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WHIPLASH - 2014 FILM STILL - JK Simmons as Fletcher - Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Daniel McFadden Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Photo Credit: Daniel McFadden, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Why does a movie that tells the story of an obsessive jazz musician make Tim Green think of Uber?

I’ve just seen the film Whiplash for the second time. For those who don’t know, Whiplash is a highly acclaimed movie about Andrew, a jazz drumming student studying at an elite music conservatory in the US.

Andrew is obsessive about his craft and is chosen by the extremely scary teacher Terence Fletcher to be in the school’s top band. Fletcher will use any tool to make his ensemble the best, and 99 per cent of the time the tool is chooses is skull-prickling fear.

He’s a psycho, really. But his point is this. The geniuses, the revolutionaries, the ones who make history? They don’t give up, no matter what gets thrown at them. And in a famous speech, he gives the example of Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, who literally had a cymbal chucked at him.

I’ll quote most of it here.

“Parker’s a young kid, pretty good on the sax. Gets up to play at a cutting session… and he messes it up. And Jones nearly decapitates him for it. And he’s laughed off stage. Cries himself to sleep that night.

“But the next morning, what does he do? He practices. And he practices and he practices with one goal in mind: Never to be laughed at again. And a year later, he goes back to the Reno… And he steps up on that stage and he plays the best solo the world has ever heard.

“So imagine if Jones had just said: “Well, that’s okay Charlie. That was alright. Good job.” Then Charlie thinks to himself, “Well, I did do a pretty good job.” End of story, no Bird.”

So why am I boring you about this film I like?

Businessman drawing sketchWell, to me it’s the movie of the age: the startup age. Today, it’s easier than ever to start a business – especially a digital business. The costs of distribution are negligible, you can market your product virally via social media, you can work virtually anywhere because of smartphones and 3/4G, and your set-up costs have been slashed because of all those software-as-a-service platforms. Host it on Box, do your CRM on Salesforce, etc etc.

So what’s left? Just your will to succeed. And quite often, the insane desire to win is incompatible with being an all-round nice guy/girl. ‘Good job’ is not good enough. Listen to the excellent weekly interview series This Week In Startups and you’ll grasp this in an instant.

All over the world are mobile startups trying to succeed in an extraordinarily competitive space. Take India, for example. Want to prevail in transport? Be prepared to take on Ola, Uber, Taxiforsure and Meru. Or how about mobile commerce? Well, you’d better have something better than Paytm, Flipkart and Snapdeal.

tim-greenTim Green


Mobile Money Revolution

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Of course, the MEF is very aware of the ultra-competitive startup landscape. It’s why it hosts events all over the world to introduce new and innovative companies to members.

Perhaps it should screen Whiplash at the next one. The film is brave enough to champion the obsessives. It’s pretty subversive in that respect. This is a movie (spoiler alert) where Andrew – in a major crisis at the climax of the film – could give his dad a big hug and embrace kind human values. Instead, he turns back to the other guy. The one who’s evil, but will make him a better drummer.

You don’t get that in Pocahontas.


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