09/05/2012 05:30 pm ET Updated Nov 05, 2012

'A Start-Up Walked Into a Bar...' What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Stand-Up Comedians

It's amazing what a few years of encouraging people to laugh both with and at you can do for your business acumen. Before I advanced my career as a female digital marketer and chair of the L'Oréal USA Women in Digital program, I dabbled for a few years in stand-up comedy. I'm not talking improv here but the brazen kind where you have to perform original content in front of complete strangers and pray that you don't fall off the stage. But, after getting more traffic on my website than audience members at my gigs, I realized the world of technology and entrepreneurship was my true stage.

Being a stand-up comedian is not an easy job -- you need to be highly creative, write, perform, take risks and manage a business a.k.a yourself... just like being a tech entrepreneur. Today, I still apply my stand-up experience to evaluating and pitching new technology within L'Oréal USA. Here are some basic comedy rules every tech entrepreneur should know:


As a comedian, you need to make people feel comfortable before getting them uncomfortable with a disruptive idea. When you stand onstage, you always need to set yourself with a clear route to the heart of the joke. Not everyone will understand your jokes just like brand new technology may confuse the average corporate person. I always try to set up context for the new ideas I pitch in my company and why it matters to my brands, my bosses, and outside partners. If you pitch technology in a vacuum (going straight to the punch), you are going to lose your audience. Context is key. Be prepared to research the company you are meeting and provide context for how what you created can solve a problem.

Be Authentic

When I used to go to open mics, I saw a lot of actors dabbling in stand-up, and most of the time, they bombed. You can't "act" funny -- you have to "be" funny. I feel the same way about technology. It has to be useful to improve your life. I tend to laugh at my own jokes, use the technology I create in my job, or find the media I create entertaining. Most entrepreneurs expect the same from start-ups, be passionate, be yourself and be real. Don't be a hack or you run the risk of getting boo'ed!

Be Flexible

You can never promote a product to buyers without testing it for its strengths and flaws, same with performing stand-up comedy. Test your concepts with friends, mentors, and your peers. Be ready to revise your idea before your big pitch. Creating new ideas requires a constant state of testing, revision, and refining. Be ready to "pivot" if your test groups aren't responding as you planned or your audience isn't responding. In comedy, I actually took a class where we learned what to do if a waitress drops a tray in the middle of your set and how to move forward. Acknowledge what happened and then adjust. I think about this lesson on a daily basis.

Build Your Audience

As a start-up in stand-up, you are responsible for inviting people to your show to get stage time. This can't happen without networking, self-promotion, and asking help from friends and family. Networking is the key to success and I've always found that people who believe in me are willing to fork down a two-drink minimum to help you out. You just need to ask them!

Learn How to Bomb

Expect that you are going to fail. Not everything you build or ideas you conceive are going to work and not everyone is going to like it, invest, or "get it." It can take years to refine a joke... or a new company. Stay enthusiastic and learn how to recover when you bomb because you are going to fail. Even the best comics have really, really bad nights.

Record Yourself

Just like in comedy, understanding your performance can be the key to success. Comics record their sets. Formalize your own set of rules to determine success, record failures, and analyze results. I'm always impressed by the start-ups that show me what success looks like, admit where they made mistakes and ask for input on their performance and how they can evolve.