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Beatles' Business Model Inspires Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Book offers lessons learned from legendary band

The Beatles perform on the CBS "Ed Sullivan Show" in New York on Feb. 9, 1964.
The Beatles perform on the CBS "Ed Sullivan Show" in New York on Feb. 9, 1964.

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Faiza Elmasry

Business advice is available from many sources - books, workshops, the Internet but - the Beatles?

Authors George Cassidy and Richard Courtney believe the Fab Four followed a classic business model on their way to success. For example, Cassidy says, in any enterprise, you have to be careful about picking your business partners. That’s what young John Lennon and Paul McCartney did when they started a band in Liverpool.

“They were fortunate in that they had an enormous personal charm; their personalities seemed to work together well. They were also extremely gifted in several areas. You have great singers and you have great song writers and great performers.”

Once they found each other, they set a goal.

“They wanted to be that successful. They wanted to be bigger than Elvis," Courtney says. "They wanted to be the absolute best that there was in their field. That was really a business decision, even though it may not seem that way to a group of teenage musicians.”

'Come Together: The Business Wisdom of the Beatles,' focuses on the group's persistence and creativity in becoming one of the world's greatest bands.
'Come Together: The Business Wisdom of the Beatles,' focuses on the group's persistence and creativity in becoming one of the world's greatest bands.

In "Come Together: The Business Wisdom of the Beatles," Courtney, an entrepreneur, and Cassidy, a business writer, focus on the Beatles’ persistence and creativity in achieving their goal.

Even after the success of “Please, Please Me,” a number one album in Britain, it took the band another year to hit the U.S. charts. Capitol Records, the American subsidiary of their British label, refused to issue any of their music.

Instead of arguing about the album’s merits or giving up on conquering America, the band kept recording new songs and sending them to Capitol. Finally in 1964, after a news report about Beatlemania in Britain, Capitol released “I Want to Hold your Hand," which became the Beatles’ first number one hit in the United States.

Working together, if not exactly holding hands, was instrumental to the band’s success.

“The period between 1964 and 1966, when they were all lined up together, when they were of a common mind and a common purpose, is when they did amazing things," says Cassidy. "When they were touring the world and released two albums a year and they made several movies, they were just able to accomplish an incredible amount in a very short period of time, when they all were in sync.”

It was part of the work ethic the four members of the group grew up with.

“We interviewed several people who knew them in Liverpool before they were famous, and they said they had very much a working class mentality in as much as they expected to work 50 weeks a year and maybe take two weeks off,” says Cassidy.

Another important business lesson from the Beatles: admit your mistakes and learn from them. The group reportedly disliked touring but for several years, it was its primary source of income and consumed much time and energy. So, the Beatles steadily developed other revenue streams from royalties and films, eventually abandoning the concert circuit altogether in favor of more creative studio work.

The Beatles, (from left) Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison board a plane for England at a New York airport in 1964.
The Beatles, (from left) Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison board a plane for England at a New York airport in 1964.

“They were expanding into different markets. They decided to stop touring," Courtney says. "They decided, as their music evolved, that they could actually let their records go on tour for them, in place of them. So as their career developed, their music developed. And as their music developed, their career developed.”

Just as vital as picking the right business partners, Cassidy says, is finding good managers. The Fab Four’s success is due, in no small measure, to Brian Epstein.

“When Brian Epstein, their manager, came on the scene, they were wise enough to give up a certain amount of control over the way they looked, the way they presented themselves and to allow him to get them ready for their close-ups. He put them into the matching suits and began to shop them to record labels in London - all things that they would never have been able to accomplish on their own.”

That helped the Beatles create an image, a trademark of sorts, that set them apart from other bands of the era.

“They did have a certain natural flair for creating an impression on people. They all sported the same haircut, the logo on the drumhead and the way they shook their heads when they were singing, even down to their sense of humor and their accent," Cassidy says. "They all came to America speaking with a very distinct Liverpool accent called 'Scouse.' It seems to me that they were very much aware of creating a distinctive and sort of consistent presence in the marketplace, which you could call a brand.”

And one of the most important elements of that brand, says Courtney, was the sheer creative joy the Beatles shared with their audiences.

“They had so much fun doing what they were doing. They loved the press conferences. They loved to have those short answers. They had fun with each other. That was an important part of their success and it’s sometimes overlooked in their success and in the success of other businesses.”

Courtney and Cassidy hope their book, "Come Together," encourages small business owners to see the Beatles in a new light, and to find inspiration and guidance in the famous band’s extraordinary business.

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