Time and Money As a Function of People

People: The Uncertainty Factor

Last week, Fred Wilson wrote a post about time and money, and how to value each of them against one another within the context of investing. In it, he broke down a series of considerations which each impact the time-money balance. Rereading through it again, though, it occurs to me that a lot of Fred’s considerations also point to another, perhaps more subtle factor: people.

The people factor weighs heavily on the time-money dynamic, and arguably has the potential to significantly alter one’s perceived outcome. Inasmuch as the time-money assessment is predicated on the concept of effort—that is, how much effort one must put in to a venture in order to effectively procure a sufficient return for one’s investment (both time and money herein)—that effort is nonetheless dictated (or at least impacted) by the people around whom it centers.

Much of Fred’s argument—broken down amongst four examples—revolves around the notion of uncertainty as it applies to people. Uncertainty in this case (or these cases) stems from the fact that people are inherently different, and what holds true for one may not necessarily hold true across the board.

This is why so many investors articulate “the founder/team” as one of the most important factors—if not the most important factor—in their decision to invest. As Hunter Walk notes in his response piece to Fred’s post: “…we don’t invest in people we don’t want to spend time with, even if it could be a profitable investment.” Herein, the investors clearly value their time simply as a function of the personal connection they feel with the founder(s).

The Value of Evaluating Relationships

Yet as Fred notes, the reverse is true too: founders are just as much playing a “game of people” as investors are—the return on an investor’s value to a founder most times goes far beyond the money. The investor is similarly in the position of proving to the founder(s) that s/he is able to balance his or her portfolio while still delivering the necessary value to the startup company.

Evaluating people and relationships helps to assuage the challenges on both sides of this equation. When people learn to know what they’re looking for in a partner (be it a founder in an investor or vice versa)—and to articulate that to themselves, their team, and prospective collaborators—they are able to dramatically increase the value factor in the overall equation. This directly affects the time-money portion of the equation. An investor’s time is better utilized because the founder(s) can communicate their needs and vision, and thus deploy the investor’s money in a more focused manner (all while keeping open lines of communication as to how and why certain strategies might have been taken). The dollar value of the investor’s money thus increases, which increases (again) the value of their time input.

All of these factors work similarly axiomatically for founders looking to extract the most value from their potential investors.

Who You “Click” With

The evaluation of people—being able to discern who you “click” with and the type of personality which best fits your portfolio (or startup) strategy—is key in evaluating one’s time commitment to a project. The time-factor, which Fred articulates should be priced into early-stage investing math, can in fact be thought of as the people-factor. In the early stages especially, the clear dollar value of a company may not be readily apparent and some other—perhaps less tangible—metric may be necessary to consult. This is the people-assessment—this is the scenario in which investors are rife to say, “there was just some ‘It’ factor about her resilience” or “her charisma just sold me on the idea.”

This is not a shot-in-the-dark decision; it’s often a carefully calculated decision that is based less on spreadsheet numbers and more on personality—the potential we’re all theoretically (hopefully) capable of. This is a honed skill—gut feelings about people are as real as any metric and have the potential to return value on time and money investment as much as anything else in the decision process.

Time and money are very concrete things, but like so much else in life, their value can be drastically affected when they are thought of as a function of people.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

Why I Continue to Be Loud About Female-Inclusivity Initiatives in Tech & Business

Over the last few months, I have grown increasingly loud about my support for initiatives that foster diversity and inclusion in tech & business. This has been especially true over the last couple months as I’ve watched what started out as Female Founder Office Hours culminate now in AllRaise.org. What I wanted to see grow and expand—a push from female VC’s like Megan Quinn, Aileen Lee, Jenny Lefcourt, Jess Lee, and their team members to bring more women into tech and foster a support system for them—has indeed now germinated into a force (and I can’t help but be amazed at what they & their allies have already accomplished in such a short period). I’ve written a response piece to AllRaise’s announced launch already, but sometimes one statement of support just isn’t enough.

I came into tech almost accidentally from the music world. That’s really my wheelhouse and one of the main industries I continue to build for and strive to impact. But lately, I’ve been running a thought experiment: is there theoretically anything that could make me walk away from music, even for a little bit?

Recently, I’ve come to the answer that yes, there is: diversity, inclusivity, and egalitarianism.

We’re at an inflection point now—the smart people realize that the future success of and in tech/business will be had by those who invite new perspectives and prize egalitarian dynamics. The future of the tech IPO no longer looks like a bunch of white guys huddled around a singular mindset. Now it looks exactly like Stitch Fix founder & CEO Katrina Lake holding her infant child ringing the bell to bring her company public—just as that picture was a metaphor for changing dynamics in tech, so too is an initiative like AllRaise key in helping usher in that new era of opportunities.

