McNay on Money

Larry Flynt: Business Vision from a Smut Peddler

If you want to start a business, you can pick up ideas in unusual places. One of my first exposures to the concept of business vision came from a childhood encounter with Hustler Magazine publisher, Larry Flynt.

 "It's a hustler's ambition

Close your eyes, listen

See my vision"

-50 Cent

 

If you want to start a business, you can pick up ideas in unusual places.

 

One of my first exposures to the concept of business vision came from a childhood encounter with Hustler Magazine publisher, Larry Flynt.

 

One Sunday in the early 1970's, my father received a call to bail Flynt and a friend out of jail in Cincinnati. Flynt had previously lived in Northern Kentucky, where he befriended my dad. My sister and I were at home when the call came, so we rode with Dad to the jail to pick up Flynt.

 

Dad only had enough cash in those pre-ATM days to bail out one person, so we bailed out Flynt and took him to lunch while we waited for someone to drive from Columbus with money to bail out the friend.

 

Flynt laid out his business idea for the three of us.

 

"I'm going to start a blue-collar version of Playboy, called Hustler," said Flynt. "Playboy is too highbrow. I'm going to have a Hustler magazine and Hustler clubs, just like the Playboy clubs."

 

Flynt did exactly what he said he was going to do.

 

It is impossible to remember the exact date and time of that lunch, but the event itself will always be impressed in my memory.

 

As years went by and Flynt became a nationally-known figure, I began to reflect on the business lessons I received at that lunch. The guidelines could be useful for anyone starting a business:

 

1. Develop a vision and understand where that vision fits in the marketplace.

 

Flynt knew exactly where he wanted to take his business and how his vision fit into the marketplace. He understood the competition and where his business model fit in.

 

2. Be flexible and able to change direction.

 

Flynt opened some Hustler clubs, but like Playboyclubs, they were a fad that faded away. He got out of the clubs and focused on the more profitable magazine. He followed the Playboy business model, but was quick to react when part of it was not working for him.

 

3. Understand yourself and what you bring to the business.

 

Most people have moral and ethical reasons to not sell pornography. Flynt has no such reservations. He would do anything to make money. He delights in attracting attention to himself, and his brash personality draws publicity for the type of businesses he promotes.

 

Most people want to be liked. Flynt does not care about social acceptance. In fact, he seems to like it when people are mad at him. He understood himself at an early age and has used that trait to his business advantage.

 

4.) Challenge conventional wisdom.

 

At the time that Flynt began his business, men's magazines like Playboy and Penthouse were aimed at an upscale audience. Flynt challenged that norm.

 

He has always understood the publicity value of going against the grain. Many entertainers use shock tactics to attract attention. Flynt was a pioneer in that area.

 

There is a good reason that Flynt is always stirring up trouble in Cincinnati. He knows that the city will fight with him and that that conflict will create more publicity for his ventures worldwide. No one in larger cities like New York or San Francisco would care if Flynt opened a smut bookstore, so he does not go there. He finds cities where he knows he can stir up trouble and get good press coverage for it.

 

I haven't seen Flynt since the lunch many years ago, and I don't read his magazine. Although I agree that he has the First Amendment right to speak his mind, I don't always agree with what he is saying.

 

I must admit, though, that it was fascinating to hear him lay out his vision and then watch him realize it.

 

He is internationally famous and very wealthy. In terms of reaching the goals that he has set for himself, he has been successful.

 

When it comes to starting or running a business, people need to learn lessons wherever they can.

 

Even if it comes from a self-described smut peddler.

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