There is no single manual for how to be an entrepreneur — though that fact is what makes the unique career path so enticing, it is also what makes it incredibly daunting at times. The unknown possibilities and the potential downfalls can be difficult to navigate, and mistakes are inevitable for every business owner. Most of the expertise is learned along the way, directly from the experiences that many dread to undertake.
Though there are many business books to read and entrepreneurship blogs to subscribe to — such as the very one you’re reading now — skimming stories on a computer screen and making your own mistakes aren’t the only ways to learn best business practices. In fact, a panel of young entrepreneurs argue that some of the greatest teachers of entrepreneurship are found in the unlikeliest of places — reality television.
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I asked these successful startup experts what reality shows they’re watching to learn more about their craft. Find out what their guilty pleasures are, and what they’re learning from these sharks, dragons and uncontrollable TV personalities.
What is one reality show that you watch that teaches you a lot about entrepreneurship?
The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.
1. Shark Tank
“It may be one of the only popular TV shows that showcases entrepreneurs looking to attract venture capitalists and investors for equity in their company. It shows how the entrepreneurs build their product and company, then try to increase distribution, service, and marketing.”
2. Keeping Up with the Kardashians
“This show is a perfect example of how a great personal/company brand can make you money, no matter what your product is. Many people say that they don’t know why the Kardashians are famous, but you have to respect the fact that they have built a strong personal brand behind the Kardashian name.”
3. Dragons’ Den
“I’m a big fan of Dragons’ Den, the Canadian version of Shark Tank. The fact that they’re constantly denying contestants who don’t know their business figures is a great reminder to stay on top of your revenue, profit, and growth projections.”
4. The Apprentice
“I personally haven’t watched Donald Trump’s show in years, but I can say that the first few seasons were amazing. I’d highly recommend watching the first three seasons to learn about entrepreneurship and for some entertaining drama.”
5. Tabatha Takes Over
“Bravo’s Tabatha Takes Over is full of lessons for entrepreneurs who are struggling. Every episode has an owner who isn’t marketing enough, does not measure what works and has not focused on a great customer experience. Although Tabatha’s direct manner comes across as rude, by the end of the show most of the business sees how much she’s contributed.”
6. Restaurant Impossible
“Even though the show is centered around the food industry you can still learn a lot from others’ mistakes. Every business is the same to the core of how it functions and must accept change as you go. Seeing these business owners make mistakes can either prepare you or teach you something about your own business. The show teaches you that things happen, but you have to keep going.”
7. Kitchen Nightmares
“But only the British version! In the UK version, Gordon Ramsay actually goes through the ins and outs of running a restaurant: rent, costs of goods, how to motivate a staff, how to pay the bills. You can take his advice to the owner and use it in just about any business. Forget the US version though—it’s just about dirty kitchens people yelling at each other, not business models.”
8. Bar Rescue
“Bar Rescue on Spike TV stars Jon Taffer, a nightclub consultant, who offers his services to failing bars in hopes of turning their fortunes around. The show gives business owners a cold hard look in the mirror about how they themselves are destroying their own businesses. From ineffective employees, to bad interior design, to the products they serve, it examines many areas of entrepreneurship.”
9. Millionaire Matchmaker
“Go ahead, make fun of me. But the truth is that the show is about entrepreneurs and their (often bizarre) personality traits. It takes an entrepreneur to understand another entrepreneur, so although I am happily married, I connect with the people on the show. On top of that, Patti Stanger is one great example of how expertise in a niche can skyrocket a personal brand and business.”
10. Selling LA
“Real estate agents, by necessity, have become more creative and driven due to the difficult economic conditions of late. Selling LA demonstrates target marketing for often extremely difficult, selective clients. I think entrepreneurs can certainly draw from the sense of urgency and focus that the agencies have maintained in order to stay successful.”
11. Flip This House
“Flip This House is a reality TV show that follows entrepreneurs who purchase properties, remodel them, and then sell them for a profit. This show not only teaches you how to succeed in the real estate industry, but the business principles learned can be applied to a business in any industry.”
12. House Hunters
“I have a small addiction to watching HGTV shows, partially because they keep reminding me of how people make buying decisions—which is never along the lines of the process that we as entrepreneurs want them to. People buy houses (and everything else) based on emotion, even if it means making a bad financial decision. That’s so counter-intuitive that I’m surprised constantly watching HGTV.”
13. The Bachelor
“Will you accept this rose? To be successful as an entrepreneur, you need to understand the rules of the game, as well as when to break those rules and how to get along with competitors—not to mention a heavy dose of self-awareness. The Bachelor teaches it all.”
14. Jersey Shore
“Just like the characters on the show, entrepreneurship is crazy, amusing and full of ups and downs. You always need to have a good sense of humor and expect the unexpected. Tanning before pitching VCs is optional.”
“Bloomberg TV captured all of the action of the The TechStars New York incubator. This class of startups raised $18 million in venture funding and co-hosts David Cohen and David Tisch bring in mentors like Dick Costollo, CEO of Twitter. The show is much more realistic than any reality show I’ve ever seen.”
16. Stop Watching Others on TV!
“The most important piece of reality you should be watching and learning from is your own. If you find yourself watching TV shows like Shark Tank, The Apprentice or Dragons’ Den, you are are learning a lot about how not to be an entrepreneur. The goal is not to watch others and learn, but to learn while doing so that others watch you when you succeed.”
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