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So if I sound excitedly determined, it’s because I am. Because the historian in me can discern that we’re at the beginning of a new cycle rife with possibilities to have a more diverse tech and business universe than we’ve ever had before.

At the end of the day, I will always be the first to make a music reference, and this just has Riot Grrrl punk written all over it. It’s brilliant and I am 100% behind it.

Note: This post was (unsurprisingly) written while listening to Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, L7, Sleater-Kinney, and 7 Year Bitch. 🤘🤘

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

Allies for AllRaise.org

Given my somewhat short break from writing since January, I was wondering what my first post back would be on, and if it would be a lengthy assessment or a short burst.

Short burst it is.

I’ve been following (and championing) very closely the initiatives proposed and undertaken by the group of amazing women behind (first) Female Founder Office Hours, (then) Founders For Change, (followed by) Women in VC community events, and (now) AllRaise.org. Reading Aileen Lee‘s post from yesterday, it’s clear to me that even as painfully slow as it sometimes feels, change is indeed happening. I have sought and want to be a part of the change. And I know there are others like me who do as well.

I have tried to stay keenly aware of my inherent white guy privilege and use that to the benefit of others. I can only be what I am, but I get to determine how that helps others without the same afforded benefits. I can be an ally for the scores of women and underrepresented founders (POC, LGBT+, etc.) who aren’t afforded the same benefits of the doubt off the bat which they should be, and I can similarly use whatever position I have to push for more egalitarianism. And that’s what I try to do daily.

With the announcement of AllRaise.org and its focused initiatives, it is my hope that there is and will be room for the (white & male) allies out there like myself who want to be a part of this new evolution. I am excited to see where something like this can go. We are in the midst of a massive paradigm shift—one which is long overdue in creating a more level field of merit, diversity, and inclusivity. Consider this my name in the AllRaise hat.

I encourage my white and male counterparts out there to afford Aileen’s post and this initiative a heavy dose of retweets and attention; this is the new direction. Be the person who gives the shots to people who otherwise might not get them, and bring attention to the fact that there is clearly work to be done here. Take it from a history major: there is a right side and a wrong side of history—you want to be on the former, not the latter.

To Aileen, the AllRaise team, and the other women, POC, LGBT+, etc. looking for allies: we’re here. Tell us what you need and how we can help. We’ll follow your lead.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

The Power of Ubiquity

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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I remember once telling an artist that if you want to be in the music industry, you need to be ubiquitous. Turns out the same is true for tech and startups. Who knew?

A few weeks ago, I attended a talk here in Atlanta during which Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital talked about how she broke into VC and how she’s driving her vision forward. As much as I enjoyed the talk, this post isn’t about that discussion. It’s about what transpired after.

After the Talk

Up until then, I’d been lucky enough to converse with a few of the amazing people at Backstage, other than Arlan. I’ve had a wonderful experience getting to know Partner & Chief of Staff Christie [Pitts] and Backstage podcast producer Bryan [Landers].

As neither Bryan nor Christie were in attendance at this event, though, after the talk wound down, I proceeded to go say hi to Dianne [Cherrez] and Chacho [Valadez], other Backstage team members I’d only interacted with briefly on Twitter. I received almost the same response from each (as if it was practiced ha!): “Adam…oh you’re Adam Marx! From Twitter!”

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Both were fantastic to meet, and clearly integral parts of the Backstage team. While other attendees asked Arlan questions, I spoke with Dianne about the normal stuff; how she got involved with Backstage, her role there, exciting things Backstage has going on, etc. During the course of our conversation, she matter-of-factly quipped, “You know, you’re just everywhere on Twitter…I don’t know where you find the energy.”

I’m paraphrasing, of course, but the point she was making stuck out to me: ubiquity matters — people notice.

Why Ubiquity Matters

When you’re setting out to build your network, whether it’s your Minimum Viable Network or a more mature version, ubiquity is a key factor in that network’s success.

It’s important to keep in mind that the term “ubiquity” might itself be somewhat of a misnomer; it’s not about actually being everywhere at once, all the time. It’s about appearing to be ubiquitous.

One reason that people remember ubiquity is precisely because of the immense time commitment it requires. Time is energy (and, as always, time is money)—indeed, time is ultimately your most precious commodity. Your time and attention are what businesses want, and what dwindle as you check off the basic boxes like your spouse, family, friends, coworkers, etc.

When people perceive you as ubiquitous in relation to their project or mission—especially when it’s characterized by a positive dynamic—it’s a (sometimes subconscious) recognition that tends to stick with them. 

