Lessons for Oprah (and Other Entrepreneurs)

By Kent Bernhard Jr., News Editor of Portfolio.com

After a rocky start for her cable network, Oprah Winfrey is stepping in as CEO of OWN. Here are five lessons for entrepreneurs from Oprah’s experience.

Everyone knew it was a gamble when Oprah Winfrey dropped her hugely successful daytime television show to launch a cable network of her own.

So far, the gamble hasn’t paid off, with ratings slow to grow. But now Oprah is taking the reins herself, stepping into the corner office as CEO of OWN.

Whether the move will mean success for the network is an open question. But here are five lessons for young entrepreneurs from Oprah’s experience:

  1. Just because you’re successful in one business doesn’t mean you’ll be able to translate that success elsewhere. Few would doubt Oprah’s business acumen or her ability to tap into the tastes of a significant audience. But her skills as an on-air personality were the secret to the success of Oprah’s long-running show. Those skills don’t necessarily transfer to running a network.
  2. Hire the right people. The rocky start to OWN led to the dismissal of its former CEO, Christina Norman, in May. The Wall Street Journal reports that numerous other programming executives have left the network as well. One of the key rules for startups is that your team ultimately determines your success. Without the right people in place from the beginning, Oprah now faces the difficult task of retooling a startup that has the reputation of floundering.
  3. Be willing to learn, even when you already know a lot. Don’t bet against Oprah just because she’s making changes at the network. She’s a billionaire for a reason. Her curiosity is legendary, and she’s been spending a lot of time since the launch networking with folks on the business end of the media landscape—including days spent last week at Allen & Company’s annual media-mogul event in Idaho. She could well learn the lessons necessary to build the network into a success.
  4. Go with your instincts. Oprah has wanted from the beginning to integrate OWN—a joint venture with Discovery Communications—into the operations of her Harpo Studios television production company. Given her record of success with Harpo, she’s probably right, and now has the chance to prove it.
  5. If you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself. Founders often aren’t the best people to run their startups. But if it’s your vision, and you have the business experience necessary to see to the bottom line, sometimes it’s best to step in and run the show. Just ask Oprah.

This article was recently publishing on Porfoltio.com


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