The new Barbie movie may be unapologetically pink and outlandish. But it’s also full of insightful social commentary and nuanced reflection on the iconic brand.
In the spirit of summer and in honor of our shared affinity for pink, we’ve taken a light-hearted look at what Barbie can teach us about the world of investing today. Although the film doesn’t explicitly make mention of venture funding or private equity per say, we believe there are some interesting parallels. Enjoy! (Warning: spoilers ahead)
Both Have Evolved to Changing Culture and Market Trends
In its early years, Barbie dealt with heated criticism for promoting unrealistic beauty standards. This prompted the brand to evolve the way it depicted women.
Since the release of the first Barbie first doll in 1959, Barbie has expanded into 22 ethnicities, 35 skin tones, 97 hairstyles, and 9 body types (and counting!). As women took on larger roles in various industries, Barbie has also been shown in over 250 inspirational careers including astronaut, pilot, firefighter, journalist, and entrepreneur.
Similarly, the investment industry has faced scrutiny for its lack of equal representation. We’ve (slowly) begun to recognize the importance of diversity in driving creativity and innovation. Efforts to fund startups led by women, people of color, and individuals from various backgrounds have gained traction. In 2020, 54 percent of junior-level roles at U.S. private equity firms were held by women, compared with just 45 percent the year prior. However, there’s still work to be done to level the playing field when it comes to senior positions.
PE firms have also diversified by looking at growth-stage investments, instead of waiting to acquire companies down the line once they’ve already seen success. At Stage, for example, we focus on early-stage companies who show exceptional promise but are unable to meet the ambitious milestones set during their Series A. This is an area that few PE firms have focused on in the past.
Just as Barbie helped shine the light on underrepresented groups, the successes we’ve seen so far suggest there are real advantages to recognizing value in areas that others might have overlooked.
Both Have Adapted to Technological Change
Barbie has had to compete for children’s attention in an increasingly digital and interactive world. To cope with these changes and remain relevant, the Barbie brand has adapted its business model over the years by expanding into digital platforms, creating various online games and interactive websites.
It has also collaborated with pop culture by releasing dolls inspired by famous characters and celebrities. The very existence of a live-action Barbie movie proves the brand has embraced the power of new media.
Similarly, investment firms have had to cope with increased competition and shifting client expectations as a result of innovation. Like Barbie, they’ve responded by embracing digital platforms, both as a necessity and a valuable tool. Some examples of this include online deal sourcing, digital reporting, virtual due diligence, launching mobile applications, and using crowdfunding platforms, to name a few.
Both Have Realized the Need to Prioritize ESG
Customers today are far more conscious of their environmental footprint. The Barbie brand has taken steps to reduce its environmental impact by shifting to sustainable packaging materials, incorporating recycled plastics, and evolving its manufacturing process to reduce waste.
In recent years, VC and private equity firms, too, are placing a greater emphasis on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors when making key decisions. They recognize that companies with strong ESG performance tend to be more resilient and better positioned for long-term success. Many firms have created specialized ESG funds for that very purpose.
How We Can Improve
Despite these advancements, we’re far from perfect. Just as the Barbie movie highlighted the need for further change—i.e. the epic speech by Gloria (America Ferrara) about the contradictory expectations society places on women—we believe there’s room for investors to grow.
We’ve broken down 3 areas where Barbie has something to teach us about investment today.
1. Surround yourself with the right people.
The Barbie movie begins with Barbie (Margot Robbie) waking up in her Barbie dream house, surrounded by other perfect Barbies, none of which have ever thought to question their reality. Barbie only realizes the need for change once her owner Gloria undergoes a major life crisis in the real world, causing Barbie to experience things like sadness for the first time and (hilariously) flat feet instead of Barbie’s typical arches.
Once she meets “Weird Barbie” (Kate McKinnon), her eyes are opened to the truth that she lives a very sheltered life. She discovers that she’s missing out on a whole world of experiences and needs to embrace the changes within herself and society as a whole. This process of self-discovery continues when Barbie travels to meet Gloria and learns to empathize with the struggles of modern-day women.