Ubiquity and Reality

Of course, you can’t actually be everywhere at once, all the time. People are realistic and only an irrational person would believe otherwise.

Rather, it’s about creating a perception that you devote a significant portion of your time and energy (as much as one could ask, or even more) to something you’re really passionate about. This might be tuning in to a podcast weekly to tweet constructive thoughts (something I enjoy as well), volunteering one of your professional skills across a variety of projects (for me, editing and proofreading), or simply promoting a company whose product and/or mission really resonate with you. This type of long-term commitment to a mission creates the perception of ubiquity.

Ultimately, this is how you want people to think of you; as someone who just seems to consistently pop up at the right times. You don’t need to be associated with every project; but by being open to working on new opportunities, the natural side-effect is a quality of associated ubiquity. This creates a positive feedback loop of potential. 

The More People Create…

The wonderful thing about ubiquity is that as people create more things and start more projects, more opportunities are had to further one’s reputation as a thought-leader, team member, and colleague.

No doubt, many of these initial opportunities have the potential to germinate into extended relationships with the right cultivation. In this sense, the ubiquity becomes self-fulfilling; the more you “pop up” and people know you, the more people want to know you. This dynamic becomes naturally and iteratively expansive.

In the end, ubiquity is about a constant collection of “small victories” rather than pursuing a “one-and-done” approach to the opportunities before you.     

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

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Three Questions Concerning Spotify’s Direct Listing Decision

Originally published on Crunchbase News on January 3, 2018.


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As everyone was in holiday mode a few weeks ago in December, Spotify confidentially filed documents with the SEC to go public, likely in Q1 of 2018.

Previously, I discussed Spotify’s numbers and examined how those figures looked before an IPO filing. Now we can see how those numbers look in context.

This filing bolsters prior reports that Spotify would forego a traditional IPO in favor of a direct listing, a method of going public that has left many scratching their heads. For those unfamiliar with it, a direct listing is a way allow a firm’s shares to begin regular trading while avoiding the normal IPO roadshow process.

When asked about the direct listing strategy, IPO expert Barrett Daniels of Nextstep Advisory Services told Crunchbase News that there are a few reasons companies might choose to pursue the strategy. It typically boils down to the fact that the company may not be “strong enough” to transact a traditional IPO due to these reasons:

  1. The company’s growth (or lack thereof).
  2. The company’s size (in terms of revenue).
  3. The general climate of the industry.

So do these reasons provide Spotify grounds to go direct, especially considering how much money could be left on the table? Let’s find out.

1. Company Growth

Spotify has the kind of crazy growth that companies dream of. As its subscriber numbers have gone from 50 to over 100 million users, Spotify’s valuation has similarly been adjusted. It’s worth remembering, though, that while the total subscriber number sits somewhere north of 130 million users, approximately 60 million are paying listeners.

So Spotify is big enough to attract attention and generate a lot of excitement. In fact, because Spotify is such a well-known company to go public, an IPO roadshow seems to be precisely what it would want. More attention and more hype might mean more money on gameday.

2. The Company’s Size

This kind of fast-paced growth also contextualizes the music company’s size in terms of its revenue. According to Daniels, the size of a company’s revenue will dictate how larger institutions view it; if the revenue looks too small, larger institutions could deem the company too early or too risky, and therefore might be uninterested. But given Spotify’s outsized growth, though, perhaps this is a reaction to its continued unprofitability (as of yet).

3. General Industry Climate

Daniels also noted that in some direct listing cases, the decision to forego a traditional IPO could be something as simple as a timing issue. Industries go through hot and cold periods, and a cold period could convince a private entity to forgo the public process.

However, this doesn’t typically apply to the music industry. Because of business with mainstream acts, music companies tend to be more well-known among public investors than, say, a company which perhaps works on tooling or shipping. Therefore, Spotify has no reason to think that the climate would change at all between now and an expected 2018 IPO date.

Going through Barrett’s list of reasons, we can see that Spotify’s direct listing doesn’t pass muster on these grounds. But there are two outside arguments that augment the viability of direct listing: saving money on the IPO process and stopping the clock on Spotify’s convertible debt raise.

Saving Money

Outside of Barrett’s outline for going direct, Spotify could limit costs by foregoing a normal, pre-IPO roadshow. However, experts have pointed out that this doesn’t make much sense. The money which Spotify would save on an IPO roadshow is negligible compared to the amount it would ultimately raise in a normal IPO.

But there are other ways Spotify can save money.

Stopping the Clock

Last year, Spotify took on convertible debt from Dragoneer and TPG, totaling $1 billion. According to David Golden of Revolution Ventures, by listing directly, Spotify could essentially “stop the clock” on these debt-conversions, and presumably, save itself tens of millions of dollars.

