To be upfront, it is not my intention to bestow sagely wisdom upon aspiring entrepreneurs and software professionals, rather I thought this would be a fun exploration of how business-endeavors in the realm of music could parallel some of what we see in the tech industry.
Presentation of credentials forthcoming:, in a former life I fronted a rock-band that toured South Africa for many years. We had some measure of success with local fans and radio but I can’t say that we imprinted ourselves upon the zeitgeist. We put out a couple of records, worked with some great people and played a few hundred shows around the country. We didn't have a tour-bus, we had a tour-bakkie. But, there is something special about forming a band, defining a mission and embarking on it as a team and I hope you find some of these insights valuable if not entertaining.
Fundamentals over fashion
Good song writing is something that although on the surface appears to have changed dramatically over the decades, when you listen a little closer it is very much the same from the Beatles to Taylor Swift. A good song allows you to ignore all its imperfections and predictability because it grabs you with resonance - a combination of three characteristics: honesty, vulnerability and musicality. One of the reasons that U2 have been a mainstay for over 40 years is because of their commitment to this principle, they still bring stadiums of people to tears (happy tears for the fans, sad tears for the bono-haters) with the sounds of guitars, drums and voice.
When looking for advice on how to steer our products or businesses, you’ll most certainly be met with pages and pages of neatly bulleted lists, littered with tech buzzwords and inspirational tokens like reinvention, disruption and innovation. Now I don’t have a bad thing to say about innovation in the tech business, however I do question why it is always so high on our priority list when there are so many other more important problems we face. Some things that just as important as innovation are the fundamentals of on-time and quality service delivery, practical problem solving and honest, friendly customer service. My take on this one is become great at your core business before you try and change it.
Perseverance is paramount
I first heard Snow Patrol’s “Final Straw” in my dorm room in 2002, and it was around 2005 that their music started hitting the international airwaves. You’ll be surprised to hear that for a band that achieved such phenomenal global success at the time, they had been recording and touring for 12 years already, playing mostly in pubs and university campuses to a handful of people. Their 2005 release “Eyes Open” saw their situation change dramatically with support from a ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ song placement, their album became an “overnight success”. There was nothing “overnight” about their success though and their story is not unique, it is shared by many other artists.
I haven’t heard of a formula that makes success any easier to achieve, but I do know that those who have been successful, have had to stick it out for a while. Sure, there are elements to the success equation that are not entirely in our control, for example natural ability or talent is more a product of nature than it is anything else. This doesn’t put those of us who aren’t naturally gifted out of the running though, it just means that we may have to work a little harder and stay a little longer to get there. True, aspirational success is a rare confluence of opportunity, talent and circumstance. The longer you’re in the game, the more likely you are to experience it. I see this with the exceptional individuals in our business and customers. There are so many different products, companies and technologies to work with out there in the market and it’s hard to decide which horse to hitch your wagon to. It’s harder to know when to leave and when to stay with your company, when to admit failure and move on with your venture. What I can say is this: make sure you’re where you’re meant to be, and when you are, put your faith in your team, company or colleagues and saddle in for the long haul.
Ego is your enemy
Out of check egos have been responsible for robbing us of many of our favourite bands over the years (Guns ‘n Roses, The Police, Oasis to name only a few). It’s easy to understand how emotions can get the better of you when you’re being worshiped by thousands of people every night, and they all want a piece of you. I remember seeing Oasis live in 2009 and one of the magnetic aspects of their performance was Liam’s obvious disdain for the audience. He was the true embodiment of a narcissistic rock-star and it was almost romantic. We wanted that from him, we paid for it. Liam’s narcissism however was not just a performance, it was a disease which ended up destroying his relationship with his band and brother. Although, you have to admit that he's got a sense of humour about it. An excerpt from the book of Gallagher: "I suppose I do get sad, but not for too long. I just look in the mirror and go, `What a (expletive) good-looking (expletive) you are.` And then I brighten up."
Self-confidence is attractive, and it builds confidence in the people we interact with. It’s also healthy for us to respect our own opinions and methods. A good dose of it is absolutely necessary for success but be careful not to drink too deeply. Teams that exhibit a deeper sense of respect for each-other’s contributions, opinions and personalities are far better equipped to weather the storm while those who succumb to ego and delusion will dissolve.
Have fun, be interesting and break some stuff
Rock bands remind us that it’s important to question, break the rules and let loose from time to time. Whether it’s punk, grunge, metal or pop, people are usually drawn to it for similar reasons. We want to know what it’s like on the other side, to live a little vicariously, be a part of a movement and maybe even be reminded that we’re in control of our own lives. And the industry needs examples and stories of risk-takers, rule-breakers and mad-men - people who push and test limits to show us what's possible. Legends, pariahs and martyrs who show us what we can, can’t, should and shouldn’t do. I’m not advocating bat-biting (Ozzy Osbourne) or throwing grand pianos into hotel pools (Keith Moon), but the world would be a much duller place without them.
To close with a quote from our very own industry, while discussing the prospect of Bitcoin’s price reaching $500,000 in the next 3 years - McAfee & Associates founder John McAfee said "If not, I will eat my own (insert part of male anatomy here) on national television". Now there is someone who is willing to put more than their money where their mouth is.