How I Think

🐭 How Disney Built a Cult (and how you can too)

Published over 1 year ago • 3 min read

Hey friend,

I have a hot take.

The best businesses in the world all resemble one thing...

A cult.

"Woooo Chris are you saying these companies are a group of crazies worshipping the God of Money!?"


I'm talking about that intense loyalty among members. That drive to strive towards a big vision. That religious fervor in promoting their product .

Because in my mind, it's kinda simple.

Without creating a cult, a business is just a group of strangers doing the bare minimum to collect a paycheck.

The bare minimum never creates billions of dollars of value.

So in my mind, every great CEO is a cult builder.

And I believe they all follow a pattern.

Today, we'll dig into my newly invented 3 Pillars of a Building a Business Cult using a $200 billion company that you know quite well:

The Walt Disney Corporation.

The point of this piece is to create a framework to explain how the best businesses are built. And maybe how we can do it too...

1) The Training

“You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world … but it requires people to make the dream a reality.” - Walt Disney

The bigger the business, the harder it is to create a compelling culture.

So how do you get a bunch of random people on the same page?

You develop a training process filled with rituals.

At Disney, this orientation is called "Traditions".

It doesn't matter if you're the new CEO or the college kid manning the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

You start your job at Disney the same way.

During "Traditions", three things are beaten into your brain:

  • Disney History and legacy
  • The Disney Mission
  • Employee Expectations

Disney serenades you with the story of Walt and how he turned a crazy idea into a beloved brand.

They give you the rosy picture of how Disney made it here and why you should care about the legacy.

And of course...

You're hooked.

Next, they feed you the vision.

For Disney, it all boils down to one simple statement:

Create Happiness.

Happiness is the experience and the only product.

And you can't hate happiness can ya?!

Now, how could you, as a new Disney employee, possibly contribute?

Here's where they get into the nitty gritty:

  • Why the max distance between garbage cans is 30 steps
  • How to have "fun with the job no matter how miserable you are"
  • How to become a "walking, talking information booth - with a smile"

(I found this Disney orientation manual from 1967. Mickey Mouse lays down the law for Disney employee behavior... and it's amazing. Check it out here)

Here's an excerpt from 1967 Mickey:

Training complete. Now you're well on your way to creating a cult...

2) The Big Vision

"We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere." - Walt Disney

Every great business needs a big vision.

For Disney, it's "create happiness".

But why is the massive vision the secret sauce to building a big business?

Big visions attract the best employees.

And big visions push them to persevere when it gets tough.

You may endure hardship for a higher calling. Not just for a fat paycheck.

I mean cmon... what sounds more motivating?

Mission Statement 1: "We help bored teens with too much money YOLO into meme stocks."

Mission Statement 2: "We democratize finance for all."

Hahah I bet you can guess which company this is. (if not, click here for a surprise.)

3) Building an Institution

Lastly, great cults live beyond their founders.

Disney was incorporated on October 16, 1923. Walt Disney died in December 1966.

Today, Disney is ~100 years old. It's worth $200 billion. It's lived through 7 different CEOs.

It survived long past Walt Disney himself. And it has succeeded in building a multi-generational institution.

But how the heck do you do that?

I'd be lying if I told ya I knew the secret to building a 100 year business.

But I believe it boils down to one simple thing:


How can you create an environment where your employees feel like owners?

Maybe it's owning some equity. But more likely, it's about creating a feeling.

That feeling of being an owner of the company's legacy.

When every employee is an owner, you have a chance of building an institution.

And you may be on your way to creating the next trillion dollar cult.

That's all I got for ya my friend,

Chris Hlad

p.s. I turned 24 on August 23rd! You may like this thread of best birthday life advice I got from some twitter friends

p.s. if you loved this, forward it to a friend. if you hated this, forward it to an enemy. And if you're new, hit the big blue button below...

How I Think

Read more from How I Think

hey team, it's chris hladczuk back in your inbox. this idea has been rattling around in my brain for awhile so I needed to share it with you. Egoless Execution You need crazy confidence to start a company. You spend countless hours pitching people on the vision. You believe a secret about the world no one understands yet. Plenty of people say you're crazy. You must have an ego to endure constant rejection. A big enough ego to believe you're right and everyone else is wrong. A big enough ego...

12 days ago • 1 min read

Hey Team, it's your boy Chris Hladczuk back in your inbox. (if you missed it, I raised $2.5M + am assembling the avengers. If you know a savage engineer with startup experience who loves mobile, reply here! I'll pay you $5,000 if I hire them.) Okay so safe ideas are really risky. Safe ideas = consensus stuff that the random dude at the company holiday party immediately agrees with Examples: Work at Goldman Sachs for 2 years - it's "risky" to quit after 1 year Go to business school - it's...

26 days ago • 1 min read

Why would a billionaire bring a date to a furniture store? Unless it's Restoration Hardware (RH). This is the Disneyland of Furniture. Here's how the $4 billion brand exploded👇 Back in 1979, Stephen Gordon has a problem. Why can’t you buy good, affordable furniture? He started Restoration Hardware (RH) to solve it. But 44 years later, RH is way different: Today, it's a luxury home goods brand with restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels. And they do over $3 billion in sales. The secret sauce to...

4 months ago • 1 min read
Share this post