As a refresher, under the terms of these notes signed in 2016, Spotify was required to pay 5 percent annual interest, a figure that grows by 1 percent every six months for a total of 10 percent. Investors could then convert the debt into equity at a 20 percent discount of Spotify’s IPO price. If there were no IPO within a year, the discount at which investors could eventually buy back stock would increase 2.5 percent every extra six months.

The Questions Left Lingering

All of this leaves a lingering question: if neither of the two most-cited arguments hold water, does the decision to direct list have anything to do with Spotify’s $20 billion valuation? There have been, as of late, multiple sources which have raised concerns, expressing reticence and opining what a public Spotify will look like. Spotify did not respond to a request for comment.

The streaming market also faces stiff competition. Apple can subsidize its music service until the end of time through its phone and computer sales. Facebook just signed a major deal with Universal, and YouTube is gearing up for its own music service launch. Pandora has just created a Spotify clone, and its post-IPO performance doesn’t bode overwhelming optimism. All of this is now against the backdrop of a $1.6 billion lawsuit filed by Wixen Music Publishing against the streaming music company.

Additionally, here are a few numbers we don’t know which will impact Spotify’s business model long-term:

  1. What Spotify royalty rates are. It has been reported the company pays anywhere from 58 percent to 83 percent.
  2. How often Spotify needs to renegotiate royalty deals with the major labels.
  3. What the percentage stakes each major label owns of Spotify.

We’ll see how things roll out by the end of Q1.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

2018: A New Year with New Goals

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Perhaps the last picture I’ll post with my trusty iPhone 4S

2017 is over and 2018 is now here. That’s a good thing; last year was a tough one. A few very close relationships ended, and after a few years, I closed my first company. But I also learned that there is life after failure.

So here we are now in the new year, and I’m excited to start working on a bunch of new things. Here are some of the things you’ll see from me in 2018: 

  • 😎 🎸 I’m working on a new music project (company? 😎 ). That’s right — after a badly needed six-month hiatus (maybe longer?) from actually running a music-startup, I’m gathering feedback on a new idea which is incredibly exciting. So far, feedback has been very positive. Discussions with a select number of artists as well as a few journalists, founders, and confidants have yielded an ever-clearer perspective on how this can grow. I’m excited to read more people into this as the year progresses.
  • 📝 I’m working on editing a very special document that I’m extremely excited to finish. I’m a word-nerd, and in editing this piece, I can honestly say it’s been one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve done in my professional writing career.
  • 📝 🤘 I have an avalanche of new music articles written and in the works which I can’t wait to see published. Some of these will shake things up (I hope), but hey, what’s the point of being a music journalist if you’re not a little punk about it? 
  • 📝 📽️ I’m working on writing a rough draft of a screenplay (no, really!). Last year, I was kicking around an idea which I thought could be fun to work on, and over the last week, I’ve started mapping out characters and basic scene dialogue. I’ve never done a screenplay, so I am more than happy to have collaborators!
  • 🙋 🙋‍♂️ 🙌 🤝 I will start driving harder towards being more central to the discussions on sexual harassment and how to fix the issues we have before us. This is less of a “me” thing, and more something I am incredibly passionate about; I am open to collaborating with anyone on projects which will help with the goals of creating a paradigm with more meritocracy, equality, and egalitarianism. 
  • 😎 🎙️ I’m incredibly excited (and flattered) to have an invitation to be on a few podcasts starting this year — because I don’t talk enough as it is ha!
  • 🤔 📝 I’m working on plans for a new guide which will (hopefully) excite word-smiths everywhere; more on this project in the coming months. 
  • 📝 📖 I’m writing a pseudo-review of a book I’ve been reading which has changed my perspective on so many things, and has similarly confirmed a lot of the mantras which I try to live my life by. This will be out by the end of January.
  • 📝 🤝 I will be releasing many new articles in my Minimum Viable Network series.
  • 🎸 😉 I’ll be doing more work with artists (some have asked me to manage ha!) — maybe there’s a producer-credit in my future.  
  • 🤔 📖  There are a few of my past articles which I have been toying with revising into a rough pitch for a book. Let’s see what the year brings. 
  • 😄 I will be exploring more speaking opportunities.
  • 😎 🤘With the 2017 list out, I’m ready to start working on the new “100 Awesome Independent Album and EP Releases You Probably Missed” list for 2018.
  • 😄 🙌 I’m excited to start having * Many * More * Conversations * — I’m all about creating new things, and I look forward to picking up new projects throughout the new year, both with current partners in crime and new draftees.

