Rock bands and Startups

Rock and startups!

This was NOT me in my band but still.....

For a good portion of the 90’s and early 00’s I was a touring musician. There were 5 or 6 of us (depending on the band), we were young, determined and hungry – both figuratively (we wanted to be rock stars) and literally (we were broke). Seemingly unrelated, I’ve been drawn to the startup world over the last few years and have found it to be quite comfortable. The excitement, the drive, the hunger – all qualities of successful entrepreneurial teams looking to change to world – surrounded me in this world as well.

And then it dawned on me that my time as a touring musician set a surprisingly solid foundation for my work now and here’s why: bands are the musical versions of startups.

Here’s proof:

  1. Everyone thinks it’s a bad idea, you think it’s the greatest thing ever – most parents of 19-year olds will tell them to “go to college” and forget about being a rock star. “So few make it” and “the odds are set against you” are common rebuttals to the desire to go change the world with music. Yet, we did it anyway. We actually did go to college but during that time and beyond we continued to pursue the dream that everyone told us couldn’t be achieved.
  2. You have co-founders – even if the main drive is a single visionary, a singer-songwriter, the crew that this person surrounds themselves with will determine the success of this initial “product offering.” So you pick musicians who are good players, who complement your sound and who are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed (most famously espoused by KISS drummer Peter Criss in his ad in Rolling Stone, “Drummer willing to do anything to make it.
  3. You put in long hours with little to none upfront reward – every Wednesday through Sunday we toured. No roadies, no help. We printed our own flyers, licked our own stamps, loaded in and out of every gig on our own, played restaurants, bars and farmhouses that were never intended to support that much wattage (or noise), finished up at 3am and got on the road at 7 the next morning. The hours were long and the pay was minimal —  but we did it because we loved it and believed in it.
  4. People try to get you to change your vision – “If you only played this kind of music you would go so much further” is something we heard all the time from promoters, potential managers and show attendees. “Do you now Brown Eyed Girl?” the drunk girl at the frat party would ask once a month. And if we did, she’d be much happier and get us more gigs from her sorority. But we didn’t change our approach because we believed in it.
  5. It was unclear where the next paycheck was coming from – and, of course, we were broke. Gigs barely covered expenses and our crappy day jobs got us enough money to pay the rent and score some Ramen on a good day. That (literal) hunger only made us work harder and determined to make the band a success.

Sound familiar? To me it sounds just like an entrepreneurial startup mentality. I wonder how many founders are also musicians who toured with bands. If they weren’t before they founded their companies, they can always start a band as their next venture. You know they’ve got what it takes.

[Jeff]

About Jeff Gothelf

Jeff Gothelf is a lean thinking and design evangelist, spreading the gospel of great team collaboration, product innovation and evidence-based decision making. Jeff is an author, speaker and thought leader on the future of product development and design, often teaching workshops or giving talks on building cultures that support teamwork and innovation. Jeff co-founded Neo Innovation, a lean/agile product firm in NYC. Prior to that, he led the UX design teams at TheLadders and Web Trends. Earlier he worked with and led small teams of software designers at AOL. He is the co-author (with Josh Seiden) of Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience and the upcoming (Harvard, 2016) Sense and Respond (sensingbook.com).
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