4 skills I learned as a theatre director that made me a better entrepreneur and investor

My comfort zone is a place that scares most other people.

The place where you have nothing, just a blank canvas and a rough idea that you have committed to. Now you have no choice but to make something valuable that other people will flock to and pay for.

My university training and first career was as a theatre director. I co-founded and ran a theatre company in the UK and in Australia for 10 years. This is where I learned some important lessons for my work today in entrepreneurship and venture capital.

Here is what I learned in the theatre business.

#1 — How to make something spectacular with very little

The budget will be small and the majority of the funds will be spent on people.

The task is to transform 3 people into a crowded city, to make a cinematic soundtrack from old ice-cream containers and to imagine a coming storm with a candle.

In business, we can fall into the trap of waiting until something is properly funded before we begin. What if you can find another way?

#2 — How to motivate teams around an idea

In my last year as a director, I was a top tier frequent flyer but only made $7,000 of taxable income. People don’t do theatre for the money.

I had the privilege of working with a common group of people for 10 years — all of which were terribly compensated. We were bound together by an idea for something that we wanted to build. We went to work everyday to get one step closer. In theatre, this is a requirement and not an added layer to keep the staff motivated. It needs to be the primary currency.

A powerful team is one that is driven and aligned by the idea and not the compensation.

#3 — When plans fall apart, lean into it and make something better

It always goes wrong.

Mike Pearson from Brith Gof in Wales was once touring a production that was entirely lit with old cars with their headlights on that would be sourced by the local venue. A couple of weeks out from a performance in Italy, he was told that they could not source the cars but they did have 20 tonnes of ice if that was helpful? They adapted — found new light sources and used the ice to build in something new and special for that performance.

This is how artists are trained to be anti-fragile. Every obstacle is a creative opportunity.

Miles Davis said: “If you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that you play that determines if it’s good or bad.”

In business, we worry when our plans are collapsing. In theatre we wonder what this new inspiration can unlock.

#4 — How to describe something a year before it exists

The marketing of a performance starts a year before it exists. The description of the production to backers and grant funders starts even earlier.

All we have is an idea. For example, my last production was a play about Leonardo da Vinci that we were yet to write. And yet we needed to create imagery and describe what the experience would be like on opening night. In theatre, we are comfortable describing something as though it exists and then committing to bring it to life.

In business, we are often cautious about the reveal until we have actually built it.

This is why I believe strongly that we need artists in our startups as well as continuing to expand our focus on STEM in education. They can be an anti-fragile ‘sand in the oyster’ that helps a startup create pearl.

I am @philmorle on Twitter if you want to chat.

This post was created with Typeshare

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Deep tech VC — Main Sequence Ventures. Ecosystem builder. Maker. Director. Startup Scientist.

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Phil Morle

Phil Morle

Deep tech VC — Main Sequence Ventures. Ecosystem builder. Maker. Director. Startup Scientist.

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