Jay-Z
Rapper and NETS investor Shawn 'Jay-Z' Carter speaks during the ceremonial groundbreaking for Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards on March 11, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

The New York Times recently published an article about the successful partnership between the Brooklyn Nets and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z. Although he only owns 1/15th of 1 percent of the Nets, Jay-Z has leveraged this small percentage of equity into an opportunity to increase his earnings through the indirect income that the Nets franchise can facilitate. With an entertainment career that has lasted over 16 years, Jay-Z has demonstrated incredible staying power and an intuitive acumen possessed only by the shrewdest of businessmen. Based on the brilliance of his career, here are five things Jay-Z can teach us about entrepreneurship.

Get started with your dreams even if you are the only one who believes in yourself

Jay-Z’s mainstream rap career started in 1996 with Reasonable Doubt, arguably his best album. Interestingly, all of the major record labels refused to give Jay-Z a deal, a decision that most probably regret. Instead of continuing to beg for validation like many other artists, Jay-Z started his own record label with Damon Dash and Kareem Biggs. Roc-A-Fella Records was born. While critically acclaimed, Reasonable Doubt only reached 23rd on the Billboard 200 list — far lower than it probably would have, if he had had a major label behind him. However, this start gave Jay-Z the momentum and ownership over his own brand that he needed to achieve future success.

Do one thing really well and use it as a foothold to expand into related areas

After his third album, Vol.2… Hard Knock Life, Jay-Z was widely regarded as the best rapper in the industry. He created a great product that resonated with his base of consumers who loved hip-hop music. Ultimately, Jay-Z understood what he was really attempting to become. He did not just want to be a rapper, but an icon who sold a brand image that consumers aspired to imitate. Therefore in 1999, Jay-Z decided to expand his growing empire into clothing through his Rocawear line. Now, all of the young fans who were purchasing his CDs could also purchase the outfits that matched the image Jay was portraying through his music.

Jay-Z’s strategy of gaining a foothold within a very specific niche and then expanding is used in many different industries. Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.” Initially, the firm did this through their search engine technology; it has since expanded into auxiliary services like email, blogs, and hundreds of other Google apps.

In entertainment, you see a similar strategy in how big movie studios monetize superhero flicks. A film franchise such as Batman brings major money at the box office, but licensing deals generate even more profits through selling clothing, video games, and toys to fully maximize the brand.

Jay-Z’s investment in Rocawear was realized in 2007 when he sold his rights to the brand for $204 million dollars — although he still owns a stake in the operating company that produces the men’s line. His stake in the 40/40 Club is also a successful extension of his brand.