Earlier this month, Netflix released Eddie Murphy’s latest movie, Dolemite Is My Name, which tells the story of tireless entertainer and successful entrepreneur Rudy Ray Moore. I enjoyed the film and was inspired by Mr. Moore’s entrepreneurial drive and ambition.
As noted in a recent New York Times article, “Rudy isn’t ‘great’ in the conventional sense. Yet he is persistent and confident, exactly what a segment of the black population was hungry for in 1975 — the Blaxploitation era personified.”
Without question, it is fair to criticize Rudy’s movies (and his comedy records) as perpetuating harmful misogynist messages and oppressive racial stereotypes.
Even so, many people who grew up watching Blaxploitation films recall them fondly, including Eddie Murphy, who recently noted, “They’re not these high-quality pictures, but black people, ourselves, we were just excited to see ourselves. We never felt like they were exploitation.”Today In:
The Godfather Of Rap
Rudy Moore’s legacy goes beyond his films. Numerous hip hop artists have credited him as a pioneering rapper and have paid homage to him on their albums. Snoop Dogg, the Wu-Tang Clan, Eazy-E, the Beastie Boys and A$AP Rocky have all given Rudy shout-outs in their songs, while his old-school records have been sampled by Big Daddy Kane, Dr. Dre and A Tribe Called Quest.
According to hip-hop pioneer Too $hort, “All these things that hip-hop became… the image, the swag, the independence, the (expletive)-talking… he (Rudy Moore) was it before it was called hip-hop.” Too $hort also highlighted Mr. Moore’s entrepreneurial influence, stating, “He passed on that entrepreneurial spirit where we don’t have to ask for it, we just do it ourselves.”
Despite the polarizing nature of Rudy’s work, no one can deny that he was a creative, tenacious and tireless entrepreneur. Some of the timeless startup lessons that can be taken away from his career include:
1) Pioneers Must Be Fearless
“Without Rudy Ray Moore, there would be no Snoop Dogg, and that’s for real.” Snoop Dogg, American Hip Hop Artist
The greatest impact of Rudy’s career was his fusion of music and spoken words. Over time, his comedy act evolved to include a backing band which accentuated his storytelling with background beats and percussive punctuations. Despite his popularity within the African American community, record executives during the early 1970’s just didn’t get it. It was just too different.
Lesson: When you’re delivering value to your customers, stay the course. You don’t kick start a new genre of music by shying away from criticism. If Rudy had modified his comedy routines to conform to the norms of his day, a key inspiration of first-generation hip hop artists would have been lost.
2) Just Because You’ve Got Nothing, Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Create Something
Like all successful entrepreneurs, Rudy was not thwarted because of a lack of resources. For instance, rather than record his comedy albums in a club and incur the associated expenses of a remote sound crew, he threw parties in his house, performed in front of his friends and recorded his shows on an inexpensive tape recorder.
When record executives deemed his material too obscene to distribute, he self-funded his records’ manufacturing costs and sold them from the trunk of his car.
When he couldn’t afford a sound stage for his first film, he cut a deal with the owner of a rundown hotel to use the premises for free, in exchange for cleaning it up.
When no one would distribute his first film, he cut “four wall” deals with theater owners, in which he paid a flat rental fee and then retained the box-office revenue. It was the grassroots success of this approach that caught the attention of Hollywood film distributors, who eventually acquired his films’ distribution rights.
Lesson: Street-smart entrepreneurs never wait for someone to give them resources. They are never “stuck.” They go over, under, around and through obstacles in pursuit of their goals.
3) Real-world Experiences Enhance Creativity
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”
Steve Jobs, American Entrepreneur
The creative process usually involves three distinct stages: first people Copy the work of prior artists, then they Transform what came before and eventually they Combine transformed elements to create something new. Like many creative entrepreneurs, it took Mr. Moore years before he found his voice as an entertainer.
Most people don’t have the resolve to exit the copying stage with the proficiency to creatively transform what has come before, let alone master their craft to the point of combining distinct artistic elements to create something entirely new.
Rudy’s early career included stints as an R&B singer, a dancer and a comedian. Yet, it wasn’t until he combined all three of these mediums that he created something new.
Lesson: Successful entrepreneurs seek out novel experiences and then put in the work required to synthesis their experiences into something new.
4) Listen To Everyone And Ignore (Most Of) What You Hear
“Every well-intentioned, high-judgment person we asked told us not to do it. We got some good advice, we ignored it, and it was a mistake. But that mistake turned out to be one of the best things that happened to the company.” Jeff Bezos, American Entrepreneur
Before launching Amazon, Jeff Bezos consulted with several publishing experts, none of whom appreciated the internet’s eventual ubiquity. They advised Mr. Bezos to focus Amazon on best-selling books and a handful of popular genres – the same approach which had been successful for large retail booksellers.
Rudy was told by everyone, including family members, to give up on his entrepreneurial dreams and to be satisfied with his job as a record store clerk. He was told by night club owners that he couldn’t sing or dance and that he wasn’t funny. Even after he had some initial success with urban, African American audiences, he was told by entertainment executives to tone down his act in order to grow his fan base.
Lesson: Well-intentioned business advice is often wrong because most people predict the future by extrapolating the present. Wily entrepreneurs know that they can change the future by evolving their products to meet previously unforeseen demands of the market.
5) You Are The Expert
Rudy was an integral part of the African American community that comprised his target market. Thus, because of his intimate knowledge of his market, he was able to confidently ignore the bad career advice he received from record or movie executives.
In the end, Rudy made movies that he wanted to see, ones filled with nudity, comedy and Kungfu.
Lesson: Entrepreneurs must not be dogmatic when assessing their target market’s needs. However, when you are living and breathing your target market and you’ve proven product-market fit, the time for second guessing is over.
6) Be Different And Never Give Up
“You just can’t beat the person who won’t give up.” Babe Ruth, American Baseball Player
Late in his life, Mr. Moore said, “This was my motto: ‘Don’t come up with routine stuff.’” In the end, Rudy’s most endearing trait was his unending optimism, which fueled his tireless risk taking and allowed him to achieve his lifelong goal that world would know that “Dolemite Is My Name.”
Lesson: Entrepreneurs win by fearlessly doing things differently and unmercilessly iterating on their offerings until they achieve product-market fit.
Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. You can also check out my hands-on startup advice blog
I am a serial entrepreneur and investor turned Professor of Practice at UC Santa Barbara. I led Computer Motion’s $110 million IPO and the $236 million sale of Expertcit…