Magic Taught Me How to Lead a Company

Remember how the first magic trick you saw as a child made you feel full of wonder and excitement? The magician knew just how to draw you in and get you to believe what you saw.

Selling a belief is at the core of magic, much as it is in business. I would know—I was a magician before I was a chief executive officer. As a teenager, I performed for children’s birthday parties. Many years later, after leaving a high-tech job, I found myself back to my roots, studying sleight-of-hand. My stage name was Eran the Great, and I spent two years performing before I had the idea for Perfecto Mobile, a service to help companies test and deliver mobile apps.

The tricks I performed in front of audiences provided lessons on being a leader and getting people to believe. I still practice and occasionally perform (that’s me in the photo), and I often use what I learned to navigate today’s challenging marketplace.

Whether they’re doing a card trick to impress a child or trying to capture the attention of an adult audience, magicians understand that different tricks resonate with different audiences.

Years of adapting my performance have helped me as CEO to shift my message, depending on whether I’m meeting a customer, a partner, a venture capitalist, or even an employee. I go into every meeting understanding what each needs: The customer wants to hear how we can solve their problem; the investor wants to understand the strategy and what that means for their return on investment; and so forth.

We all know that people don’t get sawed in half or swallow 15 sharp swords and walk away unharmed. A magician has to persuade the audience that the seemingly impossible is, in fact, possible. Similarly, leaders need to persuade others to believe in their strategies and products.

Successful leaders convince customers to buy a product before they know they need it. The best magician in business was Steve Jobs. No one realized they needed (or wanted) music in their pocket. Apple persuaded consumers they did and sold 600,000 iPods in their first year on the market.

An important element in magic is the mystery—not knowing how something is done but seeing it happen before your eyes. That’s why companies work so hard to protect their trade secrets. They want consumers and competitors to know they can do something better—not how they do it. A successful magician always tries to outdo themselves or other performers, while never disclosing how a trick is done. They continuously add new tricks to keep the act from getting stale.

Legerdemain taught me the value of a personal touch. Seeing a look of amazement in an audience member—or making eye contact with someone at that moment when the impossible occurs—is priceless.

A leader has to use that ability to connect with customers. No matter how great you think your product is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for problems. To tell you how to tweak your product so that it fits their specific needs, customers have to be comfortable with you on a personal level.

When the tiger appears in an empty cage, the magician disappears into thin air, and when David Copperfield flies above the audience, that’s the magic everyone reacts to. A startup is similar in the moments when a customer suddenly gives you business, or the investor sees potential in your idea. There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you realize that your audience just had that magical moment.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.