Whether you are a fan of his work or not, you’ve got to admire the business savvy of media mogul Tyler Perry.
Maddie Berg wrote in her September 1 article From Poor as Hell to Billionaire: How Tyler Perry Changed Show Business Forever – “The 51-year-old entertainer owns the entirety of his creative output, including more than 1,200 episodes of television, 22 feature films and at least two dozen stage plays, as well as a 330-acre studio lot at the edge of Atlanta’s southern limits. He used that control to leverage a deal with ViacomCBS that pays him $150 million a year for new content and gives him an equity stake in BET+, the streaming service it debuted last September. Forbes estimates Perry has earned more than $1.4 billion in pretax income since 2005, which he used to buy homes in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, as well as two planes. Quite a lifestyle for a once-homeless playwright raised in poverty in New Orleans. Today, Forbes estimates his net worth at $1 billion, with a clear path to future membership in The Forbes 400.”
Perry’s multi-hyphenate roles which include movie studio owner-producer-director-writer-actor, reminds me of Caribbeanpreneurs using their multiple passions and skills to generate multiple streams of income. But since, we are still working on getting our net worth to total $1 billion, I thought we should look at what he is doing and what it will take for more Caribbean entrepreneurs to get there as well.
Have A Dream Bigger Than You Cannot Accomplish Alone
Many Caribbean people call themselves entrepreneurs, but they are really hobbyists. If you took a vacation, does your income dry up. If something were to happen to you, would your business disappear? An entrepreneur is someone who takes a risk to create something that can be commercialized or amplified, as in the case of a non-profit, to benefit a cause. A commercial business requires you to leverage time, labor, a product or service, and technology to serve enough customers to be profitable.
Tyler Perry may have started with writing a play, but it was not a one-person production. He would need actors, and a crew to execute it. Year after year he worked on saving to put on the play and every time it flopped, he had to go back to the drawing board.
Building a dream bigger than yourself requires you to be able to share the vision with others and trust them to help you execute it. That means raising the capital to pay for the skills of others, having something to offer them that is more than “exposure.” Being humble enough to ask for help, even while knowing that the outcome is unsure. Pride often gets in the way of us collaborating with others and creating partnerships that can help us to grow faster and go further. Fear that someone else will steal our ideas also limits us as we forget the world is abundant and we must believe and operate as if it is.
To build a business with billionaire potential you cannot build it alone.
Rinse, Repeat and Repeat Some More – Tenacity
I’m a creative. I fall in love with the ideas in my head and sometimes that is enough. Daydreaming is a full-time job. If I do choose to work on an idea, the chances are high I will get bored and want to try something new as soon as the moon changes.
To build a business, you’ve got to be more in love with the work of building it than in dreaming about it.
Tyler Perry put his name on everything and every version of the everything. It was a constant reminder that he was working on a master plan.
Madea, the character he created for his stage plays became the foundation on which he built his brand. He served us up Madea stage plays, Madea movies and Madea making cameos in his other movies and in his sitcoms. She even got an animated series. He also wrote a book in her voice Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings.
Love her or hate her, you had to respect Madea’s hustle and that of her creator.
Along with Lionsgate, Perry produced 11 Madea movies over 14 years. “By the time Perry decided to retire the franchise in 2019, it had grossed more than $670 million at the box office and netted him about $290 million in fees and profits,” the article stated.
You must believe in your idea and stick with it whether others are cheering you on or not. You cannot give up when it gets hard. Even when hard comes in the form of a Cat 5 hurricane, rather than move on to something new, step back and think of another way to improve the business. Take the parts that worked and tweak them. Rarely is every aspect of the venture wrong. Something is always salvageable. Just ask someone who has ever burned the last bit of rice they had to cook.
Don’t Ask Permission, Build Your Own Table
In the world of moviemaking, Hollywood is the goal for many aspiring filmmakers globally. Tyler Perry had moved from New Orleans to Atlanta and he chose to stay there to build his platform, his way. His first movie Diary of a Mad Black Woman was shot in his house. The first and subsequent iterations of Tyler Perry Studios were in Atlanta, not Hollywood.
Perry created a formula for shooting sitcoms that broke the mold and allowed him to keep more money in his pocket.
One of the things that drove me to create conferences for entrepreneurs and to teach even as I was learning, was the only information available online 20 years ago was from American and other first-world nations of how to do business. These models DO NOT WORK in the Caribbean. I used to wish I could run down to my business development agency and apply for a grant or small business loan. There are no incubators on Montserrat where I can get a space to set up shop and benefit from open door offices like in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Show me which Caribbean governments year on year are investing millions in our entrepreneurs understanding that more than 90% of them will fail. It remains easier to get a loan to take a vacation than to start a business.
