We’ll Do It Live! What Startups Can Learn From Bands (and Vice-Versa)

Startups. Bands. One wouldn’t normally suspect the two to be so connected. But having spent upwards of 6 years playing in bands, and now deeply immersed in the startup ecosystem, I can’t help but draw parallels. In fact, it’s commonplace for me to reflect on my time in bands to deal with difficult situations in the business world. Since I just performed the first live VR concert in Atlanta, these comparisons are fresh in my frontal.

Team Dynamics

There’s always a rockstar, and there’s always good talent when we decide to start a venture. If not, you’re probably just in it for fun. How do we maintain our product timelines (write new songs) when we have to maintain peace and share roles with our bandmates? It’s like the old guy in the back of jazz bar will tell you “It’s not about the number of notes he can play…it’s how he plays…dig?”. It’s the lesson we always want to deny when we first start a project, believing that the best talent makes the best product. The best team makes the best product. And yes, sometimes that means being a solo act.

Marketing Matters

91% of bands succeed. Why? Being a successful musician takes a lot of effort, and demonstrating a key differentiator vs. competitors in one of the most saturated markets is essential for success. Take a look at Björk for example. She was able to create a competitive edge by embracing emerging technologies time and time (and time) again. Sometimes it is an inherent skill (your talent) that makes you different…sometimes it is simply taking a different approach. You will never get booked for a big gig if no one knows who you are…but you take the small shows, the campus radio features, to start getting a buzz.

This buzz is traction. Do not take it for granted…it needs repeated attention to continue to grow. Most importantly, do not mistake it for your product, it is more representative of your valuation. Once the traction builds, you can begin to start tapping resources and attract more venue owners. These venue owners are like investors…half of them don’t care about your technology, they care about your business…can you make them money? No investor is going to show up at your workstation and write a check after your first great algorithm, just as no Sony label head or Carnegie Hall director is going to sign you a deal in between songs at an open mic. Making yourself appear on their radar and then approaching them intelligently through your gained network is a more likely situation.

The Beta

I think the Grateful Dead must’ve been hanging with Doug Engelbart or something because the way they produced new iterations of their songs has created such an infectious following that 30 years later you would still be estranged to not have heard the name. If something isn’t working in your product, test out new iterations, and don’t test it alone…play it for your fans. Let your fans decide what they like, and by proxy, you will like it too (clapping is contagious, after all). 

Listen to Your Customer

The fans matter and the analytics prove it. Musicians who interact meaningfully with their fans create lifelong brand loyalty for their self-expression. Do this with your users. Give away your product to get meaningful feedback…better yet, watch them use it and study how they experience it. Ask for a digital unboxing of your new release, a reaction video to the new feature, etc, with the promise of giving more to them. This is like crowdsourcing UX…and not only works, but gives purpose to your work and your brand because you are helping people by improving your product.

A Great Product is not Great Enough

Yes, it is usually necessary, but to say the most talented guitarist in the room will be famous is absurd. You need to have the wherewithal to support your venture financially, continue to innovate and remain distinctive to your competition, and pay attention to your customers. And lastly, you have to have the emotional and spiritual stability to endure sudden and epic fallouts (like when your drummer fell off the balcony and broke his foot). More on that last one in a later post. 

Do you get the startup blues? Do you feel like your rockstars are ready for the big venues? Do you want me to stop making music puns now? Tell me about it.