Recently, I found inspiration for a couple of startup ideas from Ellen Degeneres and Taylor Swift.
I’m not the first to draw inspiration from showbiz. Ben Horowitz actually begins every chapter of his book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, with rap lyrics. Beyond the obvious fact that Ellen Degeneres and Taylor Swift are both wildly popular and on Hollywood’s Top 10 richest female artistes list, I realized that they have one more thing in common. They are both at ease in their own skin, largely because they are able to express themselves through a medium that lets them turn their most intense (sometimes negative) emotions and experiences into wonderful things to make others’ lives better. Ellen Degeneres uses humor, and Taylor Swift uses song-writing and music.
Find a Way to Express Yourself
And it made me start thinking that maybe starting a business is not always about finding what you’re passionate about. It could also be about finding the best medium that allows you to express yourself more fully, and that allows you to channel all your most intense and positive or negative emotions – whether it’s happiness, anger, excitement, frustration, love, disappointment, self-doubt or injustice – towards creating something that many people would find value in. I love Ellen Degeneres’ and Taylor Swift’s stories.
Ellen Degeneres: Humor and Coming Out
Most people know Ellen because she’s the most famous lesbian in the world. But actually, she’s an amazing comedian. Since I started watching The Ellen Show, I’ve just about trawled through every single last clip I can find on the show! When she was young, her parents divorced and her mum fell into a deep depression. Ellen found that humor was the only way she could make her mum laugh. Then when Ellen was in her late teens, her then-girlfriend died in a car crash, and in her depression, she wrote out an imaginary phone call with God. Years later, on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, her first-ever pivotal national TV comedy performance was a phone call with God.
Although everything looks so easy and natural for her today on TV (and even as the host of the Oscars), she fought to become comfortable in her own skin. Few remember this now, but when she first came out in 1997, she was the first person in Hollywood to ever do so, and basically lost her career overnight for the next 5 years. But humor, and the ability to express who she was without shame, eventually connected her back to the audience. And now so many people laugh and live more fully because of her.
Taylor Swift: Singing, Song-writing and 10,000 Hours
Most times, when I mention that I like Taylor Swift, people roll their eyes (because they think it’s unsophisticated music) or give me the weird eye (“I thought only teenage girls like her?”). I actually think that Taylor Swift is very talented and normal, unlike the drugged out, drunken parts of Hollywood. She’s actually been singing and playing music since she was a child, and convinced her parents to move from Pennsylvania to Nashville when she was 11. (Kudos to her parents, they actually did!) I think she’s a classic story of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours principle, in singing and song-writing. She’s known to express the intense emotions of her own life and relationships through songs. It’s hard not to root for someone who wrote a song about someone who was mean to her, and then won a Grammy for the song. She continues to create and sing so many songs that many people love and identify with.
Here’s what she says about song-writing:
And how it’s not just the bad but also the good things that you experience that you can harness:
Channel Your Emotions, Both the Good and Bad, into Something Positive that Creates Value for Others
There’s something incredibly empowering and liberating about the idea of harnessing your experiences and emotions, both the good and bad, into creating something of value to others. I came up with a couple of ideas that I’m pretty stoked about this way.
So today, ask yourself: What is upsetting or exciting you the most? Can you write, perform, compose, make or do something that others would love to see and hear? Can you make a business out of it? I’d love to hear from you.