Thank you to everyone who helped me pull through 2017. Your support means more than you know. Now, on to 2018!

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

The New Founder-Seed Reality: Cash, Vision, and Structure

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One of the pieces which made the rounds last weekend was Fred Wilson’s assessment of early stage startup funding. More precisely, the decline in seed funding over the last few quarters, down from the peak in 2015. This was followed by a post from Jason Calacanis, which expanded on Fred’s initial thesis and took a deep dive into how he applies those dynamics to his own angel investing strategies. I’m not going to rehash these posts. However, I will muse for a little bit on what I was picking up reading between some of the lines. 

Over the last few years, and in the last year especially, I’ve begun to think deeply on how augmenting one’s approach to networking and pitching can open up doors which otherwise remain shut. In this case, the doors in question are those into an investor’s or angel’s office. Part of what has been so difficult for founders in the recent climate is that with all the money that’s been sloshing around, it’s been all that much harder to differentiate oneself. So while the seed slowdown might fill some with dismay, it’s an opportunity.

As Fred and Jason point out that this is an opportunity for new investors to get into the game and fill the gap left by investors moving further up the river, I’m going to argue that a similar opportunity exists for founders, if not as clearly exhibited. In an industry where everyone knows everyone, sometimes standing out can be much harder when there are certain expectations (prerequisites?) flying around.

Let’s be honest; people pattern-match because it’s human nature. But this nature can create blind spots—these blind spots in turn create new opportunities. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and I think the things which Fred and Jason are pointing out here—expectations of and desire for revenue, cash efficiency, a maturing business structure—run in tandem with the opening of a door to be able to now differentiate yourself in ways which previously seemed more difficult. As Hunter Walk notes, you do this by being CRAZY. Part of it is having CRAZY numbers; if you don’t have these (yet), you better have CRAZY vision.

Vision is ultimately what makes any company; without vision, you have no mission, and you have no real reason to execute. People don’t execute like hell on something they’re ambivalent about—they execute like hell on visions they see clearly and problems they’re obsessed with solving. I think the posts from Fred, Jason, and Hunter work so well in tandem because they begin to identify potential parameters for what the new seed environment might look like:

  1. Vision
  2. Cash efficiency
  3. Maturing business structure

Without each previous component, the following ones would be lacking. The new environment we see developing before us will be leaner, grittier, and ultimately more hostile towards companies which can’t lock down cash efficiency and a structure which matures with their growth.

But my gut tells me that the kind of founders which angels and seed investors are really looking for—the hungry ones who have great, obsessive visions—are exactly the founders who thrive in this type of environment. It’s precisely in these types of gritty, lean environments that the CRAZIEST visions tend to germinate. I think this new landscape will be interesting to watch for those truly CRAZY visions and how the new crop of founders differentiate themselves to communicate them.  


Music for this piece:

  • Savage Garden – Savage Garden
  • Master of Puppets – Metallica
  • Head for the Door – The Exies

The Most Important Acronym to Your Networking

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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Fun Acronyms

Acronyms make things fun. And things which are fun and useful? Those are the best. When it comes to building your minimum viable network, there is only one acronym that matters: A.B.C. 

What do those letters stand for? Simple: always be collaborating.

One of the most cross-cutting things I’ve learned from being at the intersection of music and tech is that some of the things which allow artists to amass huge, rabid followings is how they work off one another. There’s a similar symbiosis that is applicable not only to startups trying to grow their own communities, but also to individuals looking to build out a minimum viable network of supportive and engaged people.

Obligatory Musical Collaboration Examples

Think about some of the most successful artists in history; chances are whichever genre you’re focusing on, there are examples of collaborations which you may not have even been aware of. Sometimes these are some of an artist’s most well-known songs.

Eric Clapton played the lead guitar solo on The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” off their White Album. Eddie Van Halen played the guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” And all of this is to say nothing of the prevalence of supergroups in music: Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, Derek and the Dominos, Them Crooked Vultures, Blind Faith, Sixx:A.M., Mad Season—the list goes on and on. What all of these examples have in common is that they allowed artists to meet new people (sometimes serendipitously) and create new content (sometimes even more serendipitously).

Some of these collaborations resulted in a full touring band and multiple albums (as with Audioslave and Sixx:A.M.) and sometimes it was more an outlet for the artist to simply explore a new vein of their creativity, resulting in a single album and few, if any, tour dates (as with Temple of the Dog, Blind Faith, and Mad Season). Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine what kind of collaboration it should be, and what the end goal is.

Why Collaborate?

