5 things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Charlie Hebdo

Ugh. We woke up one morning last week to the worst of news: 12 people had been slaughtered in Paris for saying what they felt needed saying, for challenging the status quo, and for pursuing a business model they had built over decades.

This news touched us at crowdSPRING in a meaningful way: the people who were gunned down were artists. Creative people who practice their craft, and use artwork to communicate ideas are the people we celebrate every day and work hard to support through our business model and our community. It is shocking and saddening that we have lost these fine artists to a warped ideology of revenge and paranoia.

So what do we do here? My answer is the same as ever: we learn. We take the time to  discover what it is that these people did. How they lived their lives and how they ran their enterprise. We take lessons from the things they did everyday and the conviction with which they did it. So, here are 10 things that we can all learn from Charlie Hebdo and the wonderful artists who gave their lives on that awful day.

1. Believe.
Charlie Hebdo was a company that believed in what it did. Their mission was simple and clear: to satirize, to offend, and to push back against what they viewed as the hypocrisy of organized religions, and of authority of any kind. They were passionate in the pursuit of their belief and they did it with humor and creativity. We can all learn a great deal about how we run our own businesses from their  lesson: approach your work with ardor and run your own company based on the beliefs you hold and the values you cherish.

2. Focus.
As managers we understand the importance of staying focused, whether it is on the larger picture and your strategic approach to your business, or on the small things we do everyday. By maintaining our focus on what we do, we can be more productive and reach our goals more quickly. The management and artists at Charlie Hebdo clearly understood this and it was displayed with every issue they published and every eye they poked their stick into. By clearly defining their mission and focusing intently on carrying it out, they were able to build a brand and carve out a distinct space in the French media landscape.

3. Seek out talent.
The best companies attract talent like honey attracts bees. But for new companies, tiny startups, and controversial publications this can be a challenge and an imperative. Charlie began life in 1970 made up of a small group of refugees from a defunct publication; editors and cartoonists who were committed to the controversial and the insurgent. Over time, the magazine was to recruit and attract some of the leading and cutting edge cartoonists of the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s through their own brand of consistent resilience and defiance. Entrepreneurs can learn from this model and use their own company’s budding reputations and culture to draw the most talented workers in their own domains.

4. Build culture.
Building a company culture takes time; in spite of what we read, a unique culture is something that we model and shape over many months and years of effort and input. A strong culture should grow and evolve as an organization grows and evolves, but at the core should have foundational elements that remain constant throughout. Charlie’s example in this regard is strong: through multiple iterations of the product, through many versions of staff, through changes in leadership, Charlie always remained true to its core values and its mission. Whether you agree with the way the editors and the staff carried out their mission is besides the point; the consistency of their culture is at the core of Charlie’s strength as an organization.

5. Disrupt.
What does Charlie do better than anything else? Challenge the status quo, provoke the establishment, question institutions, and dare to be arouse controversy with every week’s issue. Startups dream of building a company and a culture designed to torment the established market leaders and the list of companies who have done so ranges from Apple, to Facebook, to Google, to Tesla. Praise and glory accrue to the businesses that are able to harness the unique power of market disruption and Charlie’s example can stand as a lesson to all.

Illustration from Charlie Hebdo website:


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