6 Documentaries for Entrepreneurs

I graduated from Boise State University in December of 2002 and launched my first marketing company in August of 2003. My degree was in International Business, a degree I chose because I speak Spanish fluently and could test out of the language requirement, saving me a semester’s worth of language classes credits. A dumb reason to choose a major, but what can I say? I was just a kid trying to get out of there as soon as possible.

As you can probably imagine, this degree as done little to help me in my 15 year marketing career and has done even less in helping me understand how to run a business, manage employees, price our services, keep up with accounting procedures, wade through government red tape, and everything else that goes along with running a small business. In short, everything I have learned about being an entrepreneur has come through self-study.

Fortunately, as the internet and other technologies (such as streaming video) advanced, our options for keeping pace with an ever-changing business environment has improved drastically.

You can become an expert on virtually any topic in less than a year by devoting an hour a day to intense study and by having a strong internet connection.

One of my favorite techniques for learning is to study others who are successful and trying to identify commonalities, personality traits, and more that I can apply to my own journey. I mostly accomplish this through reading autobiographies and biographies, but documentaries about various individuals and companies have exploded in recent years, finally giving me a real reason to “Netflix and chill” as the young ‘uns say these days.

Following - in no particular order - are 6 of my favorite documentaries about business, personal branding, and entrepreneurship:

1. His Way

This documentary is about film producer Jerry Weintraub and is based off his memoir, When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead. During his illustrious career, Weintraub produced such movies as The Karate Kid, Ocean’s 11, The Firm, and dozens more in addition to managing music talent with performers John Denver and Elvis Presley among his more notable charges.

Jerry was a consummate hustler and negotiator. Understanding his life story will show you how even the impossible can get done through sheer persistence, grit, and not taking “no” for an answer.

‍2. Walt Before Mickey

Walt Before Mickey is the tale of a young Walt Disney, before Mickey Mouse became a household name. I love seeing the story behind successful people before everything was unicorns and rainbows. I love seeing the messiness, the chaos, the near-fatal decisions, and the unbridled determination to make a success of something that seems doomed to fail.

Watching Walt Before Mickey will give you a new appreciation for the spirit of the entrepreneur and make whatever problems you are facing seem trivial by comparison.

3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Of the six documentaries I have listed here, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is probably my favorite by far. It chronicles a tiny - yet insanely successful - sushi restaurant in Japan. The proprietor, Jiro, is an octogenarian with an impressive work ethic and marketing mind.

What really drew me in however, were his exacting standards of quality and passion for creating the very best product and customer experience available. His attention to detail and insistence on serving only the very best fresh fish each day is something from which we can all learn.

4. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Throughout her life Joan Rivers had to overcome monumental and devastating events that would have crushed ordinary humans. Putting her brand of humor aside for a moment, it is impossible not to admire her work ethic and streets smarts in making a dent in the comedy scene.

Her insight into business negotiations and clever marketing ploys are worth studying.

5. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

If you are like me, you are probably unfamiliar with the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) movement. The only images I could conjure about it before watching I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead was of raves, mosh pits, and drug fueled parties.

This documentary follows the life of one of the industry’s most successful DJs, Steve Aoki. Born to Japanese parents, his absentee father, Rocky Aoki (founder of Japanese steakhouse, Benihana) drove him to succeed in order to prove to his father that he could be successful too, even if the path he chose was vastly different.

What I most got out of this movie was how important it is to also look outside the obvious industries and analyze what others are doing to succeed. I have absolutely zero interest in the EDM scene, but Aoki’s passion for what he does and ability to become one of the best in the world at what he does was fascinating to me.

‍6. Minimalism

I listed this documentary last because it really segues into what being an entrepreneur is all about: creating a life to live on your terms.

As a young business owner, my driving ambition was to create a business to get rich. And I did that. At the peak of my career I had over 100 employees and was doing nearly 8 figures in revenue. I had a big income and a bigger ego. I bought all the toys required of a young, successful entrepreneur.

And I was miserable.

It was only when I began to search for what was really important to me that I began to understand what I had wasn’t it. I realized that I was more than happy to own a small company with a tight-knit group of employees that were like family to me. I realized that I wanted to know my kids and be involved in their lives more. I realized that I didn’t need nearly as much money as I thought and that the toys and other material trappings just stressed me out and bogged me down.

I’m not passing judgment here on those who do want that lifestyle. To each their own. But what I got from watching Minimalism is that it is far more important to do what is important for YOU than to bow to society’s expectations of how you should live your life.

This, more than anything, has been the most liberating thing I have done.

I’d be curious to hear your take on my list and know what you would add to it. Are there any documentaries you have watched that have helped you in any way as a business owner? Head over to our Facebook page and let me know!

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