Aaron Brazell, Hall of Fame

Everything I Needed to Know About Entrepreneurship, I learned from Star Wars

Star Wars. The original Star Wars. Perhaps those movies were defining films of our time. Though the first title (aptly numbered Star Wars IV) was filmed in the late 1970s, it continues to define movie nerddom today. Of course, Star Wars has seen somewhat of a renaissance due to the licensing of the intellectual property for the creation of video games like LEGO™ Star Wars and the continual memeage (is that a word?) of Yoda and Darth Vader quotes.

Nonetheless, it, like any good story, is successful in no small part due to the parallels in life that can be drawn. Much like how Office Space taught me about Public Relations, Star Wars taught me about entrepreneurship.

Don’t doubt me. The nuggets of wisdom are strewn throughout. In fact, I’ve developed my entire professional life around Star Wars. 1 You don’t believe me? Check this out.

Always Two There Are, a Master and an Apprentice

No matter how good you are in your professional life, there is always someone better. Yoda reminds me that, there should always be someone I look up to for learning. Sometimes this person (or people) is better than you at what you do. Other times, this person (or people) is someone who excels in a complementary way.

One of the founders of WP Engine, Jason Cohen, is one of these guys. Jason is amazingly technically (if I can keep him away from Javaisms while writing PHP code) and is the brainchild behind our infrastructure. More importantly, the dude is one of the savviest businessmen around in a completely unassuming way. He is not the guy who is going to walk into a meeting a toot his own horn like some investors or entrepreneurs do. He simply is and carries chutzpah. I have not known Jason very long but in the time I have, I’ve developed a real appreciation for him.

Likewise, Geoff Livingston has become a close friend but he’s also an incredibly focused entrepreneur. I’ve known Geoff since his early days where he was running a social media PR firm out of Alexandria, VA. Geoff and I became close but it wasn’t until I lived with him for six months in 2008-09 that I realized the drive this kid had. He frequently asked for my advice on things that were happening professionally, all of which will remain off the record in the circle of trust.

However, he has demonstrated since that he knows how to make tough decisions and go after what he believes in. Earlier this year, Geoff co-founded Zoetica to assist non-profits and socially conscious companies in their communications efforts. His drive has led him to lead in the CitizenGulf effort to raise money for oil spill cleanup in the Gulf, and to raise awareness and change in the policy world.

His dedication to his cause is something I’m watching and learning from.

Yahoooooo! You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home

Remember when the Death Star invasion was happening in Star Wars IV? The X wings were being pursued down the trough by TIE fighters. Darth Vaders fighter was on the hunt to blow Luke away. Han Solo brings his Millenium Falcon into play at the last minute and with some perfectly timed shot, knocks Vaders fighter into oblivion allowing Luke to handle his business and blow the Death Star away.

In business, the ultimate goal is always to have an exit. If it’s not, you’re holding it wrong. You don’t want to stay in a job forever. You may want to delay because you have more you want to do with the startup before selling it, but at the end of the day, if you’re putting blood, sweat and tears into a startup… you want the big pay day at the end.

This is what drives many entrepreneurs to settle for less money in exchange for more equity in the startup. Get less cash now for way more cash down the road.

Like the Death Star invasion, startup mode will have you fighting a guerrilla war at times… fighting for your survival… skirmishing to get a leg up. Once you’re clear and have done everything you can to get the company to a specific place, cash in! Blow this thing and go home. Live to fight again another day.

Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?

One of the more hilariously ridiculous quotes from Star Wars IV came from Leah when Luke rescued her from being executed by the Empire.

The takeaway from this quote is pretty simple… never let anyone denigrate what you do as an entrepreneur. There will always be second guessing and there will always be other entrepreneurs who feel like thy know better and can offer advice. You know your company better than anyone else. You know your decision-making fiefdom better than anyone else. Own your offense and maintain confidence in what you do, and what you are building.

Luke, there is another Sky….walker…

The dying words of the Jedi Master Yoda. These words were the clue to Luke that he had a twin. That there could be another Jedi candidate. That there could be another Skywalker to defeat the evil Empire.

In the Lean Startup mode of starting businesses, the idea is to fail and fail fast if you’re going to fail at all. That way, if you fail and fail quickly, you can learn quickly without having put a lot of time and effort into something that will never work. Taking lessons learned, you can move on to the next startup and try again. Keep in mind that, statistically, 9 out of 10 companies fail. There is nothing wrong with failure as long as you realize there is another around the corner.

There is another Skywalker. There is another idea. There is another startup. And there may be another failure.


