In true genre aficionado fashion, in preparation for an upcoming viewing of their new reboot/ sequel, my wife and I decided to pop in the original Ghostbusters movie again. A shared favourite, we both discovered a lot of things that completely passed us by when we were just children, not in the least the double entendres or the despicable attitude of Bill Murray’s character, Dr. Peter Venkman. Leaving that aside for now, there are a lot of things happening in the film that ought to resonate with anyone interested in entrepreneurship.
Spoiler alert to anyone who has not seen the original comedy.
In that regard, the three male lead characters themselves and the road they take ought to ring a bell. They are the founders, the visionaries who have spotted an opening in the market and who have come up with a unique technology to address it. Regarding the latter, it seems clear that it is the research at least one of them has conducted both on and off the record at University has helped them develop it. And is not that precisely what many such establishments seem to hope for, especially nowadays, although their business is not a spinoff from their alma mater?
The catalyst for striking on their own comes from being fired from their original jobs, another element that aspect that many people ought to recognize. How often do people not fit in, or leave behind the comfort of their traditional workplace, to take a leap into the unknown because they both want to or feel they have nowhere else to go?
One of them, played by Dan Aykroyd takes on a third mortgage to provide the seed capital for a business that nobody else would likely finance. Bill Murray is both the opportunist but also the pusher who sways him and lead technology developer Harold Ramis to take a swing at striking out on their own. Thereafter, for better and for worse, he is the company’s visible executive, engaging with both its visitors and the press.
Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett is that first, initially seemingly small, customer that all entrepreneurs need to convince to keep their motivation up, and the hotel manager that first visibly big order that really gets the ball rolling despite a more than rocky start. Barrett seemingly has nowhere else to go and when the full nature of her problem is revealed it represents the ultimate push to the limit of the technology of the by then reinforced ghostbusting squad. How often does not one hear that listening to customers and allowing oneself to be lead by them is what ultimately ends up producing results?
Returning to the original trio’s road to the top, the movie makes no effort to conceal the costs a startup has to make: the investment in an appropriate vehicle, in a location they not only have to fix up themselves but are unlikely to be able to afford for long, and the gradual incorporation of more staff. These two also end up feeling the strain and fatigue of an ever growing business, especially secretary Janine, who represents both the best and worst stereotypes associated with personal assistants.
William Atherton’s villainous Walter Peck brings another set of elements to the table that starters might recognize: the question of regulations, and since he represents the Environmental Protection Agency, the aspect of sustainability, and with it, the company’s social responsibility. Are we meant to hate him because he fails to understand what this unique company is doing, or because he requires them to comply with the law? The movie suggests the company knows best because Peck irresponsibly causes disaster ordering for the shutdown of their custom state-of-the-art containment device. Is this a question of a defence of voluntary standards since sometimes, as some chambers of commerce might suggest, businesses are thinking ahead of governments? Flipping the coin, through hindsight bias, there seems to be a hidden subtext of dread at governmental interference free marketers might recognize. Double spoiler alert: the sequel takes it one step further when despite saving the city we are told they were sued by every level of local authority. But does not Peck have a point in making it clear that no business acts in isolation, and that it has to answer to the community?
A final note, fast forwarding from 1984 to 2016. Leaving aside the prospect of a lack of greater ethnic diversity or of another black character without a degree, the mere prospect of female entrepreneurship is partially what appeals to us in the new movie