthetics is carried on in the videoclip for the theme song, into all merchandising and the tagline is featured in the theme song by Ray Parker Jr.
This is a lesson that can be easily applied into our own online business. There are so many platforms for our businesses to have a presence online that it can become quite easy to blend into the crowd. Each of these platforms should have a consistency about them in both aesthetics and tone, so that a visitor can quite clearly tell that this platform is one piece of a bigger puzzle. Each platform should always have a link back to a central hub which is most commonly the main website.
6. Negotiation skills
The quick thinking and negotiation skills by Peter (Bill Murray) got the team out of some pretty significant legal troubles. To set the scene, the Ghostbusters are visited by Walter Peck from the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) and gets the team arrested for operating as unlicensed waste handlers. Walter demands that their paranormal containment system to be shut down which then causes the release of hundreds of captured entities. Ray, Peter and Egon along with their employee Winston are brought before the Mayor, who is facing a public relations nightmare due to the city being taken oven by these released ghosts.
Quick thinking Peter knows that by presenting negotiations and speaking in the other persons terms you are more likely to get decisions swayed your way. Peter reminds the mayor that it is an election year and if he decides to keep the Ghostbusters locked up, nothing will change. The team will be behind bars and the city will still be overrun by paranormal entities. However, if the mayor decides to take a chance with the Ghostbusters crew and if they succeed in exterminating the ghosts that are taking the city hostage, the mayor’s popularity will soar and he will likely become reelected for another term.
Presenting arguments in a way that you highlight the benefits for the other party shows that you understand where they are coming from and it also means that you are prepared to answer any reservations that they may have. An absolutely amazing book that discusses this in more detail is dale Carneige’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Highly recommended reading.
So there you have it. That is the 6 lessons I picked up from watching the cult classic Ghostbusters. Are there any other lessons in Ghostbusters that I didn’t pick up on? Please let me know in the comments below.