We don’t know specifically what Chewbacca was talking about when the Millenium Falcon’s hyper drive system failed. If there are any Wookie translators in the audience, please step to the front of the room. However, we can deduce that, based on what we know of Chewie, that he was doing tactical consulting.

In other words, it’s my opinion, that Chewie was making sure Han knew that there was a lot of problems with the Millenium Falcon and it wasn’t like they had the money to fix the bucket of bolts. Chewie was suggesting solutions for Han to fix problems quickly without spending a lot of money. I mean, can you imagine if Han had to take a VC round to fix the Falcon? What would the valuation on that sucker be anyway? I’m sure it would be a diluted round.

Instead, Chewie was helping Han realize what he needed to do to fix the problem on a budget. Maybe even in bandaid fashion. As entrepreneurs, use your creative juices to find ways to self-fund and not take stupid money just so you can extend runway. Find ways to be revenue positive now instead of later. Find ways to cheaply outsource problems so core team members can focus on the core solutions.


See. Everything you need to know about entrepreneurship can be learned from Star Wars. It’s a geek favorite for a reason. I’m sure there are lessons you have learned as well. Feel free to share those.

In the meantime, may the Force be with you.

Photo by xtyler


  1. Not really. No, really.. not really.
Aaron Brazell

What Are You Not Telling the World Online?

Last year, there was a brilliant preliminary report that came out of MIT where two grad students decided to explore the idea of privacy implications based on omission. In other words, these students said that they could predict, with a high degree of accuracy, the sexual orientation and inclinations of people based on their activities, friends and, notably, omission of certain information on the social networks.

The study was called Project Gaydar and reported a high degree of accuracy in identifying the sexual orientation of people who explicitly did not share that on Facebook.

Using data from the social network Facebook, they made a striking discovery: just by looking at a person’s online friends, they could predict whether the person was gay. They did this with a software program that looked at the gender and sexuality of a person’s friends and, using statistical analysis, made a prediction. The two students had no way of checking all of their predictions, but based on their own knowledge outside the Facebook world, their computer program appeared quite accurate for men, they said. People may be effectively “outing” themselves just by the virtual company they keep.

In an age of renewed concerns about privacy surrounding Twitter, location-based networks such as Foursquare and Facebook’s new Places service, one wonders just how much information that you are not sharing is actually being shown to the world.

For instance, is it logical to deduce that when a persons tone online moves from gregarious to tame, they may be job hunting and wanting to put their best foot forward? Or maybe in the early stages of a new, burgeoning relationship? What can be surmised by a spate of new LinkedIn recommendations? Is a pattern of Twitter status update frequency something that can be reasonably used to deduce some meaning?

Many people are very cautious to curate their online identities in such a way that seems presentable to the outside world. They shape and form their identities for maximum benefit. But what are they not saying that is still being communicated?

My friend, and data monkey, Keith Casey and I are proposing a panel to explore this more at SXSW. We would love your vote to ensure we get selected. It’s a fun topic and one that is front and center in an age with increasing privacy concerns.

Aaron Brazell, Featured

The Web Is Passing Most of You By… And You are Asleep

Usually when Dave McClure, Angel Investor and Hustler, has something to say on his blog, it is said with passion, drama, and a pinch of angst. But he’s almost always right and he makes you believe it in the end with unequivocal points and thoughts.

Because this post is so utterly important and I firmly believe it and expect you to as well, I’m going to channel Dave in this post. If you’re offended by language, leave now.

Why? Because mobile is the most important thing going on in technology today and you all are sitting around talking about social media. That’s right, I said it.

You are talking about social media and the Old Spice campaign like it’s something awesome. You’re circle-jerking each other by promoting products and bullshit companies simply because your friend you drank with at Affiliate Summit is doing the social media. You’re holding it wrong!

Do you even know what their business strategies are? Do they have anything worth talking about besides their marketing campaign. They are just using Twitter and you’re praising them for their ingenuity because “they get it”.

Fuck. That. Shit.

They have no fucking idea that most of their customers have a phone and a significant percentage of those phones are smart phones. They are completely ignoring mobile and you’re enabling that bullshit by focusing on their conversations and engagement.

Fuck. That. Shit.

Here’s the reality. The next generation of the web isn’t bullshit REAL-TIME anything. We’re overloaded on real-time. Real-time is what causes your friends to look at their phones the entire night while you’re trying to socialize with them. What you need to be thinking is the RIGHT-TIME web. What do you need to know right now based on your interests and focus? Can that be delivered via the most ubiquitous device on the planet – the cell phone?

Instead, you’re worried about making sure your colleagues have their dicks sucked by the public.

