SCORE Small Business Blog

Starting: Startup Tips for Every Entrepreneur

Mad Men Lessons for Statup Entrepreneurs and Small Business

True confession: I’m addicted to the television show Mad Men, the smart, slick series about a 1960’s Madison Avenue advertising company. Season four opened with the launching of a startup ad agency. Now, we’re in my territory – the world of entrepreneurs!

I watched the season opener with a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists – most had been part of many startups. We were in a good position to see what our fictional entrepreneurs were doing right – and doing wrong.

What the Mad Men entrepreneurs did right:

  • Balance team strengths. All too often, startup entrepreneurs think they can do it all. They can’t. You can’t. If you want to build a company with a real future, find people who balance your weaknesses.
  • Think “out of the box.” In the season premiere, Peggy Olsen makes a gutsy – risky – move to save an account. New companies gain their edge and reputation by coming up with fresh approaches and new thinking.
  • Move fast. When an opportunity arises to start the new agency, the principals don’t dawdle. Seize your opportunities!
    What they did wrong:
  • Rent expensive offices. The new team chooses space in a high rent district. Today, it’s cool to be scrappy, with barebones offices and used furniture.
  • Over dependence on one or two customers. More than 70% of their business came from one account. Even once they were underway, they never did a business plan to identify how to diversify their base. Today, they’d of course use the brand new edition of my book, Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies (
  • Lack of diversity. They only have one person who’s not a straight white male. Even today, many startups (especially in tech) are made up of only one type of person. Wrong then. Wrong now.
  • Single tasking. They have a new agency, but everyone’s still doing their one core job. In today’s startups, people have to multi-task and take on many roles.

Rhonda Abrams, Guest Blogger
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