If the end goal is to disseminate your name and reputation more amongst a new network, view opportunities to collaborate on articles or podcast episodes as compensation in and of themselves. The prospect of someone opening up their network to you through a co-publication or guest spot is invaluable, especially in a niche industry. Collaborating well on such a project will also tell your contact that you’re reliable and can produce great content for their network. This is the end goal; to get them to invite you back to do it again in the future.

Other times, there may not even be a publication or launch date. It may simply be a project where someone has asked you to give some feedback on their new app or something they’ve written. In this, the goal isn’t to get your name out to their network, but to keep your name in their head. When someone respects you and values your input, they ask for your thoughts on their own content. In this scenario, there is absolutely no downside—say yes, and carve out the time to give them some thoughtful feedback.

When Collaborations Don’t Work

When you’re involved in someone else’s project, let them run the show and suggest feedback where needed and when it’s appropriate. Accept and respect that they may do things differently than you would, and may go in a different direction that you want. If that ends up being the case, simply state whatever feedback you might have in a respectful and reasonable manner, and then let it be. If it’s not your project, there’s no upside to having an argument over the details as if it is.

Some collaborations simply don’t work, either because the idea leads to creative differences or because there’s just no chemistry between the individuals. This is ok. The worst thing you can do in this situation is to burn a bridge with an otherwise reasonable ally. The same dynamic that helps to balance your allies holds true here: until there’s a problem, there’s no problem. If the collaboration isn’t working, simply acknowledge it and move on. Most times, a collaboration that doesn’t work out well isn’t a reason to burn a relationship; it’s simply a sign that collaborating with that person in the future may not be the best move.

When Collaborations Do Work

When collaborations do work, though, they can change your whole universe. This may not—and usually doesn’t—happen overnight. It takes time for new relationship dynamics to gestate and the benefits of those collaborations may not be seen for months or even years. But once you have collaborated with someone on something, two things are indisputably true:

  1. You’ve now (presumably) had a direct interaction with that person, and
  2. You’ve now created something together with that person (in this respect, feedback does indeed count as something created, since it helps the overall creation process)

These two things ultimately shift the power balance; where once the relationship might have felt unequal, it is now arguably equal in new ways as a result of the collaboration. This has an elevating effect, bringing you closer to that person, whether they are a VC, podcast host, another founder, etc. Recognize that equalizing effect for what it is.

Ultimately, collaborations should be about relationships and learning. Creating something new and popular is always a plus, but it’s never a given. Keep your mind focused on how the collaboration can strengthen your relationship with your potential collaborators on the grand scale. Similarly, it will impact and shape your reputation among others, especially other potential collaborators. This is what will make the collaboration a success or a failure.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

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Balancing Your Allies (When They Don’t Always Get Along)

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


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The Potential of Dual Loyalties

More than once in the last few months I’ve encountered a scenario in which one of my friends/allies has parted ways with other of my allies. Sometimes it’s been copacetic and sometimes not, but it did get me thinking: can you have dual loyalties without being deceptive?

Often in business and life, we’re faced with decisions that require us to take sides. Maybe one person is in the wrong, or maybe one path is simply better for them. Regardless, sometimes the prospect of needing to choose sides precludes any possibility of dual loyalties. But this need not always be the case. In building your minimum viable network, you will come across situations in which two or more people you are loyal to don’t really get along. That’s ok; people are people and that’s human nature.

Depending on the situation, there’s a potential in dual loyalties that can be utilized to the benefit of all parties involved. Many times, networking contains these situations and we don’t really realize them.

But how do you identify the scenarios in which having dual loyalties won’t actually work against you? You don’t want to become known as someone who is two-faced, but rather as someone who is level-headed in the midst of a breakup, even if that breakup is not your own.

This starts with knowing the personalities of the people who are going separate ways. Do they have generally amiable and opportunistic outlooks or are they petty and thin-skinned?

Note: if it’s the latter, you probably don’t want to be around them anyway.

Until There’s a Problem, There’s No Problem

A good rule of thumb to live by is that until there’s a problem, there’s no problem.

I’ve experienced this countless times in the music industry: I’m friends with multiple members in a band, and then for whatever reason, that band breaks up. Some times are worse than others, but the main takeaway I’ve always tried to articulate to each artist thereafter is that I am still their ally, even if they no longer wish to be allies with each other. There are some times when cutting ties completely is necessary, but it’s not an always kind of thing. You will know when it needs to be done.

Otherwise, like I said, until there’s a problem, there’s no problem.

Be Above the Drama

Building a network is like working with bands: people work together, and then they don’t. But by only taking sides when it’s absolutely necessary, you preserve your relationship with both parties while simultaneously cultivating a reputation as a level-headed ally who is not interested in drama. Drama is one of the things which kills relationships faster than anything else.

