The Real Wolf of Wall Street on Ducks, Eagles, and the All-Important ‘Why’ Behind Every Startup

Jordan Belfort, the real-life Wolf of Wall Street, has a system, and he has a belief. This is what he brought with him on stage, and what he wants to bring to everybody. He bounded onto the stage in Montreal with a certain energy, and within a few minutes, the first expletives hung on the air.

His Straight Line system has been touted around the world as something that can help improve sales for everybody. I came in with an open mind on how his insights might help startups grow.

The insights that he brought centered around a lot of ways to organize oneself. One of the points he emphasized was how he could evenly split people into two categories: action people and excuses people, or as he put it, eagles, and ducks. This resonated strongly with me when it came to how startup people should act: they should be action people at the core to get to where they need to be.

When it came to what was needed to get there, Jordan made a clear line between the money he is famed for coveting, and greater motivations beyond it. He stresses that it is important to have a why behind every venture, and that money was not an end of itself but a means to an end. His own personal story helped illustrate this point. While he was in federal prison for 22 months, Jordan wrote the “Wolf of Wall Street” in his cell. He motivated himself to write by thinking of his children.

Motivation can come from a lot of places, but it must exist to build something great. Jordan separates out the Inner World, one’s emotional state, and stresses that it is crucial to align one’s internal state to one of deliberate conviction and belief for success in the Outer World. External success became a manifestation of how one is driven internally, rather than what actions can be pantomimed for the outside world.

How can that success be structured? Through the straight line. Jordan divides the sales process into three distinct steps: the opening, the presentation, and the close. Crucially, he mentions that closing is by far the most important step, and that if you don’t close, you might as well not bother, so everything is directed towards that close. His approach reflects this in the name: as a salesperson you shouldn’t stray from that end goal. You should proceed through all three stages with that goal in mind, and not sway from it throughout, proceeding in a straight line to the close.

The opening is used to assert that the salesperson believes in their product and is an authoritative figure on it. This can be done in moments, as long as the salesperson radiates the sharp confidence their true inner state conveys.

The second step, the presentation, involves using different tones to direct a customer to the close. Jordan’s famed phone calling tactics come into play here. The presentation takes longer than the opening, and critically, it isn’t as much about showing off the product, but about gathering intelligence about what really makes the consumer tick. Once that’s done you can establish a client’s pain point, as well as their activation point: you can tell what gets a customer interested, and what gets a customer to buy.

Once that’s established, you can start angling them toward the close at this point through changing your tone from one borne of curiosity to one laden with confidence. Once you’ve established a relationship about the item you’re selling, and once you know they love you and the product, you then flip the switch by bringing their pain point up, annoying the client with it, then working with them on how to solve it with your solution. You close the deal by confidently tell them to sign the dotted line, with a relationship and rapport that is focused on the product as much as possible. Any conversation that strays away from the straight line between opening and closing is deemed waste.

The Wolf of Wall Street built himself material riches with these tactics, though his targets may have been dubious. Startups can use them to focus on the basics of sales, and to structure a sales process that is simple, organized, and powerful to build something great.

The Straight Line is something that can be so powerful that it can be manipulative. Jordan stresses that he has used it unethically, and even though he has recanted from doing so, its simple power still lingers to be used for good or for bad.

In the end, the straight line is about returning to sales basics. It isn’t anything that reinvents the wheel, but it defines, and clarifies it.

There are those who will believe that it is the product that matters above all else, and there is a lot of merit to this, but Jordan wants you to know that there is a way to refine and organize how you present that product to get more sales. It’s a powerful message for startups who need sales to grow into great companies that will build the future.