Like Barbie, investors should seek out founders and entrepreneurs who are open-minded, honest, and willing to evolve their strategies. This may mean prioritizing the qualities of “Weird Barbie” over those typically valued by traditional startup culture. For example, a bloated sense of self-confidence may have landed certain founders sweet investment deals in the past, but it’s becoming clear that this isn’t a desirable quality for long-term success.
Founders that survive in the long run will be flexible enough to embrace change, resilient enough to cope with setbacks, and ethical enough not to put the company or employees at risk.
Equally important are qualities like good judgment and public-mindedness. The people Barbie meets in the real world teach her that it’s okay to experience self-doubt, and that feelings of compassion don’t make you weak—they make you strong.
This is something that’s near and dear to our hearts at Stage. Throughout our own individual careers, members of the Stage team have personally gone up against the steep challenges of securing funding and meeting VC milestones. We’re convinced that getting the capital and management support you need doesn’t have to be a painful or antagonistic process.
Instead of a zero-sum transaction, investors and founders should learn to view the investment process as collaborative. We should work together for our mutual benefit with a spirit of compassion.
2. Be true to who you are and set realistic expectations.
In the Barbie movie, when Barbie travels from Barbieland to the real world, she discovers that being a woman is far more complicated than she originally thought. She learns that real empowerment means giving individuals room to grow and become their truest selves. At the end of the film, Barbie comes to terms with the importance of being honest with herself about what she really wants.
Right now, many founders and startups are struggling to meet the milestones set by their Series A funding. This doesn’t mean they still can’t become amazing businesses. Just because a startup isn’t a unicorn doesn’t mean it can’t still produce valuable products that make people’s lives better and offer returns to the stakeholders.
At Stage, we realize that due to the current changes in the venture landscape, a growing number of early-stage companies will not successfully secure future rounds of capital. That’s why we’re committed to finding companies that are fundamentally good businesses and giving them a second chance for a meaningful exit. We do this by setting realistic expectations and helping companies reconnect with their true vision.
Let’s take a cue from Barbie and move the industry toward a more compassionate, grounded place where all companies have the chance to see their unique vision through.
3. Balance the push for novelty with the need for a timeless vision.
We live in a time of constant novelty. Everyone’s looking for what’s new and what’s next. As a result, investors are often too quick to discount the value of what’s worked in the past.
Barbie is a testament to the power of investing in a strong brand over time. Barbie’s core identity has remained consistent since 1959, even as the brand evolved. Despite being over a half a century old, Barbie still remains the best-selling doll in history and maintains 99% brand recognition worldwide. It has also consistently built on and reinforced its original narrative—that women and young girls can accomplish whatever they set their minds to.
In other words, the market rewards brands who stick it out. Just as Barbie endured a variety of social and economic pressures over the past six decades, companies should learn to take each challenge in stride. Like Barbie, having a solid foundation will enable them to adapt while maintaining their unique value propositions.
At Stage, we seek out companies with a strong vision who are willing to change when presented with the evidence. Not every year will be easy, and sometimes moving forward will mean taking a step back. But with a little persistence, there’s no limit to what they can accomplish. Rome wasn’t built in a day—neither was Barbie, and neither will the next great venture.
The Barbie movie is more than just a dazzling ode to an iconic brand—it offers important lessons for investors and startups alike. Just as Barbie has evolved to adapt to changing cultural and market trends, investors are recognizing the value of supporting founders and ideas that traditional venture firms might have overlooked. By embracing qualities like honesty and compassion, the industry can start supporting a wider variety of businesses, as well as alternative paths to funding and success.
The lessons from the Barbie movie encourage investors to surround themselves with adaptable founders, stay true to their values, and balance novelty with a timeless vision. These principles can lead to meaningful connections and long-term success in the dynamic world of investing. Just as Barbie continues to evolve and inspire, investors can learn and grow by taking cues from her story.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are for informational purposes only and do not constitute financial or investment advice. It is recommended to consult with a qualified financial advisor before making any investment decisions.