Movie BusinessWiseGuys follow the Goodfellas: A Mobster’s Guide to Business

“As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a computer programmer.”

Anthony Sapountzis

The two things I’ve been most interested in my life are movies and computers/ technologies. In my Grade 6 Yearbook, I said I wanted to be a programmer, I was 10, and it was 1996. I don’t know how much I knew about programming, but that’s what I wanted to be, and that thought has served me well to date, where I’m still following that passion for technology.

This Movie Business series of articles allows me to start bringing one of my other interests, Movies, into this business. In this article, we are going to understand what Goodfellas, the 1990 gangster film directed by Martin Scorsese, can teach us about business and how we should operate.

There are so many great moments and scenes throughout Goodfellas, that when analysed we find it can provide a great way to look at life, business and app development. Some of these quotes all have a bit of swearing in them, Goodfellas is ranked within the top 10 movies for the most swearing in them.

The most memorable quote to me comes early on in the scene and establishes Tommy DeVito as a loose canon, he just switches gears in an instant. The tension starts with “What do you mean I’m funny?” This then leads into a phenomenal scene and becomes a grant prank on another wise guy, you can see the whole clip here. 

From this extraordinary scene, we can learn that it’s ok to have a laugh and joke around but take it too far, and it can get scary. You can’t be serious all the time.

Traction is the most important thing to any business, especially a startup. If you’ve got no market for your product, you’ve got no business. To get to that market, you need money, which is the second most important thing any business needs. You need to know how to bring money into your business, and more importantly, you need to know where to spend it.

As a startup, every dollar you spend is a calculated decision where you try to maximise every dollar’s value. You are aiming to turn $1 into $10 or $100; however, not every decision is the right one. You might turn it into $1.20 or $0.50 or zero and be completely wasted. Knowing where to invest your money is crucial and it’s the same thing we see within GoodFellas. The crew of the Lufthansa Heist, the largest heist in America at the time, had to know how to spend their cash. In one scene from the movie, we see Jimmy berate one of his crew for spending money and flashing around the purchase.

Jimmy Conway : [Johnny bought an expensive pink Cadillac coupe for his wife after the Lufthansa Heist] Johnny, are you nuts? We got a million fucking bulls out there. Everybody’s watching us, and you get a fuckin’ car!

Johnny Roastbeef : It’s under my mother’s name. It’s wedding gift.

Jimmy Conway : I don’t give a fuck whose name it’s on! Are you stupid or what? Did you hear what I said? Don’t buy anything, don’t get anything! nothing big. Didn’t you hear what I said? What’s the matter with you?

Jimmy Conway

In any business, there is an obvious need for a facade. The facade is shown to the public and customers. However, there needs to be substance behind your business, and it’s not all just for show. If you’re becoming a startup or a founder for the status or title it affords you, you’re in the wrong place. There is so much hard work, sweat and tears required to make any startup work that you shouldn’t even start if that’s what you’re after. Any startup founder worth their title will know they need to calculate the spend of every dollar and maximise its value every single time.

This scene starts one of the best long takes on movie history. Henry Hill and his date skip the line and walking through the Copacabana like he owns the place. Fun fact long take or tracking shot is 3 minutes long, and there were 12 takes before all the timing was right. It took an entire day to shoot that scene.

“I like going this way. It’s better than waiting in line.”

Henry Hill

We can learn from this scene and quote that you need to have confidence in yourself and your business. You must believe in your product and service and present that when talking to customers or investors. It’s critical to not only have the confidence that your product or service will deliver but that you will actually deliver and back confidence up.

If you’re starting out in business and lack confidence, this will appear in your mannerisms, how you present to customers, as well as any marketing material you try to create. You need conviction in your product and service. After all you’re starting your business with the belief that your product or service provides value and will help people.

