The other day, I had the opportunity to talk to an old high school friend, Brian Stewart, that I have not spoken to in nearly 40 years. Back in the day, we were avid concertgoers, so as you might expect, we talked about all the concerts we attended in the last 40 years. After that conversation, it dawned on me how many people understand the journey of their favorite rock bands to success, yet most of the clients I mentor about starting a business don’t have a clue on what is in store for them along their entrepreneurial journey. What I discovered is that these journeys are nearly identical. Here is what founders can expect to encounter on their entrepreneurial journey framed against the journey that a typical band goes through on their way to stardom.
Learning Your Craft
Each member of a band starts out by learning their craft be it guitar, drums, or keyboard. Most musicians fell in love with playing an instrument at a young age and spent nearly every waking moment wanting to play.
I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it ’til my fingers bled
Was the summer of ’69.
Bryan Adams – Summer of ’69
Most entrepreneurs fresh out of school rarely start successful employer-based businesses, as is often portrayed in business articles where they see stories about Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Larry Page who did just that. But these are extremely rare when it comes to starting a business. Instead, the entrepreneurial journey for most founders started with them learning their craft working for a larger corporation after school to hone their skills, whether it’s engineering, marketing, or sales.
Most band members took up playing music because they were social outcasts and didn’t fit in. However, when they learned to play music, they discovered others on a similar musical journey and started a band.
Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone
Rush – Subdivisions
Many entrepreneurs were kind of nerdy in school and didn’t fit in with the popular kids or clicks. Through their love of technology or a hobby, they united with others that shared their passions. Later, when they took jobs in corporate America, they discovered that the corporation moved too slowly or failed to embrace their level of creativity or intensity, making them social misfits in the suffocating status quo.
Bands are never made up of one single person. Musicians are all members of a much larger music fraternity. Bands are composed of band members that play different instruments who together create a kind of synergy.
Just get you a guitar and learn how to play
Cut up some jeans, come up with a name
When you’re living in a world that you don’t understand
Find a few good buddies, start a band
Start a band, start a band
Keith Urban & Brad Paisley – Start a Band
Most successful business employer-based ventures involve several founders. Each founder comes with different skill sets that together complement each other. They leverage each other’s resources, core competencies, capabilities, expertise, and personal networks for the mutual benefit of the business. After developing a level of trust, the members share their assets and achieve a kind of synergy where the combined brainpower is greater than the sum of individual parts.
Evolution to Blue Ocean
Bands start out playing songs made popular by other bands. However, to make it to the big time they have to write and play their own songs and find their own unique sound. For a band to make it mainstream, they have to have what I call the “It” factor.
You call us heathens with zero respect for the law
We are only songwriters just writing our songs and that’s all
We write what we live and we live what we write is that wrong
If you think it is Mr. Music Executive
Why don’t you write your own songs
Willie Nelson – Write Your Own Song
Entrepreneurs start by looking at and emulating best practices used by similar businesses in their industry. But having a clone business that is just like the competition will never allow the business to really scale. To become successful, they must discover their own uncontested blue ocean with a unique value proposition.
Music inherently taps into the audience’s emotions. It is this emotional connection that draws fans to various artists and gives them a cult following.
An’ the deeper the love
The stronger the emotion,
An’ the stronger the love
The deeper the devotion
Whitesnake – The deeper the love
Entrepreneurs that share their Why and form their business around a noble purpose also tap into consumers’ emotions. Without making an emotional connection with your customers, you will never create a loyal base.
Crossing the Chasm
Some fans love to discover new and up-and-coming bands. These fans become social agents and share their love of the band with anyone willing to listen. They love the idea that they were the first among their social circle to spot the talents of a new garage band. The band’s relative obscurity is important to these fans because if the band begins to see some notoriety and fame, their appeal loses steam as it is no longer their discovery. Moreover, bands that gain traction often have to modify their performance to appeal to a larger audience that chooses to support bands for completely different reasons.
You get a shiver in the dark
It’s a raining in the park but meantime
South of the river you stop and you hold everything
A band is blowin’ Dixie double four time
You feel alright when you hear the music ring
Well now you step inside but you don’t see too many faces
Comin’ in out of the rain they hear the jazz go down
Competition in other places
Oh but the horns they blowin’ that sound
Way on down south
Way on down south
Dire Straits – Sultans of Swing
Entrepreneurs with a new product must first appeal to early adopters that value technology and performance. Early adopters have a high degree of social status that allows them to influence others based on their opinions, creating powerful word-of-mouth referrals. Assuming that their entrepreneurial journey gains traction with customers, the business must pivot to appeal to the majority of adopters that value solutions and convenience over technology and performance. In business, this is called crossing the chasm based on Professor Everett Rodgers’s book “Diffusion of Innovation.”
