PaySimple’s home city of Denver, Colorado is currently in a state of Super Bowl Euphoria. Our beloved Denver Broncos have finally won the Big Game again, and by all accounts today’s homecoming parade will be a spectacular reception for the victorious team. Underdogs going into the game against a carefree and enthusiastic Carolina Panther’s team with a #1 Ranked Offense lead by dynamic young Quarterback Cam Newton, the Broncos scored a decisive victory lead by an unstoppable Defense and a veteran Quarterback in Peyton Manning who was derided as past his prime almost as often as he was lauded as the greatest to ever play that position.

Now I’m no football fanatic, and the summary above is simply my condensed version of the seemingly endless postgame analysis, but one can’t help but take some small business lessons from the Broncos victory. The most obvious is the old proverb that David Mamet nicely restates as, “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.” Another important lesson is that a tightly functioning team can usually beat a team lead by a single show-boater. And yet another is that a can-do positive attitude will go a long way towards achieving you goals, even in the face of voluble nay-sayers.

The Broncos hardly had a perfect season, nor did they have a perfect Super Bowl, but they were able to learn enough from each of their games (win or lose) to put together a winning game when it really counted. Similarly, learning from your own mistakes is key to running a successful small business. However, it is often just as helpful (and far less painful) to learn from others’ mistakes. With that in mind, here are 25 other people and companies that small business owners and entrepreneurs can learn from:


Types of Occupation

1. Fishermen

5 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Fishermen suggests that small businesses will gain an advantage by mimicking a fishing crew’s adherence to a daily routine in the face of an unpredictable working environment, ability to fully utilize all the resources available to them in a resource-poor environment, dedication to a team approach that values group over individual success, and the ability to embrace change.


2. Pirates

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Pirates suggests making a treasure map of activities required to reach your goals as a method for documenting all of the large and small tasks that need to be completed, in the order that they need to be addressed. Relentlessly following the map, as would a Pirate hunting for buried treasure, can help chart a course for success.


3. Surfers

“WIPE OUTS” ARE JUST FRESH STARTS! … FOR ENTREPRENEURS AND BIG WAVE SURFERS This post posits that in surfing as in business, while preparation, planning, commitment and fearlessness are all critical success factors, even more important is the ability to manage a changing environment both when the upcoming change is known and even more importantly when it unexpectedly arrives like a sudden current shift.


4. Elite Athletes

What Small Businesses Can Learn From Elite Athletes suggests that small businesses adopt several traits common to elite athletes such as narrowing focus to what they do best from a pool of things they do well, working as a team to bring out the best in each of the teammates, peaking at the right time by ensuring the business is prepared to handle success, and the “grit” to continue working towards long-term goals even the face of short-term setbacks.


5. Writers

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from a Bestselling Writer About Creating Compelling Content passes along advice from writer Steve Allen regarding how to create consistently engaging content for small business blogs and other social media posts. Allen suggests ditching the old adage of writing what you know, and replacing it with a mandate to find out what interests your customer base and to then learn enough to write intelligently about it. “What’s important is that you pick an aspect that you know people are going to be enticed to read, and you do the research necessary and put your own creative spin on it,” he advises.


6. Stay-at-Home Dads

6 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Stay-at-Home Dads notes that these men as a group tend to have many qualities such as appreciating experiences and ignoring stigmas, that are common to successful small business owners. The post suggests that by emulating some key stay-at-home-dad characteristics including being authentic to yourself and your needs, being devoted to what you are doing, and going above and beyond to help others succeed, you can help your small business thrive.


7. Zombies

What you can learn from Zombieland: Lessons zombies can teach us about keeping content fresh even when there is not a lot going on (as in many Zombie movies), suggests following the Zombie lead and tweaking old content to “bring it back to life,” spreading the same content around in multiple social media channels (which it likens to “Zombie groups”), emulating a Zombie’s resourcefulness by doing surprising things with seemingly dry content, and thinking of ways you can make your audience laugh, as Zombies are won’t to do.