Understanding the balance of dual loyalties—and how that balance is different from deceptive networking—is an invaluable skill in building a broad and deep network very quickly. Simply do all you can to take yourself out of the drama. As I mentioned, there are times to take sides, but that’s for another post.

Preserve Your Relationships As Long As Possible

Consider this: two (or more) people working at the same company or on the same project. You respect both of all of these people, and endeavor to create positive relationships with each of them. Then, there is a difference of opinion or a diverging of interests, and those people part company. What do you do?

The first question is how to identify and differentiate between the situations where dual loyalty can be a good thing and the scenarios in which it’s not worth the effort.

The quick and much too easy an answer is pick a side. But until you know how and why the separation occurred, you’re only playing with half a deck of cards. In fact, you may never know the reasons. Perhaps the split was amicable and there’s no reason to choose a side and sever ties with the other. People part company for all sorts of reasons and not all of them qualify as “bad” or acrimonious. As such, the best thing to do in this moment is simply to do nothing. In theory, this sounds easy, but it’s a lot harder in practice, as we’re wired to want to “make a move.” 

In such scenarios, the right thing to do is to communicate support to each party without taking a side in the matter. You can do this through expressing interest in their new project or direction, offering to give them feedback on a new concept, or merely listening as they vent frustration. Typically, these neutral actions will make one party feel supported in their new direction without alienating the other. The key in all of this is to remember that this is not about the deception of either party. Rather, it’s about not choosing sides in the matter at all.

This is a good rule of life, especially when building your professional network: if there’s no reason to choose sides in something, then don’t. Keep your options open as long as possible.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

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There’s Life After Failure

 

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Four Cofounders (from left): Myles, Michael, Shelley, and me

 

Two weeks ago I shut down my startup.

I called my team members, notified our users, and made the decision that it was time to bring Glipple to a close. Retrospectively, the writing was on the wall. Now is the part where you wait for me to share some zen philosophy that I could only learn through failure.

Don’t hold your breath.

Don’t Gloss Over the Emotional Toll

Yes, I did learn a lot and in the end I’m glad I had the experience. But I’m not about to write another diatribe of cutely composed “tips for closing your first startup” which you will inevitably skim through until you read the next such post-mortem blog post on Medium…probably in about 30 minutes. Because in startups, it’s become the epitome of chic and cliche to write a post-mortem blog post when(ever) your startup fails.

Ultimately, though, so many of them gloss over the emotional toll it takes on you, so I’m going to write exactly what I’ve really wanted to know every time I read through one of these posts. Frankly, I’ve only seen a few people actually brave enough to publicly tell it how it is. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading this post from Andy Sparks and this one from Poornima Vijayashanker.

I’m not really 100% sure why there’s such a fascination with failure in our business. Probably because people shape that perception of failure into a positive reflection thereafter and attempt to use it as a drive for the next idea. That’s not a bad strategy, objectively speaking. But I sometimes wonder if it creates a flippant attitude toward failure which unintentionally misunderstands human behavior.

All these post-mortem blog posts make the whole process seem relatively easy; ok we failed, but here’s our end-of-the-run coffee party, and we’re off to better things tomorrow.

That’s not where failure gets you—not in the immediate moment.

The 3AM Blog Post in the Dark

You wanna know where it gets you? Right here, sitting in the dark at 3AM, typing out your bitterness and frustration in a draft as quietly as you can because you girlfriend is sleeping in the next room and there’s no point in waking her up to share your misery. It’s not perpetual bitterness, but temporary bitterness bristles just the same. Failure leaves you temporarily raw, and if it doesn’t, you didn’t care enough in the first place.

Emotional pain is the normal reaction. There’s a part of you that now feels lost, and grieving is a major part of the process. That emotional toll is what makes startups different than hobbies.

It’s ok if—for a moment—I sound like one of “those” entrepreneurs who couldn’t hack it. I’ve got news for you: chances are you’ll experience this feeling too at some point—I’m just choosing to be very public about it. Because in the end I’m human, and to pretend that everything’s ok and that I’m impervious to extreme disappointment and disillusionment isn’t being strong and resilient—it’s being fake.

Tech’s “Failure” Failure

In Silicon Valley—and in tech at large—failure is a great thing. It means that you took a shot, that it didn’t work, and that you supposedly learned something very valuable to draw on for your next venture.

And hopefully these things are true, but the reverence with which we look at failure—with which we make it a club that people should want to be in or be happy to join—is pretty ridiculous. To construct a system where failing is revered—almost required—is remarkably jarring. There’s just something about it that doesn’t seem realistic or dialed in to human emotion. 