Bands start out small, playing in bars. Life is often tough as there is never enough money to go around. It often takes many years to build up enough momentum to stand out. Many bands grow weary of being poor and are told to get a real job and break up during these hard times. However, bands that are committed to doing what it takes and are willing to stay the course eventually start to gain traction and grow in popularity.
Well, we were just another band out of Boston
On the road and tryin’ to make ends meet
Playin’ all the bars, sleepin’ in our cars
And we practiced right on out in the street
No, we didn’t have much money
We barely made enough to survive
But when we got up on stage and got ready to play, people came alive
Boston – Rock & Roll Band
Most businesses remain small and very lean during their early years. Many founders underestimate the time it takes to reach profitability. After months or years of struggles and their friends and family telling them to quit their dream and get a real job, they lose interest and quit. Those entrepreneurs that have grit and are willing to stay the course often become successful in the end.
Bands that make it can never rest on their laurels. They are always looking for inspiration from outside sources to maintain their edge. Some take drugs, some explore nature, while others study foreign cultures to find inspiration.
One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small,
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all.
Go ask Alice
When she’s ten feet tall.
And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall,
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call.
Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
Businesses that fail to evolve to changing technology and customer demand are doomed to becoming extinct. Throughout their entrepreneurial journey, business owners are never happy with where they are. They look to other industries for inspiration like James Dyson’s vacuum concept that came from sawmills, traveling the world like Andrew Carnegie to find the Bessemer process for producing steel, or create underground Skunk Works projects like Kelly Johnson that developed revolutionary aircrafts such as the U2 and SR-71.
Successful bands are always experimenting with new instruments and sounds. From Pink Floyd’s and Emerson Lake and Palmer’s pioneering use of the new electronic synthesizer to Incubus’s use of the Australian old-world didgeridoo, musicians are always looking for the next new sound to keep their performances fresh and interesting.
Johnny works in a factory
Billy works downtown
Terry works in a rock and roll band
Looking for that million-dollar sound
Bruce Springsteen – The Promise
Businesses too are constantly experimenting with new tools and processes to maintain their edge over the competition. From moving applications that typically have resided on a person’s devices to the cloud, to when Apple introduced us to the Graphical User Interface and the mouse, to how Henry Ford created the assembly line process after seeing how meatpackers processed animals. The entrepreneurial journey requires constant experimentation if you hope to leapfrog the competition.
Bands make monetary investments in instruments and amps and spend time writing songs they hope will resonate and sell well. These efforts are investments that they hope will pay off in the long run, pay royalties and provide residual income long into the future. Many songs they think will be hits never are and some they never thought would be turn out to make billboards top 100.
Well, Johnny made a record
Went straight up to number one
Suddenly everyone loved
To hear him sing the song
Watchin’ the world go by
Surprisin’ it goes so fast
Johnny looked around him and said, “Hey
I made the big-time, I made the big-time at last, yeah!”
Bad Company – Shooting Star
Entrepreneurs make monetary investments in hardware and software tools and spend time developing solutions that they hope will sell and provide residual income. Many solutions turn out to be failures but some become quite successful and fuel the business’s growth.
Bands often require good timing to break through. The development of MTV allowed bands like ZZ Top, who remained pretty obscure to all but their cult followers, to create one of the first music videos that wasn’t just a band performing on stage but a story-based music video for their song “Gimme All You Lovin”. That single video quickly became one of the most-watched music videos and propelled ZZ Top to stardom.
Many entrepreneurs benefit from great timing too. As Sam Colt was about to demonstrate his new revolver idea, the attack on the Alamo happened. The attack made the military desperate for his six-shot revolver pistol. Then, as the Civil War was winding down, he perfected his Walker 44. As the Great Westward expansion was taking place, everyone coveted his Walker 44.
The journey that a band goes through turns out to be very similar to that of a business founders’ entrepreneurial journey.
- You must first learn your craft, be it sales, marketing, engineering, etc.
- Then, find the right partners that complement each other’s skills.
- Afterward, you must find that thing that makes you unique and stand out from the competition.
- To gain customer and employee loyalty, the business must tap into their emotions.
- If you have a product, you must realize that early adopters are different from the mainstream adopters and that you’ll have to change your messaging as you cross the chasm.
- It may take years to reach real profitability and it takes grit.
- You must find inspiration from where ever you can and keep experimenting to know that you are on the right path.
- You will have to invest time and money in ideas that have no guarantee of success as you are trying to find the ones that will provide you residual income sources.
- And finally, time plays a role in your success.
How closely does a band’s journey to stardom mirror your own entrepreneurial journey?