At the beginning of the film, where we see Henry’s early life. We see henry working at a restaurant and someone who has been shot approach the restaurant bleeding everywhere. Henry uses Aprons to help stop the bleeding, eight Aprons to be precise. Then the owner of the restaurant says this line:

You Jerk, You Wasted Eight F****** Aprons On This Guy

Tuddy Cicero

This might seem like some comic relief and irony because seriously, who would complain about wasting Aprons when they see someone bleeding? However, it shows people’s mentality about the mob and not getting involved. People didn’t want to get involved in the mob and stayed away from that world, not investing any time there. Unless they wanted to be a Wise Guy just like Henry did.

This leads us to our next takeaway from the movie, don’t waste Aprons! If you don’t run a cafe, or restaurant, or are a chef, then we have to look beyond the words to see that we should be careful what we invest our efforts into. We need to pay particular attention to where we invest our time and money, let alone Aprons. in business, you will make plenty of decisions, some good, some bad and some neutral for your business. When you don’t make a good decision, you need to understand when to stop investing in that area and put your energy, efforts or money in a better one.

As a startup, your time is just as valuable as the money your making and you need to invest your time and efforts in areas that will show a return or value to your business.

Unless you run a Laundry, don’t go wasting Aprons.

Anything I wanted was a phone call away. Free cars. The keys to a dozen hideout flats all over the city. 

Henry Hill

In the context of the movie, this quote means that the Wise Guys had respect, or more likely fear, from people around them, and they were afforded many luxuries because of that. The gangsters thought it was respected, and it probably was within their world, but outside it would have been all fear.

Now the lesson we can find within this quote has nothing to do with fear or respect; however, it’s about “Knowing a guy”. “Knowing a guy” is effectively what this quote is about. They knew a guy for anything they wanted.

And while you may not be a gangster or a Wiseguy you still need to “Know a guy”, I’m one of those people that knows a few of them. Knowing people is very important, and relationships and networks are critical to business. In a Startup knowing the right person can advance you months or years along the path of entrepreneurship. You can leverage those networks and relationships to get work in through the door or to provide more value to customers by partnering with a complementary business.

Not everyone is your competition. Suppose you approach relationships with the idea of “I know a guy”. In that case, you will transform those relationships from “these businesses are cutting my lunch” to “how can we work together to serve bigger customers and provide more value”.

We all need to know a guy or two.

 “For a second, I thought I was dead. But, when I heard all the noise, I knew they were cops. Only cops talk that way. If they’d been wiseguys, I wouldn’t have heard a thing. I would’ve been dead.”

Henry Hill (Ray Liotta)

** Spoiler Alert **

It doesn’t end great for Henry. He ends up in witness protection living an everyday life after he ratted on the mob. I’m not sure how this exactly played out in real life, but in the movie, Henry is taking drugs and becomes very paranoid. He eventually gets caught due to his slopiness and turns on his Wise Guys. He wouldn’t have known if the mob had come for him. It would have been over before he knew it, it was a close call, but he didn’t lose his life, only his lifestyle.

There will be plenty of close calls in your business. The path to a successful business is like a roller coaster. There are plenty of ups and downs. There will be times when it will be hard, and you will struggle with sales, leads, closing deals, cash flow etc. however, you need to learn from those situations and change your business to adapt or improve so that when you’re faced with those scenarios again you already have a plan in place or you’ve prevented them from occurring.

If you don’t learn those lessons and move forward with your business, you’ve effectively been visited by the Wiseguys and might not see another situation like that again.

Goodfellas shows us the many ups and downs of the life of Henry Hill, and hopefully, now you can appreciate the movie in another light. There’s plenty to take away from the film and I’m sure you may have other memorable quotes which can be attributed to business and more lessons to learn. These are the key lessons we can take away from this article are:

  • “What do you mean I’m funny?” – be able to have a laugh and enjoy business, if you don’t enjoy why are you doing it?
  • “Everybody’s watching us” – Understand where to invest in your business and don’t do things for show with no substance.
  • “I Like going this way” – Have the confidence in your product or service approach your business and customers like you’re walking through the Copa Cabana like you own the place
  • “Don’t waste Aprons” – Know where to invest your efforts and don’t waste them
  • “Know a Guy” – Networks and relationships are key to business success
  • “Avoid an end from the WiseGuys” – Business will have many ups and downs so you need to learn from your mistakes.
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