Friday, June 8, 2012

What Happened to Oprah's Network? An Entrepreneur Perspective

oprah network entrepreneur
For those who do not keep up with the Oprah universe, her network is in trouble having lost more than a third of its viewership. There is an important lesson here for entrepreneurs, which I noticed immediately as I studied the story. The cause of OWN's troubles is actually a common mistake of new entrepreneurs; talented founders withdrawing from core functions too early in the entrepreneurial process.

Work to Get Out of Your Business

How do we know when an entrepreneur reaches the pinnacle of success? By asking a simple question: can the business survive without them? Take for example one of my mentors.  He runs a successful mortgage company but has never written a mortgage in his life. Spend a little time in his office and it becomes clear that the company he built no longer needs him. The entrepreneur reaches the pinnacle when the business outgrows him or her to such a degree that their personal involvement is no longer required. If they involve themselves beyond this point, they do so out of preference, not necessity.

A common mistake made by new entrepreneurs is misjudging the specific stages of entrepreneurship, and withdrawing from their businesses too quickly. Withdrawing prematurely causes the business to suffer and can even result in total collapse. This is especially true for founders who possess specific skills or talents that the business relies on. Withdrawal of the founders must occur gradually over time as key players are added to perform core functions. Because the original founders brought something which made the business compelling and successful, those who replace them must be as good or better than the founders themselves.

This, I believe, is Oprah's dilemma. What drew people to Oprah's network was not O Magazine or Oprah.com. It was the Oprah Winfrey show. In other words, it was Oprah Winfrey and her magnetic personality. How did Oprah respond to her network's woes? By creating an Oprah Winfrey show for her network, which was exactly the right thing to do.

Oprah has to replicate the success of the original Oprah Winfrey Show by spreading that show's compelling elements throughout the entire network. This means the network's programs and talk show hosts must be as good or better than Oprah herself. The answer is not to find the next Oprah. The answer is to find the first somebody else or a group of them.

Some Successful Examples

Three examples come to mind of entrepreneurs who did this correctly. First, there is Donald Trump who, like Oprah, is a brand in and of himself. Trump built an empire, which no longer requires his day to day input. If Trump drops out of the spotlight tomorrow, the Trump organization would continue on just fine without him.

Next up is Jenny Craig. Though the popular weight management program still bears her name, it was sold to Nestle in 2006 and Craig is no longer part the company.

Then there is Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, a left leaning political blog. Huffington sold the blog to AOL in 2011 for a reported 315 million dollars. Ariana Huffington remains as the editor-in-chief but few would argue that the blog could not continue without her involvement.

Oprah is one sharp cookie, and she has faced down greater challenges in her life. So, there is no doubt in my mind she will figure this out and eventually have one of the most popular channel's on cable. For now, however, she has to slog her way through the stage of entrepreneurship I refer to in my book as The Gauntlet. This is the place where most ventures die. I plan on staying tune to see the outcome but I am hopeful that Oprah will figure this one out too.

So what is your advice for Oprah? Let me know in the comments. Who knows, she may actually see your comments!

Godspeed and I look forward to seeing you in The Players Lounge.

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