Stacy Spikes believes that successful entrepreneurs don’t understand the word “no.”
“I think the people in this room have a part of their brain where they don’t quite hear the word ‘no’ properly,” said Spikes, speaking to a room packed with people eager to hear how he had cofounded the movie subscription service MoviePass. “You have to have that. There are some people in the world that hear the word ‘no’ and they go, ‘OK.’ And that’s it for them.”
Spikes believes that every time an investor says “no” to a pitch, they’re only refining what it will take to get a “yes.”
“Eventually, what they’ve done is that they’ve sharpened your pitch so incredibly that there’s nothing being thrown at you that will stump you,” says Spikes, a longtime member at New York City’s WeWork 175 Varick St. He recently spoke at a WeWork Labs event that drew more than 70 guests to WeWork Dumbo Heights.
Spikes has heard “no” plenty of times. When he was fired from a film production company in 1997, he rented a small cubicle at the Tribeca Film Center. There he came up with the idea for Urbanworld, which in the past two decades has become the world’s largest film festival for minority filmmakers, actors, writers, and directors. The five-day event takes place in late September in New York City.
In 2011, Spikes and business partner Hamet Watt founded MoviePass, which allows subscribers to see a movie a day for a monthly fee of $9.95. Spikes says they first hit upon the idea for MoviePass in 2005, and despite being told “no” for six years, he and Watt refused to throw in the towel.
Spikes says their inspiration came from art-house theaters in New York City that let customers see an unlimited number of movies for a flat fee. They racked up roughly 23,000 subscribers under their original business model, which charged an average of $35 a month. This helped them raise almost $14 million from early investors like AOL Ventures and William Morris Entertainment.
Then MoviePass caught the eye of Helios & Matheson Analytics, a data analytics company that bought the business in 2017. Spikes stayed on to chair the board of directors until early this year, leaving before the stock took a hit in the media and saw its stock price plummet.
Spikes is currently working on a new venture, though the 50-year-old entrepreneur has remained tight-lipped about what it will be.
Have the perfect data
Spikes describes MoviePass as a data-driven company that collects information on individual subscribers, like what movies they are watching and where they are located. He believes that the most important thing for a company’s success is having accurate data and has made a point to remember this every step of the way.
“The truth is, if your data is off, you’re just believing your own hype and you’re lying to yourself,” Spikes says. He adds that he’ll often share his data with people outside the industry, just to make sure that the numbers are persuasive
His advice to entrepreneurs starting their own company echoes this, urging people to make sure their numbers are accurate and run their presentations by several people before going too far.
“Those things are critical because if you’re not all buttoned up, you’ll pay a price for that,” he says. “And sometimes you can’t walk back in those doors several times.”
Spikes says that when people think of successful entrepreneurs, they imagine someone who is white and male. In the startup world, only 1 percent of venture capital funding goes to black entrepreneurs, and 2 percent goes to females. His advice on how to deal with this? Ignore it.
“I can’t go in the mirror before I walk into that conference room going, ‘OK, you’re black, but you can do it!’” he says. “I have to walk in going, ‘I got a great idea that you should fund.’”
He urges entrepreneurs to continually “ram the gates.”
“You might be that person who gets through the gates,” he says, “and then people are going to look at you and say ‘Well, if Stacy got through, maybe I can get through.’”
Use the right resources
Spikes looks to resources like DocSend, a content tracking solution, to help him get a read on people he’s trying to pitch. By allowing him to see how long investors spend on each slide in his initial pitch deck, DocSend gives Spikes some foreshadowing into what potential clients are thinking.
“It’s a great tool to help me in the [fundraising] process because you don’t want people who are going to waste your time,” he says.
He also advises entrepreneurs to figure out a schedule that promotes productivity. Spikes keeps himself moving forward by breaking up his week. He does certain things on certain days—Mondays are dedicated to tasks and projects, while Thursdays are for finance.
“This makes it easier because there are certain things that you don’t want to do,” Spikes says, “so you’re not stuck doing those things for your whole week.”
Spikes considers himself a voracious reader of biographies, a genre he sees as a handbook of sorts. He likens reading a biography to “an executive coming and sitting with you, telling you exactly how to do things.”
At the end of the day, Spikes stresses that an entrepreneur’s best resource is themself.
“Be smart,” he says. “Find your way into the door and into the conversation. Play the part like you’re there to win. I have a blazer in the drawer because you gotta be ready to roll. You have to think on your feet and use whatever you got to get through the wall.”