4 Business Lessons from “Balloon Boy”

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The national media and several million people spent hours watching and empty balloon flying around last week, followed by countless hours consuming post flight analysis last week. It continues this week (and will probably continue for several weeks).

The media was under the impression that the balloon had a boy in it (now known as “balloon boy”) and they were consumed with finding out what was going to happen next. Once the balloon landed and there was no boy in it, the media has spent hundreds of hours analyzing all the various angles of the non-event. It turns out that the balloon boy incident may turn out to have been planned by the family seeking publicity, and the balloon boy story continues, with national media continuing to discuss it and several million people continuing to consume it.

What lessons can a venture capital firm, a company raising venture capital, an expansion stage company, or a company developing its company exit strategy take from this incident?

Lesson 1: Everyone, and I mean everyone, gets sucked into and loves to talk about a compelling story

If you can turn your messages into compelling stories, your messages will have impact, be easier to be remembered, and have a higher probability of being retold. Good stories are at the core of good marketing, whether you are marketing your growth equity to venture capital investors, marketing your expansion stage products and services to customers, marketing channels, and sales channels, or executing your company exit strategy and marketing your growth equity to acquirers or to public market banks/financial analysts during an IPO road show.

What is your compelling story that will keep people fixated and talking about you?
Lesson 2: It is easy to waste time on a topic that is entertaining, but provides no business value

Because of the nature of topics (stories?) that create endorphin flow (which your people crave more of!), distractions are everywhere in expansion stage companies, particularly companies that have taken venture capital investment and/or are in very fast moving product markets. Some of the distractions create a significant waste of time.

What topics are you working on that are wasting your time?

Lesson 3: You can create topics that get your competitors to put their attention against topics that provide them no value

There is also a different angle on this from an expansion stage company perspective. You may be able to create a story (legally and ethically) that distracts or significantly distracts your competitors, particularly if their attention is overly-focused on your company.

What topics can you get competitors fixated on that will waste their time?

Lesson 4: People can be misled for a period of time, but people will eventually figure out what you are up to

If you want to have great partnerships, great customer relationships, and employees that bleed the colors of your company, make sure that you have clear and compelling aspirations (mission, vision, values, credo, principles, or any naming convention that works best for you) and communicate and live them every day.

On the other hand, if you want to have a certain level of dysfunction, perhaps significant dysfunction that will make you a mediocre company or possibly even kill your company, then have secret aspirations or, even better, have stated aspirations that are not your true intentions. Eventually, people will figure you out and the dysfunction will grow.

How clear and transparent are you with your true company aspirations?

There are also a lot of personal and family lessons that can be learned from the incident and its aftermath as well…I leave those to others to point out.

The net of the lessons is four questions for your current situation, whether you be a company seeking venture capital investment, an expansion stage (or other stage) company, or a company developing your company exit strategy:

  1. What is your compelling story that will keep people fixated and talking about you?
  2. What topics are you working on that are wasting your time?
  3. What topics can you get competitors fixated on that will waste their time?
  4. How transparent are you with your aspirations?