Those that grow up with nothing often develop a deep-rooted drive which cannot be understood by those that haven't experienced the grit and gravel of real hardship. This is one of the central principles of frugal innovation. When the human mind is presented with constraints - financial or otherwise - we learn to access recesses of our brain never previously used. Our survival instinct kicks in and channels of our cerebral cortex seem to be unclogged, releasing creativity rarely seen in those that haven't faced adversity. Many of these individuals use their past as a motivating factor and go on to achieve great things that they could only have dreamed about in their youth. These rags-to-riches characters should be celebrated as shining beacons of entrepreneurship. One such person, whose innovative nature came to full-fruition recently, is hip-hop mogul Dr Dre.
Andre "Dr Dre" Young grew up in Compton, CA. He was an uninspired pupil and was rejected from an apprenticeship program because of his poor grades. He took this as a sign that he would never excel in academia and decided to entirely concentrate on his music career. It proved to be an excellent decision. Dr Dre has since moved from the music booth to the board room and has never looked back. He continues to evolve and conquer on his path from hip-hop superstar to Apple board exec.
When living in LA, Dr Dre was frequently on my playlist. His music and albums were a soundtrack for many people, and I was no different. Back then, who would have thought that the rapper who spent his days with Snoop Dogg would become a world-beating entrepreneur before his 50th birthday?
Dre founded Beats by Dre in 2008 as a reaction to the rise of the mp3 (ironically, which was popularised by Apple's I Pod). He recognised that the move from the CD to the mp3 meant the audio quality of music had deteriorated for the sake of convenience. Dre realised that the tide had turned. People would not go back to using CD's just because of the superior sound. In true entrepreneurial fashion, he tackled the problem from a completely different angle- by vastly improving the quality of headphones available on the market.
When Apple acquired Beats for a figure believed to be in the region of $3 billion last month, Dr Dre became the world's first hip hop billionaire as part of Apple's most expensive acquisition of all time.
Here are some entrepreneurial lessons we can learn from his meteoric rise from the streets of Compton to the global board room:
Dr Dre used music as his way out of the poverty cycle. In his youth, role models were few and far between. It was clear to him that he needed to move on from the City if he was to progress. Being a poor academic performer, he realised that university wasn’t an option. He decided to turn his passion for music into a career. Having made it successfully, Dre always kept an eye out for young talent to support and elevate to superstar status. He has mentored many hip hop superstars to follow his path- if it wasn't for Dr Dre the world may never have heard of Snoop Dogg, Eminem, The Game, 50 Cent or Kendrick Lamar. Commercially speaking, mentoring has worked out for Dre. Mentoring and developing Eminem into a world superstar has made Dre a stakeholder in 115 million album sales.
He helped elevate all the above musicians to where they are today. In turn, they have helped him remain relevant as many other stars from his generation have lost their connection with today’s youth. Now he is doing the same with young innovative entrepreneurs who are looking to push technological possibilities to the next level. Dre’s ability to harness the power of youth ensures he remains relevant in two world’s which the youth dictates the trends: music and technology.
In 2013, Dre donated $70 million to found the "USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation" He founded the academy to "to shape the future by nurturing the talents, passions, leadership and risk-taking of uniquely qualified students who are motivated to explore and create new art forms, technologies, and business models." This is Dre’s own form of business incubator which will encourage entrepreneurs to innovate and create new technologies.
Although he has been in the public eye for over 25 years, Dr Dre has only released two solo albums as an artist. His third album Detox, has been in the making for 12 years. Apparently, Dre has recorded over 200 songs as part of the project but has refused to put it out because he does not want to tarnish his legacy by putting out a record that doesn't live up to his own high standards. In light of the recent deal, Dr Dre has been compared to Steve Job's as both men have an obsession with performing tasks to the highest standards and not adhering to artificial deadlines.
Famously, Dr Dre made an aspiring hip-hop artist Bishop Lamont record the same bar of vocals 107 times. These are the levels of perfection he expects from those that he works with. This quest for perfection is apparent in Dre's 2001 classic "Forget about Dre" in which Eminem's harmonies repeatedly intersect Dre's carefully scripted rapping in almost perfect synchrony.
Change, Develop and Grow
Dre has gone through various stages of growth during his career. In the mid-90’s he tried to rid himself of his gangster image by releasing a song called “Been There Done That”. After the single was received badly by critics he quickly returned to his gangsta ways. He has been a prolific music producer and musician but also founded his own music company Aftermath and more recently, entrepreneurship has come to the forefront of his life. He now considers himself a technological entrepreneur who is dedicated to advancing consumer products. This must feel like a million miles away from the streets of Compton where Dre was raised. And indeed the mafioso character that he often portrays in his music. But no doubt the 'challenger mindset' he developed in his gangster days has helped him question the norms and break boundaries in consumer products.
Dre has an extraordinary ability to master whatever craft he chooses, whether it be producing music or working alongside some of the brightest innovators in the world at the upper echelons of Apple. When asked about his motivations- Dre tells people it is to change the course of history. It is this principle that drives him to excellence project he decides to channel his energy into.
Refuse to be Forgotten
Dr Dre famously once said that every time he creates an album, he will only release it if he feels that it will change the course of the entire genre. He has successfully brought this obsessive attitude to his business ventures - an attitude that underpins the success of the Beats story - as Beats has gone from an idea, to a niche product, to a must have product for savvy youngsters, to a billion dollar company in just 7 years.
Everything he does must be historic. Everything he does much change the world. Back in 2001 (before he founded his billion dollar idea), his "epic" thinking was already flowing through his music:
Great entrepreneurs can go off the radar, but as long as they're physically and mentally able, they will, even if not at the forefront of the media, continue to create great products. As a backer of people, I know that great entrepreneurs can deviate, disappear, and disengage, but there will almost always be a resurgence. Like the hip hop billionaire, they are not to be forgotten.