Kanye West, Startup Idol

Loren BurtonJanuary 21, 2014

As a developer and aspiring entrepreneur, I try to stay in tune with startup happenings. I scan hacker news, read a few blogs, and occasionally listen to interviews with successful founders. Sometimes they talk about their paths to greatness and achieving success.


But I can't relate to any of them like I can relate to Kanye West. Yes, Kanye, the guy who wrecked the VMAs and brought Taylor Swift to tears, the guy who knocked up equally-as-infamous Kim Kardashian, the guy the media loves to hate. Kanye is the last person that comes to mind when you think "successful startup guy".

Kanye recently did an interview with film director Steve McQueen, and I couldn't help but nod my head the whole damn time. He opened up about reducing barriers to creativity, sharing ideas, building products, taking risks, finding confidence. His thoughts on achieving success deeply resonated with me. Here's a snippet:

You put new ideas into the world, whether that first idea is extremely successful or an early adopter goes on to make it successful, or it's that third rendition that finally works.

With hit after hit after hit over the past decade, he could have just as easily said "I'm Kanye West, and everything I do is so amazing. I am a God." - and let's be honest, that's what most of us would expect from Kanye. But nope, out of nowhere he throws this curveball - he just gets it. His words are bleeding with authenticity. He understands the value of opening up, being vulnerable and sharing ideas, as scary as it seems. He understands what it means to fail, and what it takes to succeed. You can't just throw an idea up in to the air and wait for it to rain riches. Even if you're Kanye West - 21-time Grammy award-winning Kanye West. It doesn't work like that. It's a grind.

Success means having an idea, sharing that idea, building a product, sharing the product, fixing the product because it turns out v1 totally sucked, sharing the product again, getting knocked down, curling up in a ball and crying, teetering on the edge of failure, iterating again, and pushing forward until something finally works.

Kanye West just gets it.

Below are some of my favorite quotes from the interview. If I shared these quotes without any context, you probably wouldn't believe these were the words of Kanye West. If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend reading the whole interview. It's worth it.


STEVE MCQUEEN: It's hard to make beauty. People often try, and more often than not, everything starts to feel sort of cheap or kitsch. But you express yourself in a way that's beautiful. You can sing from the heart and have it connect and translate, which is a huge thing for an artist to be able to do. So my first question is: How do you do that? How do you communicate in that way? KANYE WEST: I just close my eyes and act like I'm a 3-year-old. [laughs] I try to get as close to a childlike level as possible because we were all artists back then. So you just close your eyes and think back to when you were as young as you can remember and had the least barriers to your creativity.
I'm giving all that I have in this life. I'm opening up my notebook and I'm saying everything in there out loud. A lot of people are very sacred with their ideas, and there is something to protecting yourself in that way, but there's also something to idea sharing, or being the person who makes the mistake in public so people can study that.
The risk for me would be in not taking one — that's the only thing that's really risky for me.
it's about the creative process even more than the final product. I think there's something kind of depressing about a product being final, because the only time a product is really final is when you're in a casket.
I want the power to create what is in my mind. That's my dream. I want to be able to have a thought or an idea and bring it into reality. I want to be able to walk into a gym and say, "I think this gym could be better if Axel Vervoordt [the Belgian interior designer] worked on it." I want to be able to say, "I think school could be better if a director did all of the programming, and there were screens the size of the walls, and instead of kids being asked to get off their iPhones, they were encouraged to use them so they can move forward faster as human beings instead of being held back from the future with dated curriculums." If I want to design a product, or if I think of a new way for us to view films, then I want to be able to do it.
And then the teachings and the confidence that was instilled by my grandfather into my mother, and from my mother into me — which will now, of course, be instilled by me into North — will create the best winter coat against doubters and dream-killers ever made.
There are some things that I understand, certain things that I don't understand, certain things that I like to get off my chest in interviews, certain things that I want to talk about. But when we talk about love, I don't have an answer. All I can say is that I'm happy I have it.
You put new ideas into the world, whether that first idea is extremely successful or an early adopter goes on to make it successful, or it's that third rendition that finally works.
I like to be the inventor — I'm the person who works on the concept, who invents new thoughts, who brings new ideas into the universe. I'm not the guy who works on selling the idea — I'm not Vanna White for the new Hyundai. I am the guy who works on the concept for the car. So success, for me, is in having the ability to get my ideas out there.
Well, influence isn't my definition of success — it's a by-product of my creativity. I just want to create more. I would be fine with making less money. I actually spend the majority of my money attempting to create more things. Not buying things or solidifying myself or trying to make my house bigger, or trying to show people how many Louis Vuitton bags I can get, or buying my way to a good seat at the table. My definition of success, again, is getting my ideas out there.
Too many people are scared. But it is my job to go up every night and talk about this kind of shit. It is actually my job. I'm like a broadcaster for futurism, for dreamers, for people who believe in themselves. We've been taught since day one to stop believing in our own dreams. We've had the confidence beaten out of us since day one, and then sold back to us through branding and diamond rings and songs and melodies — through these lines that we have to walk inside of so as to not break the uniform or look silly or be laughed at. So I hope that there are people out there laughing. Laugh loud, please. Laugh until your lungs give out because I will have the last laugh.