Start-up Lessons (Yes, Really) From Reality TV


The Real Housewives is not exactly part of an entrepreneur’s business toolkit. (But if you’re going to watch, you might as well learn from others’ drama!)

Courtesy Company

I know, I know…I KNOW! If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense. And I’m the first one to agree that wasting time on silly stuff like reality TV, video games, and gossip websites should only be done in moderation. (I mean, aren’t us entrepreneurs supposed to be focused like a laser on our success, 24/7?)

But guilty pleasures serve a role. Sure, they make me feel slightly unfocused, but I can admit that I do sometimes indulge in such mindless nonsense. It affords me the luxury of quieting my mind for a minute.

Well, almost quieting. Because sometimes, even when I’m relaxing, a light goes off and something on the boob tube actually reinforces something about business.

1. Consistency is a Key Building Block of a Great Reputation

Let’s talk about TMZ. OK, so regardless of whether you think of it as a quality source of information, you can likely agree that TMZ breaks a lot of stories, and does so accurately, for the most part. Not to say that it hasn’t made some missteps (as in all aspects of life, you can’t be loud and wrong), but generally, people agree that this outlet has the track record for being the first to be all up in people’s business.

Having a reputation for consistency is a goldmine for entrepreneurs. Whether you’re known for having the most innovative ideas, offering the highest-quality products, finishing projects the fastest, being the easiest to work with, or offering the cheapest prices (or ideally, all of the above!), doing so consistently is an essential building block of a stellar reputation.

2. Keep Yourself, and Your Business, Honest

The madness that is The Real Housewives series is a perfect example of the need to stay honest with yourself. Folks fall on the wrong side of selective editing, share things “off the record” that go public, and say and do ridiculous things in the heat of the moment that they adamantly deny–that is, until they see it played back in excruciatingly embarrassing detail. It’s fun to laugh at their stupidity and feel removed because we know we’d never put ourselves in that situation! Or would we? Or have we? With things like email forwarding and bcc, internet usage monitoring, call recording, and the fact that nothing is ever really “off the record” with a reporter, chances are that we have brushed up closer than we’d care to admit to similar foolishness in our business lives. Though you may not go as far as to record and play back your silly behavior, before you make business moves, do a gut check and honestly ask yourself if you would be proud or ashamed if whatever you’re doing were to somehow go public.

3. In Business, Sometimes Your Closest “Friends” Are Also Your Fiercest Competitors 

The friendship pattern that is the nexus of reality TV mimics real life: Start with a relatively large group then whittle down as needed. We’ve seen it on Survivor, America’s Next Top Model, The Apprentice, and countless others shows.

Similarly, in business, it’s important to be honest with yourself about who your real supporters are–and don’t instantly rule out your competitors, as they may serve a dual role. Whether it’s family, colleagues, allies, or even frenemies, understand who has your back…and why. Self-interest isn’t inherently a bad thing, but if it’s someone’s sole motivation for supporting you, don’t be surprised if they’re not around when your road gets rough. And just like on TV, sometimes, even if it’s for a very short period of time, your least-friendly competitors may prove most valuable to you in a particular business situation.

While the shows mentioned feature purposeful melodrama and have the benefit of staging and do-overs, they also feature parallels to “real life.” Even though most entrepreneurs aren’t dealing in such dramatic business settings, open-minded businesspeople fare much better when we receive our lessons…even when they come from unexpected sources in unique (or even ridiculous) ways.


Selena Cuffe is the president & CEO of Heritage Link Brands. Previously, Selena served as a marketer for the Council on International Educational Exchange and the Procter & Gamble Company. @selenacuffe

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