Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter grew up travelling the New York subway on the J-Z line - dreaming about a life of accolade and achievement. It was in his formative years that he found focus, developed a sharp mind and laid the foundations for his future success. His unshakable confidence and determined business savvy far exceeded that of his peers and he grew tired of their lack of productivity. His entrepreneurial attributes, musical ability and determination for success was palpable and developing rapidly.
Today, he can proudly say that he has sold over 50 million records, founded an urban clothing company with annual sales of £421 million and co-owns a chain of upscale NYC sports bars. He also is the brand director for strategic marketing programmes at Budweiser, in addition to being a NYC real estate investor, published author, record label CEO, Grammy award winning musician, sports agent and former owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team. His diverse business and creative interests clearly demonstrate his dynamism and versatility and ability to straddle and cross-pollinate across many interlinked sectors.
In his early twenties he refused to sign a record contract as he recognised that the deal greatly favoured the record label, not the artist. To be so sure of your path and say no where most would have leaped at the chance to sign a major record deal shows great foresight and confidence and a sound commercial instinct that seems to have developed early in his career.
In a wise entrepreneurial decision, he founded Rocafella Records - named after American business magnate and oil tycoon John D. Rockerfeller. He recorded, printed and distributed all his records himself - integrating the supply chain of music production, thereby keeping all the profits and using them to sign other artists to the label - establishing Rocafella as a recognisable brand.
A master of personal branding - Jay-Z has been brand conscious through-out his career. This can be seen through his consistent brand name dropping which highlights his heightened interest in B2C businesses and luxury branding.
On his fairy-tale journey, he has gone from the streets of Brooklyn, NY to an international business mogul and a close friend of the President of the United States. Unapologetic about his past, he is now a morally upstanding entrepreneurial role model - successful and self-made - his success is founded on a path of hard graft, knowledge-of-self and enlightenment.
Here are some entrepreneurial lessons that we can learn from his career thus far:
Know Who You Are
The fact that Jay-Z learnt all he knows through experience and had to fight for everything he acquired has helped develop character depth, instinct, and commercial acumen (even if his provocative and frivolous rap lyrics suggest otherwise). In business, being out of your depth is a steep and unforgiving learning curve but you will come out the other end of it sharper and with deep insights about yourself. The heightened self-awareness we develop by doing, struggling, and failing informs us on our own shortcomings and shapes our decisions on how to build our teams and when to seek counsel.
Raise the Bar
Make your success unquestionable. Jay-Z knows to set the bar extremely high - then once a goal is accomplished - he sets it higher. He is not interested in being popular in the present day - he is visualising a much bigger, longer term picture.
You Are Your Business
Jay-Z recognises the importance of personal branding - a concept discussed frequently in this blog. The entrepreneur's personality can often be found in the company he has founded. If his company is pretentious - he is most likely pretentious. If his company is creative - he most likely has been influenced by the arts. The genetic and cultural make up of the entrepreneur will shape the ethics, outlook, and culture of his business. Disconnecting the two creates a business that lacks authenticity and passion, essential components to attracting top talent.
Many traditional businessmen leave their job at the door when they go home from work. The modern entrepreneur does not have or need such a luxury. If he pursues entrepreneurship in it's purist form - differentiation is both unnecessary and impossible.
If you haven't had enough of your Jay-Z dose for the week, here is a lyric from his hit Empire State of Mind that I'd like to leave you with for the weekend, one that does a spectacular job of summing up the sense of hope and positivity that has underpinned his success: