BostInno/Streetwise Media founder Chase Garbarino sold Pogs on the playground and ping pong balls in college; Forbes 30 Under 30’s Tom Coburn had dozens of ideas before founding Jebbit; CampusTap’s Remy Carpinto had an IT installation and services company up and running out of his freshmen dorm room before he had fully unpacked. It seems like every entrepreneur I meet, (and I’ve been lucky to meet tons of them at BC, in the Soaring Startup Circle, and in our awesome Boston ecosystem), has been on an unstoppable trajectory, seemingly born to start businesses. I am always in awe of their talent, perseverance, and will-power. Simultaneously, however, it makes for an interesting moment of introspection. Sure I shoveled some driveways and mowed my neighbors’ lawns but was I ever really like Chase or Tom or Remy? While these guys were starting businesses, what was I doing? Ironically, it is the answer to this question that helps explain my own entrepreneurial streak.
As a teen, I knew very little about markets. “Venture Capitalist” might as well have been an occupation Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson made up for Wedding Crashers. With my long hair, t-shirts, and Dickies work pants, I was probably the last person you’d expect to be into business. I was the musician, the kid who played in bands, the guy who wrote songs often against corporate culture. I couldn’t have asked for a better entrepreneurial education!
With all respect to Boston College and it’s MBA program, the most important business skills I have, I learned by playing in bands. Any entrepreneur will tell you that coming up with ideas is easy, it’s executing on them that is so difficult. Nowhere is this truer than in a band! Writing a song is easy enough but arranging it for multiple instruments, finding talented people to play those instruments, making sure all the equipment is functioning and mixed well, setting aside time to practice until each part fits together like a well oiled machine–now that is tough! If you can achieve all of that, you still have to book shows. As an unproven commodity you need to convince venues that you can draw a crowd then figure out how to make good on your promises. You have to create logos and merchandise consistent with your band’s identity (dare I say a brand?) and then figure out how to produce it cost effectively so your mostly broke fans can afford it. You need to learn how to stand in front of a crowd of people and speak confidently, to banter when someone breaks a string, or adapt to an issue with your instrument. You have to create a strong digital presence, to understand your ecosystem, and to network with other bands, promoters, and musicians to get shows, records, and exposure. It certainly did not seem like it at the time, but these challenges and the skills I developed in meeting them are transferable to everything I have ever done in the business world.
One thing I love about the startup culture is the underlying optimism, the idea that raw talent and energy is worth investing in and betting on. For my part, if I needed someone with the ability to collaborate, to build a brand, to communicate, and to hustle, I’d look for someone who played in a band!