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9 things start-ups can learn from David Bowie

Last week I visited my cousin in Toronto. He has always been a staunch lover of music, so I decided I should get to know a little bit about music as well. I picked the biography of David Robert Jones, aka David Bowie. He was considered by critics as an iconic innovator in the areas of rock, fashion, arts and design. His career was marked by reinvention and visual presentation. During his lifetime, his record sales are estimated at 140 million worldwide, making him one of the world’s best-selling music artists. Next to being an artist, Bowie was a clever businessman and a natural born marketer. Based on my analysis, there are 9 things start-ups can learn from David.

Lesson 1: Affiliate your brand with icons

The singer enjoyed a long list of debauched liaisons such as Nina Simone, Tina Turner, Mick Jagger, Angie Bowie, Melissa Hurley, Bianca Jagger, Susan Sarandon, Elizabeth Taylor, Candy Clark, Ava Cherry, Lulu, Romy Haag, Bebe Buell, Sabel Starr, Amanda Lear, Cyrinda Foxe, Marianne Faithfull, Lori Maddox, Dana Gillespie, Mick Ronson, Hermione Farthingale, Lou Reed, Oona Chaplin, Sara Dougherty, Ronnie Spector, Iggy Pop, Coco Schwab, Cherry Vanilla, Patricia Paay, Helena Springs, Deborah Leng, Claudia Lennear, Geeling Ng, Queenie, Josette Caruso, Viv Lynn, Audrey Hamilton and Iman. By affiliating himself with icons he increased his own popularity.

Tip 1: Find a famous ambassador like Nespresso does

Lesson 2: Fake it, till you make it

Tony Defries is a British former pop music manager. Defries worked in the 1960s music scene with such figures as Mickie Most, Allen Klein, before turning his attention to David Bowie. Defries represented Bowie through his rise to stardom, reputedly making more money from the deal than the star himself. Defries hired bodyguards for Bowie before he was even famous. He thought that to become successful in the United States it would be important to walk around with bodyguards right from the start.

Tip 2: Send a weekly letter to a hotshot to catch his / her attention like How to become a NY times columnist does

Lesson 3: Raise funds based on future potential

In 1997, David Bowie introduced the Bowie Bonds. This investment vehicle was pioneered by rock and roll investment banker David Pullman. Bowie Bonds are asset-backed securities of current and future revenues of the 25 albums (287 songs) that David Bowie recorded before 1990. Issued in 1997, the bonds were bought for US$55 million by the Prudential Insurance Company of America. The bonds paid an interest rate of 7.9% and had an average life of ten years, a higher rate of return than a 10-year Treasury note. Royalties from the 25 albums generated the cash flow that secured the bonds’ interest payments. Prudential also received guarantees from Bowie’s label, EMI Records, which had recently signed a $30m deal with Bowie. By forfeiting ten years worth of royalties, Bowie was able to receive a payment of US$55 million up front. Bowie used this income to buy songs owned by his former manager.

Tip 3: Attract investment based on future revenue potential like Bloomon has done
Lesson 4: Create a non existing character

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (often shortened to Ziggy Stardust) is the fifth studio album of Bowie. The album tells the story of Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust, a rock star who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings. Bowie created Ziggy Stardust while in New York promoting Hunky Dory and performed as him on a tour of the UK, Japan and North America. The album, and the character of Ziggy Stardust, was known for its glam rock influences and themes of sexual exploration and social commentary. These factors, coupled with the ambiguity surrounding Bowie’s sexuality and fueled by a ground-breaking performance of “Starman” on Top of the Pops, led to the album being met with controversy and since hailed as a seminal work.

Tip 4: Create a likable character like for instance John Altman
Lesson 5: Be controversial

In the article David Bowie: How the glam rock artist became an LGBT icon, The Independent states the following:

As well as being remembered for his musical talents, the legendary singer will also be remembered for redefining sexuality for an entire generation. When David Bowie stepped onto the stage as Ziggy Stardust in 1969, one of the world’s greatest gay icons was born and the rule books were forever rewritten.

Two years after marrying his first wife Angie in 1970, Bowie told the world he was gay while on the cusp of fame. In a 1972 interview with the now defunct Melody Maker, Bowie declared, “I’m gay, and I always have been”. It’s worth noting that this was the same year which Melody Maker called “the year of the transvestite” and 700 people walked from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park in the first Gay Pride march. Homosexuality had been legalised a few years prior and things were fast changing. Four years later, Bowie pushed the boundaries even further and told Playboy magazine that he was bisexual. “It’s true — I am a bisexual,” he announced. “But I can’t deny that I’ve used that fact very well. I suppose it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Bowie was one of the first artists that spoke openly about his bisexuality, which made him a controversial character. However, this made him also hugely popular because he increased the sexual freedom of his followers.

Tip 5: Create controversial ads like for instance Suitsupply
Lesson 6: Connect to historical events

David Bowie released “Space Oddity” on 11 July 1969. It was also the opening track of the album David Bowie. The song is about the launch of Major Tom, a fictional astronaut, and was released during a period of great interest in space flight. The United States’ Apollo 11 mission would launch five days later, and would become the first manned moon landing another five days later. The lyrics have also been seen to lampoon the British space program, which had only launched rockets at that time and has never attempted a moon landing.

“Space Oddity” was David Bowie’s first UK top 5 hit. It became one of Bowie’s signature songs, and his second album, originally released as David Bowie in the UK, was renamed after the track for its 1972 re-release by RCA Records, and became known by this name. In 1975, upon re-release as part of a maxi-single, the song was Bowie’s first UK No. 1 single.

Tip 6: Create marketing events around historical events like Heineken does with the Holland Heineken House
Lesson 7: Dare to reinvent your self

David Robert Jones was born in London on Jan. 8, 1947. But you may know him better as David Bowie. From an early age, Jones was interested in self-reinvention, which took shape not only in his image, but also with his music and name. According to legend, he named himself after Jim Bowie, the American pioneer who was handy with a knife. Still, in 1967, the singer replied to a letter from a fan who wanted to start a U.S. fan club. One of the questions he answered was one about his name. “My real name is David Jones,” he wrote. “And I don’t have to tell you why I changed it.”

Tip 7: Change the name of your company if it suits your new proposition better like Fetch changed into Mr. Fix
Lesson 8: Find a great mentor

Kenneth Pitt is best remembered as David Bowie’s manager from about 1967 to 1970, though his client left him right after getting his first hit, “Space Oddity.” Pitt withdrew from artist management into other parts of the entertainment business after losing Bowie and wrote at length about his relationship with Bowie in his book, Bowie: The Pitt Report.

While Pitt may not have been the most suitable manager for Bowie in the long term, in his defense it should be pointed out that he did a great deal for the singer in his early career. He helped sustain him, with money and encouragement, at a time when Bowie was failing to make any commercial headway in pop.

Tip 8: Find a mentor like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Richard Branson have done through for instance BrownCow
Lesson 9: Entertain people

David Bowie never stopped entertaining his audience. For instance by wearing peculiar new types of clothing all the time.

Tip 9: Create a marketing campaign that entertains people like Bohemian Birds has done by crowdfunding a private island

I hope that you have found this blog inspiring and useful.


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