Caribbean people are great adapters and adopters. Figure out what is in your space and design a model that will allow you to do your best work despite real and perceived limitations.
You will need to do this. Our donor-funded agencies and governments continue to use models which only produce microscopic advancement for our entrepreneurs because they are fashioned to benefit the donor nation, not us. As their priorities change, so does the focus of the money. If you are not in fashion, film, or music right now, it will be tough to get assistance. Fingers crossed, the pandemic is opening funding support for agriculture and other pursuits.
Come to the Table with Something of Value – Leveraging Your Intellectual Property
If I had a $1000 for every time someone said Nerissa, I’ve got an idea for a business YOU should start I’d be a billionaire :D.
One of my goals is to have people pay me a million dollars an idea. I mean I get at least five great ones every day. No reason why they shouldn’t earn me money, right? Thing is ideas only bring the money when we make them tangible.
Tyler Perry was doing well with his stage plays and had figured out his movie formula with Why Did I Get Married and the like. Yet, he wanted to make a dent in television. Black sitcoms seemed to have become a thing of the past and he wanted to change that. Perry had written and produced 10 full episodes of a sitcom called House of Payne which he sold to CW, a new network at the time. It performed well above expectations and this caught the attention of TBS network. Knowing that syndication only happened with shows that had a minimum of 100 episodes, he got a guarantee that TBS would air at least 90 new episodes he was yet to produce. He got $200 million on that deal and maintained full ownership of the show. He can resell the show to other networks in America and internationally in perpetuity.
Don’t just have a great idea and expect others to buy into it. Invest in your ideas. Create a Minimum Viable Product. Understand who your customers are and how your product serves them.
Coming to the table with evidence (his audience data, stage play receipts, and ready-to-air shows) enabled Perry to have a seat at the table and negotiate deals which gave him the advantage.
Build. Expand. Build.
Perry has spoken often about the differences between being the laborer and the owner. When you are the laborer, you get paid once for delivering the job. The owner can get paid over and over for the same house. His portfolio includes properties and his latest acquisition of a former confederate base is now home to a studio compound which rivals and surpasses many in Hollywood.
Caribbean people are transient. We are everywhere. Many entrepreneurs seem to be okay investing in fixing up properties which are not our own and filling them with high value items that depreciate the minute we are handed the receipt. Our cars are fancy, but our bank accounts are empty.
We put the emphasis on the wrong things and are not investing in the ways that can build sustainability.
A simple example would be choosing to build your business model around platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. We don’t own the spaces and not owning your digital real estate can put you out of business quickly.
As in digital, so in the real world. To grow a business, you must legitimize the business.
In the initial months after the pandemic began, governments established schemes to aid business owners. It was a recurring theme across the Caribbean. Many could not access the grants because they were not legally established. They had no proof they had paid taxes or social security.
Creatives suffered. Art, music, dance, and fashion are treated as “side tings” although they contribute to generating 100s of millions of dollars for Caribbean nations through carnivals and as a main driver for the all-important tourism sectors. Several nations, including Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago provided their creative sector with one-off grants of between US$280 to US$790 dollars. To access the grants, including the one generated by the Caribbean Development Bank, creatives needed to be registered with the appropriate government agencies. When most of our businesses remain informal, our governments are working with inaccurate data on what it takes to run the economy. It also means, that even grants with miniscule amounts go unclaimed.
When you are established you can speak up for yourself. You and others in your sector can stand as representatives and ask for more. Because many are so naturally gifted, the things they do are treated as valueless. Your gifts will make room for you but only if you treat them with high regard and expect others to do the same.
Caribbean entrepreneurs must be willing to put down roots and build businesses which can become the basis for generational wealth. Those of African descent are often challenged with staying put and working until we see results. It’s in our genetic memory. We have to fight the urge to move and stick with the dream.
Tyler Perry staged his first play in 1992 and it is 2020 before he makes the Forbes recognition as a billionaire. That’s 28 years. He is a great reminder that it takes years to become an overnight success.
I believe it is possible for more Caribbean entrepreneurs to reach billionaire status. However, we must stay adaptive and tenacious in order to accomplish this.
Nerissa Golden is media and business strategist and the author of seven books, including In Plain Sight and The Making of a Caribbeanpreneur: Strategies for Overcoming Fear and Building Wealth. Follow her on Instagram or LinkedIn for more tips and ideas to help you grow as a Caribbean entrepreneur.