Fuck. That. Shit.

The order of operations for the next-gen web is a simple formula. The RIGHT data to the RIGHT person at the RIGHT time on the RIGHT device. Data first, Device LAST.

But you don’t get it. You’re talking about iPhone apps. You think the iPhone, the iPad, and the Android will save us. You don’t realize that mobile constitutes more than those devices. You’re running companies that specialize only on a single device and app. Yea, I’m looking at you, Gowalla.

You’ve missed the damn boat.

You think that the next-gen web is about conversations. Hello? That started in 2004 when Facebook was invented and became mainstream in 2006 when Facebook opened up and Twitter launched.

The train has left the station.

You think the next-gen web is all about the here and now. Do you not under stand the word “next”? You don’t think proactively. You repeat talking points.

Fuck. That. Shit.

We wouldn’t be having to get people together in a crisis and figure out how to mobilize relief workers if the “right-now” web was operational and people weren’t narrow-mindedly thinking about how an iPhone app can help Haitians when most of the population of Haiti can’t afford an iPhone, and probably have old Nokia T9 phones capable of only SMS, if they own a phone at all.

You’re not thinking about mobile. You’re not thinking about semantic data and how it operates in a mobile form-factor.

And because of that, you’re missing the boat.

Photo by ilamont.com

Aaron Brazell

The Milk Machine: Finding Business Focus

You know how occasionally you remember things from your childhood which seem fairly mundane but end up being a moment of inspiration and, sometimes, an epiphany. I get these things all the time and I guess it just helps me appreciate my childhood even more.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, when I was 4-5 years old and my memories were just starting to really stick with me, we were living in the inner city of Buffalo. The neighborhood is tragically drug-ridden today, and it wasn’t a fantastic neighborhood then either. It was inner city. My father grew up on those streets in the Lovejoy neighborhood as a brawler of sorts. Fighting was the problem, not drugs. How times change. But I digress.

One of the memories I remember from those days is the milk machine. This milk machine is an oddity these days. No one buys milk from milk machines and, I’ll be honest, I have no real idea why we did either. But there was a milk machine at the corner of Longnecker St and Lovejoy St and we went to buy our milk there quite often.

Considering there was a Wilson Farms (similar to 7-11) right there as well, one can only assume that mom chose to buy the milk from the machine because it was a better quality or offered a better value.

Which brings me in a long-winded way to my point. Whoever the hell owned that milk machine didn’t exactly have a huge demographic. It was basically people who could walk to it and chose to walk to it instead of Wilson Farms. I’m sure he wasn’t getting rich off the milk machine. But he was serving a very targeted audience and doing so in such a way that wasn’t trying to take over the world and be everything.

If you’ve got a startup… if you’ve got a venture… do not try to be everything to everyone. It just doesn’t work. Know your audience and what makes them tick. Figure out exactly who you’re serving and stay on track. Especially in early stages, venturing outside of the laser-like target is an expensive proposition, especially in the early stages.

Make your milk and make it good and find the machine that earns you money.

Photo Credit Robbie’s Photo Art

Aaron Brazell

Owning Bad Publicity

I remember a few years ago back at Gnomedex in 2007 when Vanessa Fox spoke about owning bad publicity. It wasn’t called that. I can’t remember what I had to eat yesterday, much less what the title of a session at a conference four years ago was. But. I do remember the gist of her talk.

The idea was that some things in life, especially on the web, you can control. Companies hire marketing firms to try to spin a positive message for them in the social media outlets as well as hiring search engine marketers, brand consultants, etc to curate their brands.

Sometimes that works. Other times, the reputation and image on the web is controlled by other people. You can’t control the fact that you suck at times. You also can’t help what people might think, even inaccurately about you.

As the story went, Vanessa ran into an uncontrollable problem where people were googling for “vanessa fox nude” – damn perverts. Instead of getting upset and worrying about how people were valuating her, she went out and bought the domain vanessafoxnude.com and redirected it to her site.

To this day, that story resonates with me. I’ve personally had people disparage me. To this day, if you google my name, you will find one such article on the front page of Google. Hint: It has to do with a weasel. As a result, I’ve considered buying branded stuffed weasels to give away at events.

A long time ago, I acquired a reputation for being extremely honest to the point of sometimes offending people or putting them off. Is this really how I want to be seen? Probably not. Since embracing that, has it been successful for me personally and professionally? So far, I think so.

Don’t let negative press get you down. Own that shit and move on. Make it a part of your brand. If you’re wrong, own up and be transparent. If you’re not, just incorporate it into your offering.

Photo Credit: mushon.