Business School at Pier 39 San Francisco

What makes money? Is it hard work? Is it the type of work? Or is it how you work? (Hint: it’s how you work) Can you do it too? (Hint: yes) Learn how with three stories of street performers.

We begin with what not to do.

Hard work earns the least money. The street performer I saw make the least money did the hardest thing: he custom built a stage with 7 musical instruments so that he could play all 7 instruments at the same time. Why does this fail to make money? Let’s examine the performance in detail.

In the beginning, he is on a stage on a sidewalk, and no-one is in the audience. As tourists walk by, he runs up to them and personally tries to recruit them to stop walking and stand, wait, watch his show.
Most people reject him. This reaction makes sense because they don’t know who he is, and they don’t know why they should care, and they don’t know how much time they will lose if they stay.
Monkey see, monkey do. If you were walking down a sidewalk and you saw a man approaching people walking by him, and the people trying to ignore and get away from him, you would want to do the same when you get to him too. He is teaching you to ignore him through his failures.
We now reach our first lesson: market in a way that hides your failures. If you need 99 rejections to get one success, don’t let everyone know.

After a few minutes, he gets someone to stay. At this point he tells them to back up away from his platform. He then uses a gallon water bottle to pour a line onto the sidewalk that is 30 ft away from his platform, and he asks that the people who stopped to stand that far away because “more people will come and there won’t be enough space.”
He has an audience of 1 or 2 people, yet he’s telling them to back up 30 ft away from him. This is alienating, isolating, arrogant behavior in light of the fact that he is unproven at this point.

He then gets onto the stage, has some conversation and banter with the audience that is there. The conversation is dull: focused on ‘what are you doing, why are you here, and other facts.’ He then starts putting on the equipment and as he does, he starts telling a story. OK, story is better than facts. But the story has no emotion, no tension, no build up, no mystery. It’s just facts. It’s a history lesson.

Finally, he begins to play. He plays 2 songs that last a total of 3 minutes. Then he’s done. Total time for his performance
6 minutes to get the first audience member
5 minutes to converse and build a crowd
4 minutes to put on the equipment
3 minutes of performance
2 minutes to thank the crowd and ask for money
5 minutes for him to take a break

Here are all the problems with this
It’s a 25 minute show with only 3 minutes of performance.
At the end of the performance, everyone he has entertained will leave, so he retains no social proof. No-one from the last show stays to tell the newcomers how great he is.
He does 2 shows an hour. Earns roughly $15 an hour. And is only collecting money for 4 minutes out of the hour.

Don’t be like him.

Let’s see what kind of street performer makes more money!

Meeting people’s expectations provides a steady income. Literally the next street performer down the sidewalk from the instruments guy is a street magician.

Here are all the things he is doing right:
When I approach, I see a crowd of 50 or more people around. Social proof: if 50 people are willing to stop and watch, it must be good. I’m willing to stop and watch now too.
To find out what people are looking at, I have to invest time to get past the crowd and find a good angle to see the show. Because I’m investing up front, I’m more willing to stay because I want to be right about spending time to see the show.
It’s entertaining from the first second I lay eyes on him, and it stays entertaining the whole time. He never pauses the performance to ask for money. You see the box in front of him, you know what a street performer is, you go up and give money when you want to. He makes at least $60 an hour. His tricks are simple: ball and cup, rings, cards, scarf. Nothing you haven’t seen before. Nothing you couldn’t go out and buy the beginners guide to magic for and learn to do yourself.
He sets clear expectations, he meets your expectations, and he gives you complete freedom throughout. For his socially acceptable magician show that meets expectations, he earns a steady income.

Building suspense, managing the customer’s emotions, and delivering a memorable experience pays the most. This street performer made around $1000 per hour. This street performer talked for 20 minutes, and performed for 10 seconds. This performer asked for money 18 of those 20 minutes. This performer made me feel the best out of all 3 performers I watched. This performer made me feel good. This performer made me feel like I was involved in the performance, and that I was part of something special.
This performer made me feel good giving money. This performer never made giving money the focus of my attention for even a moment. I felt giving money was neither the reason for the performer to be there, nor the reason for me to be there, despite reality being the contrary.
The highest income builds suspense and engages you every moment and keeps your attention and interest while at the same time hustling you to get the most out of you as possible. How? How the heck did this performer work 10 seconds, and then entertain me as I gave money for 18 minutes and then made me feel good about giving money?

The Act: 3-5 guys, yelling, making noise, waving their arms and using expressive loud body language to attract attention and raise the energy level, showing excitement, passion, strength. They yell about how wonderful the performance is going to be, and about how lucky we are to be with them at this moment. They talk up everything they do, and they say things like “We want to take it to the next level, to make it even more awesome, even better, but we can only do that if somebody gives us another $100!” We are motivated and inspired and empowered to give money to create a better experience. The person who gives the money isn’t giving the money for their own selfish benefit, nor are they giving the money for the singular benefit of the performers: the person who gives the money gains approval from every single person in the audience for unlocking the ‘next level of entertainment’ for everybody else. The person who gives money is buying approval, appreciation, recognition, importance, value, entertainment, being a part of something, feeling like we’re all in this together, feeling special, being special.
Emotions and feelings that you can’t fake and you can’t get anywhere else with money alone. Where can you go to buy recognition? Where can you buy appreciation? Where can you buy importance? Where can you buy togetherness? And where can you buy these things not just from one person, but from an entire crowd of people?

The final act was extremely short, and extremely uninteresting: one guy jumps over a few people lying on the ground. There weren’t even that many people, and even though you knew they would probably succeed, you also knew there was a chance they might make a mistake, so the suspense and fear and risk of human life made the performance entertaining. As I left, even though I felt like they earned way too much money for 10 seconds of performing, I still felt good because the real performance was the 20 minutes leading up to the performance. I still felt good because the performance wasn’t the focus or the highlight: the audience was the focus, and I was part of the audience, and for 20 minutes I felt important.

Following this line of reasoning: The first performer established themselves as the most important person in the room, and made the least money. The second performer established themselves as important, but down to earth, and so made a reasonable amount of money. The last performer established themselves as the mediator for us the audience to realize that we were the most important people in the room, and for giving us a sense of achievement, self worth, and importance, we paid them everything we had.