“Magic Mike” and the Lure of Entrepreneurship

by francine Hardaway on August 6, 2012

Last weekend, I saw “Magic Mike.” if you care, I loved it. But while everyone else in the estrogen-packed theatre was watching Taylor Channing (Channing Taylor?) strip slowly out of his leathers and take his gun suggestively out of its holster, I was listening to him talk about his dream–to start a custom furniture business.

Although Mike’s a male stripper, he does not see himself as a stripper; he sees himself as a man running a few small-time businesses (mobile detailing, roofing) and taking his clothes off in exchange for funding for his entrepreneurial vision.

Maybe this is far fetched, but I took this as a metaphor for what an entrepreneur will do to achieve his dream.

The metaphor extends further when it is slowly revealed that drug deals and disloyalty are also involved, and Mike finally questions his decisions.

Steven Soderberg has a habit of revealing the underside of unusual and interesting pursuits; I absolutely loved “Best in Show,” which examined the lives and the motives of people who show their dogs at Westminster and all the events leading up to it. That film was hilarious.

“Magic Mike” was not so funny to me because I used to see the prostitution and corruption of entrepreneurs and funders every day. Even in well-respected Silicon Valley, VCs were often known to borrow the ideas of entrepreneurs they didn’t fund, and entrepreneurs sometimes behaved like Dallas, the founder of the CockRock Musical Review, changing the rules for equity participation in mid-stream. Oh, and then in the first dotcom bubble there was Wall Street.

Fortunately, many of those practices have changed with the introduction of forces like TheFunded and AngelList. The cat got let out of the bag over the last decade, forcing new business practices and killing half the VC firms in the Valley.

In the world of small-time Tampa drug deals and male strippers, however, social business and transparency haven’t yet taken hold. In “Magic Mike,” the “hero” learns a big lesson about entrepreneurship: be careful who you go into business with.

Abdul, a Muslim garbage sorter in Elizabeth Boo’s terrific book about the undercity slums of Mumbai “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” has has grown up knowing this. His dream, interwoven with the rapid growth of India in 2008, is to lift his family out of the slums and entrepreneurship is his methodology. He wants to change the world, or at least his family’s world,

He’s not after money, except to get things done. He wants to move up to the new Indian middle class. He trusts no one. Even at the (in western terms) tender age of 16, he has already learned not to leave his garbage outside his hut for a moment or the scavengers will get it– and he hated to have to buy the same garbage twice,

Both Abdul in Mumbai and Magic Mike in Tampa are heroes, They demonstrate the transformative power of real entrepreneurs over the scams and tricks of pretenders. They also demonstrate that you can’t wait for miracles. Most businesses do not get funding, and find a way to do things with — surprise– paying customers. I work in a market where funding is rare, and customers are like gold. That’s not such a bad thing.

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