To Feel Like an Abject Failure

I believe in my heart that most if not all of the people who write the positive tweets that we read mean well. Usually they’ve been in similar situations and figured out ways to surmount challenges and failures and move on to greater successes.

But sometimes, that unbridled optimism and pragmatism—well-intentioned though it may be—comes off as disinterest and disconnect. As if one has somehow forgotten what abject failure feels like. True, it may not actually be abject failure, but it sure feels like it in the moment.

And the worst part? When you feel this level of failure, it pulls you into a place where you don’t want to speak to anyone—don’t want to admit to anyone—that your failure is real, and that your need for help is even more real. You’re even more determined to strike out again on your own and prove to yourself and everyone else that you are a “real” founder—a “real” entrepreneur—and that you can pick yourself back up by your bootstraps. Those of us who struggle with depression feel this even more acutely.

But this is a mistake.

When People Are Your Strength

In the lull during which my startup started to fade—and during which I knew in my heart there seemed little recourse to keep it from doing so—I began to pull away from people. This was a mistake, especially for me. I’m a people person, and I gain so much of my energy from talking to people and helping people. When I started to pull away, I began to lose a part of myself. Actually, I began to lose another part of myself, because I was already losing a part of myself in losing my startup.

Only through recognizing that the disappointment and disillusionment which follow failure are part of the entrepreneurial fabric can we begin to open ourselves up to other people and possibilities after failure. This is the danger in fetishizing failure and spectacular flameouts: it is devastating for those of us who draw our energy from other people. Bragging about failure in a proud way is something distinctly Silicon Valley and very much of startup tech DNA; outside that realm, doing this is simply not done in such a way, and certainly not done with such gusto.

It’s equally important to emphasize to founders that failure isn’t simply a milestone that they should mark on their startup belts as they would raising a fund or releasing their 2.0 product. Failure is debilitating and it is in these very fragile states that founders need the most support from each other. Everything is easy when it’s easy; but when things go to hell, you need to be open to grasping someone’s hand when they offer it.

When people are your strength, it’s important to remember that heading back to that harbor is precisely how you recharge your batteries after a defeat. If you’ve done anything right along your startup journey to that point, you will have formed at least a few solid connections with others in your network who you can speak with candidly. If you’ve done at least this right, all the rest will fade into background noise.

Coming Back from the Brink

And after all of this—all the nights spent in cold sweats with stomach pains worrying about money, looking yourself in the mirror wondering if you’re a failure (are you even that?), skating over the “so what do you do?” question at parties and family holidays—you find a way to crawl back. You’ve stood on the precipice of failure and looked into the depths—spat it in the face—and somehow stomped your way back onto solid ground.

The funny thing about the failure precipice? It doesn’t ever exist as starkly in reality as it does in your mind. You stepped out over the edge expecting to fall a thousand miles into darkness, only to find yourself ankle-deep in a deceptively dark pool of water. So in the end, crossing over to the other side—finding solid ground again—isn’t as hard as it seemed before. The haunting chasm was only miles-deep in your mind.

Taking the Leap Again

There’s life after failure. That’s what I’m learning. Slowly but surely I’m learning it.

Will I do a music-startup again? Probably. Will I do a number of things differently now that I’ve learned new things? Absolutely. Am I as scared of my next potential failure as I was of my first one? Not even in the same ballpark.

I started drafting this piece in my apartment, sitting in the dark at 3AM, alone with only my thoughts of failure because I thought that’s how it had to be. Or how it was going to be regardless.

But I’m finishing it now, sitting in a bustling Starbucks in downtown Atlanta, drinking a large coffee, listening to Eve 6, and emailing people, looking for my next leap. I have drafts open of the next few articles I’m writing, and my phone is buzzing every ten minutes with new possibilities.  

Startup life isn’t easy, and failure isn’t fun. But it’s also not the end. As Eve 6 put it:

The monster in the closet, when the light’s turned on/

Is just a jacket on a hanger and the fear is gone/

And the world keeps turning, sun keeps burning/

We are the lost and found, gonna make it through another day.

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Thanks

I’m so grateful to my cofounders for taking this journey with me. I know we’ll have another one together some time. To all those in my support system who have listened and helped me through this dip, you know who you are, and I am more grateful than you know. You took so much time out of your busy schedules to support me, and that does not go unnoticed. You all are a huge part of the reason I can write this post with a determined smile on my face.

Lastly, to my girlfriend who has been my rock through this whole adventure, and to my parents who are always my biggest support network.

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If you’re struggling with your startup journey, feel free to reach out and let’s talk.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!