Notable (and Notorious) Companies

8. Volkswagen

What Small Businesses Can Learn from Volkswagen highlights the importance of a strong brand for any business, and the importance of a company culture designed to maintain that brand. The marketing department is typically responsible for brand management, but as the post notes the decision to install the emissions cheating software had nothing to do with marketing yet managed to single-handedly erase all the goodwill Volkswagen’s marketing strategies had generated.


9. Papa John’s

What Small Businesses Can Learn From Papa John’s suggests that small businesses of all types can take out (pun intended) three important lessons from the pizza chain’s success: use low-cost email campaigns to remain top-of-mind for your customers, give customers a reason to buy from you—whether that is reminding them of a holiday or special occasion (even if you have to make one up), or framing your offers to highlight “free” extras or gifts, and using gamification and loyalty programs to boost sales, create brand enthusiasm, and retain customers.


10. Uber

4 Things Small Business Owners Can Learn From Uber’s Drive Into a Worker Classification Jam explains the recent legal problems Uber has faced regarding the classification of workers as employees vs. independent contractors. It uses the Uber example to provide detailed advice for how to properly classify your workers based on their responsibilities, their level of control, and the specific contract terms of an employment relationship.


11. Nordstrom

Lessons Your Small Business Can Learn From Nordstrom to transform your small business into “something beautiful” include not only Nordstrom’s extraordinary commitment to superlative customer service, but also its commitment to offering consistently high-quality products, utilizing rewards programs to help customers feel valued, and ensuring that their employees are not only well paid, but that they also feel highly valued.


12. Tesla

Tesla Motors: Five things you can learn from the electric car startup suggests that small businesses may find success by emulating some of Tesla’s non-traditional business practices such as refusing to offer any discounts, creating a sales process designed to make the customer eager to pursue the next steps, and creating a “cool” vibe around your product via wait-lists and/or endorsements from celebrities.


13. LEGO

What Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From LEGO notes that LEGO has been called, “The most powerful brand in the world.” It suggests that this brand strength can be traced to the fact that the “product IS the brand” and that, “Most brands offer a fixed solution to a given problem. LEGO’s are adaptive to what a customer’s needs are at a given moment.”


14. Quilt Town USA

5 Lessons Your Small Business Startup Can Learn From “Quilt Town, USA” tells the inspirational story of a small quilting business in Hamilton, MO that not only put a small town on the map but also built a $10M/year revenue stream in 7 years, creating 180 jobs in the process. A key lesson from this success story is that all you need is a good idea to start a successful business and that special expertise and extensive experience are not essential as long as there are others to turn to when you find gaps in knowledge or resources.



15. Cover Bands

In What entrepreneurs can learn from my terrible cover band the author notes that his teenage cover band never made it beyond the garage because they lacked faith in their own talent to both perform and write original work, and had no external input to the contrary. His message to budding entrepreneurs: “Get out of the garage and be original. It is better to fail being you, than fail by not quite being them.”


16. David Bowie

What Every Entrepreneur Can learn From David Bowie suggests that entrepreneurs “Bowie-up” by doing something entirely original and true to themselves without any regard for being “liked” by everyone, and with the full understanding that while you may be hated and criticized by some, you will be respected by all.


17. Beyoncé

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Beyoncé About Capturing Attention teaches that though amazing successes like that of Beyoncé’s latest album may appear to come out of nowhere, they are actually the culmination of a long and determined journey. The lesson for small businesses the post suggests is that, “The secret to creating a successful …long-term relationship is finding effective ways to capture short-term attention and then transitioning into long attention. It’s not enough to have an audience watch an entertaining ad–it has to generate followers, fans, and most importantly, sales.”


Movies & TV Shows

18. Star Wars

In What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From ‘Star Wars’ a serial entrepreneur, who also happens to be one of the Stanford students who work worked on 3D modeling for The Phantom Menace, reflects on the business lessons he learned from the Star Wars series. For example, he notes “No evil empire was ever toppled by an individual. It’s always a team that wins,” suggests following Yoda’s teaching that your mind is your own biggest obstacle, and encourages fostering “even the most unlikely connections” such as Obi-Wan and Han Solo, which may just turn out to be the collaboration that saves the day.

