From Screenwriter to Entrepreneur

 entrepreneur Learn how skills you acquired in a different and unrelated profession could help be a better entrepreneur.


If You Don’t Know How, Do Your Reading!

I have this memory from when I was a kid—and I think it’s always funny what you remember from when you’re a kid because you have these little bits of dislocated memories and you’re not sure why you’ve held on to that—but I have this memory from when I was a kid of my aunt talking about her husband, my uncle, who was doing something that he didn’t know how to do. She said, “If he comes to something he doesn’t know how to do it, he reads a book about it and then he does it. That’s the McLaughlin way.” And I remember as a little kid, my ears sort of perked up and I held onto that and I had this great sense of pride that that was my family’s way.

So when I started to write screenplays, which was in the early 1990s, there was no internet and so there was no readily available stuff. I went to the Boston Public Library—and I could walk to the shelf today—there were 13 books on how to write a screenplay, and I took them all out. After reading them, I wrote a script and sold the script, and I hadn’t graduated from college yet. I directed a film in 2006 called On Broadway. It starred Joey McIntyre and Eliza Dushku. We really made exactly the movie we wanted to make. We were all super proud of it. But then we never really found a home for it in the market. C’est la vie.

Everyone Knows More Than You

I had this moment on the set where I looked around and I realized that everybody on this set knows more than me about the thing that they do. So that woman doing the wardrobe knows more than me about wardrobe, and the cinematographer certainly knows more than me about lenses and lights, and the actor knows more than me about the toolkit of performance, and so on. And yet I’m the arbiter of every decision that gets made. There are a couple of thoughts that come with that: 1. That’s an incredible privilege, and 2. That’s an incredible responsibility. What do I do with it, and how do I take that opportunity to make the best film I can make?

I think the same thing happens in a business context when you hire people, hopefully, who know more than you about their respective jobs. They are strong and confident, but at the same time not egotistical. They are on the journey with you to grow and to drive the performance of the company, but at the same time they know that they’re not going to get the most learning on their own. They know they’re going to get it in an act of back and forth.

All Artists Are Entrepreneurs

When I left the film business, I moved back east and I came to Boston. I read a book by an economist named Richard Florida called The Rise of the Creative Class, and he postulated this idea that all artists are entrepreneurs. As I was reading it I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is me.” I had never thought of myself as an entrepreneur before. But in reading the book, I realized I had written business plans, I had raised a substantial amount of money, I had built teams, I had negotiated all these complex rights agreements, and holy cow: I was an entrepreneur! And that self-image, that lens of looking at my own experience, completely changed what I did next.

Transferable Skills

I think that was a powerful realization. It was the beginning for me of realizing how transferable those skills and those gifts were to leading startups. In my current job at WeWorks, I’m excited to be part of amazing culture of people who are incredibly capable, talented, passionate and driven but also have humility and an eagerness to learn and support each other. The message that I send to my team is, “You’re here because you’re the right person to be here. And this business only takes on the velocity that we know it can if you lead and make decisions on your own at your own level.” That trust is very much mutual. That’s a really special combination and I’ve seen that before in film and theater. And now I’m seeing it again in the business world.

About Dave McLaughlin

Dave McLaughlin serves as WeWork’s General Manager for the Eastern US ; Canada, where he is responsible for the company’s performance in several cities including Boston, Chicago and Montreal. Prior to joining WeWork, Davewas CEO & Co-Founder of Vsnap, which built video messaging tools for sales teams. Previously,Dave was Co-Founder and VP Business Development at Fig Card, a mobile payments startup (acquired by PayPal). Dave is also an award-winning filmmaker. He is a graduate of Boston College and lives in the Boston area.