Learn from Louis: 3 Business Lessons from Louis C.K.
If you don’t know Louis C.K. yet, you will soon – he’s a comedian with a hit TV show and a dedicated fan base, rising to stardom with a unique approach to his craft. His brand of self-deprecating humor sometimes seems at odds with his massive success, but don’t be deceived – the man is a powerhouse, changing the way that the business of comedy is done.
That change hasn’t happened by accident, either. Aside from being a comedic visionary, Louis C.K. is also quite the savvy businessman. And if companies pay attention, they can learn quite a bit from his techniques.
Here are three business lessons we can learn from Louis.
1. Cut out the middleman when you can.
In late 2011, Louis C.K. made over $1 million in 12 days by selling downloads of his Live at the Beacon standup special, and during the summer of 2012 he sold 100,000 tickets to his live show in two days (to the tune of $4.5 million). He pocketed all of that.
The reason? As an experiment, he released everything in one place: his own website. He paid all Live at the Beacon production and posting costs out-of-pocket and charged fans only $5 to download. It was this same technique that led to his sold-out performances. He avoided using a ticketing service, charged everyone a flat rate of $45, and kept the profit. Soon, other comedians began to follow suit. Thanks to Louis C.K., the traditional comedy distribution model is beginning to change.
In expansion-stage companies, a middleman is hopefully there for a reason – to facilitate what seems impractical or impossible. But every company should constantly be looking for ways to streamline their processes. Simplicity can be difficult to achieve but extremely valuable when embraced. Look at your company – is there a vendor slowing you down? Is there a communication breakdown along a chain of command that’s too long? Is there a piece of software that’s supposed to help but actually hinders? If so, get rid of it.
2. Be direct with your audience.
Don’t forget to speak honestly to those who are already listening. Something that Louis C.K. and expansion-stage companies have in common is an engaged audience. You want that audience to grow, but being direct with your current customers is crucial. They should know who you are and what you’re about.
When Louis C.K. released Live at the Beacon, one concern was illegal downloading. Of that, he had this to say to his buyers:
“I’d just like you to consider this: I made these files extremely easy to use against well-informed advice … I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without “corporate” restrictions.
Please bear in mind that I am not a company or a corporation. I’m just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me. So, please help me keep this being a good idea.”
It worked. Honesty and a quality, reasonably priced product made people happy to pay. He didn’t condescend or underestimate his audience, which ranks among the most important business lessons you can learn from him: Demonstrate confidence in your product and your consumer, and they will respond in kind.
3. Humanize your brand.
I was inspired to write this post because of one of Louis C.K.’s latest offerings. When fellow comedian Tig Notaro performed in August 2012, shortly after being diagnosed with breast cancer and a few weeks after her mother passed away, her raw set was quickly elevated to legendary status. There was just one problem – no one but those in attendance could experience the set. Enter Louis C.K.
Louis C.K. got a hold of the audio and made it available for a $5 download with $4 of that going directly to Notaro. Notaro donated some of her portion to breast cancer research and benefited from the exposure. Louis C.K.’s distribution model worked once again – Notaro is now cancer-free and has a book deal.
This isn’t to say that your company needs to start a charity tomorrow (these are business lessons, after all), but you should be asking yourself what else your consumer likes and supports. A good company knows that it’s not always about them and is in a better position to build a positive image and customer loyalty because of that. This is especially important to remember as a marketer – create a conversation, share content, engage in mutually beneficial endeavors. Your customers (and your bottom line) will thank you.