What Small Business Can Learn From Force of the Star Wars Marketing Blitz looks at how Disney strategically marketed the latest movie instalment by creating anticipation well in advance of the release including by “leaking” info about the movie, using a number of creative promotions, and fully utilizing social media to help amp-up the buzz.


19. Shark Tank

This reality TV series enables hopeful entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to a panel of business professionals who are potential investors. 5 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Shark Tank highlights key business lessons gleaned from the show and its successful and unsuccessful pitches, including a warning not to “be blinded by your passion.” While passion for your business is important, you need to know your market, know your financials, and perfect a concise and compelling pitch in order to attract investors, and to run a successful business.


20. The Wiz

With the recent live TV revival of the original 1978 movie/musical, the Wiz is back in the public vernacular, and its parent The Wizard of Oz arguably never left. The story contains many lessons about heart and home and friendship and foes. 6 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From the Musical ‘The Wiz’ suggests that it also teaches that the way to small business success includes getting out of your comfort zone, truly believing that changing your thoughts can change the world, a mandate to “count your blessings and cut your losses,” and the notion that out of unlikely partnerships come outsized success. (Pretty close to the lessons of Star Wars, when you think about it.)


21. The Intern

Five things entrepreneurs can learn from the movie The Intern highlights several key elements from this movie representation of a start-up that are worthy of emulation, including the value of in-person vs electronic communication, the benefits of making time to clear things off your plate, and the notion that simply being “busy” does not necessarily mean that you are working effectively.


22. Top Chef

8 Tips Entrepreneurs Can Learn From The TV Show Top Chef notes qualities of successful chefs that translate well to other types of business, including the ability to stay “cool” under pressure, the necessity of finding that “special sauce” that will set your small business apart from the competition, the ability to always be ready for “surprise ingredients” or unexpected challenges, and the importance of presentation whether it is on a plate, in a marketing brochure, or on a website.


Celebrities & Other Well Known People

23. Picasso

In The Picasso Effect – What entrepreneurs can learn from Picasso, the author notes that in Picasso’s cubism, “objects are broken up, analyzed and reassembled in an abstract form and then presented in a new way, incorporating many viewpoints at the same time to produce something incredible.” He suggests that this is an ideal strategy for developing new business ideas, and coins the phrase The Picasso Effect to mean seeing “things from different perspectives, to break things apart and reconnect the pieces in unexpected ways to really understand, create and innovate.”


24. Walt Disney

7 Lessons Every Young Entrepreneur Can Learn From Walt Disney highlights lessons from Disney’s life including that you must be a salesman to be a successful small business owner, the value of storytelling to effective leadership and the ability to inspire, the need to be constantly improving, a high risk tolerance, a positive attitude towards failure, and a belief in yourself even if everyone else thinks you’re crazy.


25. Santa Claus

What Your Small Business Can Learn from Santa Claus pulls tips from the book The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus, including the value of “choos[ing] your reindeer wisely,” “making a list and checking it twice,” “building a wonderful workshop” and the ability to respond to change wisely and effectively as Santa did when informing the elves that market forces would compel them to cease production of red wagons in favor of video games.


Finally, lets return to the Super Bowl for one last lesson stemming from a pivotal moment late in the game when Panther’s QB Cam Newton apparently decides not to attempt a recovery of his fumble, which ultimately ended up being recovered by the Broncos and enabled them to essentially put the game away with an easy touchdown . As a small business owner there are invariably going to be times when you drop the ball, or when someone on your team drops the ball. While it’s important to understand those moments and prevent them from happening again, it is even more important that when the ball is dropped you do everything in your power to pick it up. You may not score immediately and you may not even win a particular game, but in the long run your team and your small business can only reach greatness if you’re willing to do whatever it takes to keep the ball and maintain your drive.


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Lisa Hephner

Lisa Hephner

My name is Lisa, and I'm the Vice President of Knowledge, responsible for the management of corporate, product, competitor, marketplace, legal, and regulatory knowledge, and creation and dissemination of knowledge tools using these assets to PaySimple prospects, customers, employees, and partners.

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