As 2017 comes to an end, it’s great to look back and reminisce at key decisions we’ve taken along the way as a bootstrapped startup like pivoting or growing the team. Beyond making this an emotional outlet of what a rollercoaster this year has been, the purpose of documenting some of the key things we’ve accomplished and decided this past few months is to learn from these lessons and set the ground for what’s to come next year.
Pivoting is hard
One of the goals we set for this year was to participate in a startup accelerator. Around May 2017, we were given the opportunity to participate in the StartFast accelerator, where we would receive $25,000 cash in exchange for 7% equity and 3 months of acceleration. We ended up declining (and looking back, it was the best decision), because we thought primarily that we weren’t ready to give up equity and our product was still at its nascent stages.
Later that May, we were accepted in the NYU Summer Launchpad accelerator where we were given $10,000 in non-dilutive grant. This was great for us since we could still learn and benefit from an accelerator, without the pressure of having investors onboard or giving away equity for something we were still building. This was a great decision in the end, because we were able to make informed decisions in a very short period of time. Undoubtedly, pivoting is hard, but it’s a great feeling to know that every decision you’re making is informed and supported on hard facts.
The best investment you can make is your team
These months have also been great because we’ve had the chance to meet some amazing people. Mentors, investors and entrepreneurs with big ideas who’ve had the kindness to share their views. Overall, I’d argue that at least 95% of these experienced folks are certain that at the beginning of a startup’s life, all the focus is on the team. That said, from the investor or mentor standpoint, there’s all too much focus on the complementation of skills (whether you have a technical co-founder, or a marketing guru, etc) rather than on the team building aspect of it.
Companies like Buffer or Spotify are candid enough to share their own experiences in building teams, big and small. And I believe that the underlining element across teams is a strong culture. Clearly, culture is built over time and with a bold vision, something that early-stage entrepreneurs probably don’t have the time to focus on. On our end, we’ve made the decision to be a team-first startup. This means that even though we might have very little cash, we are proud to invest this in our own team, whether it’s education, a small course, or our first-ever company retreat. We’re thrilled to have Nico Lopierre and Kate Chichi be part of the team now. Also, we’re happy to say that even though some team members have left, they left with a great experience at Stereotheque, and off to great professional opportunities. This makes us extremely proud, considering we’re a very young startup.
The opportunity cost of networking
New York City, falling in second place after Silicon Valley, is a great place to network, and I’m sure no one will argue against that. However, networking can also have it’s downside. A key learning from Jason Calacanis’ book, Angel, is to understand the opportunity cost of the time you invest into things. As an entrepreneur, the priority is to focus hard on achieving product-market fit. But at the beginning, networking can become an attractive activity if you believe the ROI will be high.
I’ve been listening to Jason’s podcasts (This Week in Startups, Angel Podcast) and seen his events and read his posts. I can definitely say it adds a lot of value to your knowledge base of entrepreneurship as a whole. Calacanis suggests to really assess the opportunity cost of time, considering it’s better to spend time building an awesome product, instead of going to every startup conference out there and talking to a million folks who in the end, don’t care about you, don’t care about what you’re building, and won’t give you money. Not in a crude way, but it’s the reality. You have to offer value, amazing value, first. And then ask. Not the other way around. As international entrepreneurs, we have to keep a finger on the ‘networking’ dial, because being invited at conferences or panels helps us to have strong visa cases. Fortunately, we can now ‘choose our battles’ without having to accept everything.
Think big, start small, and put a number to it
The American Dream has been this legendary concept of thinking big and doing whatever it takes to achieve your goals. Even though this is still sold across the media, the products we buy and the movies we watch, I personally think there’s a new version of it. Ambition must not be confused with uninformed blindness. What I mean with this is that a dream should be obtainable, measured and tracked, not simply saying: “I want to go to Mars, just because this is my dream”. If Elon Musk says this, is because his track record has informed him to visualize a dream which corresponds to a number of other medium-sized milestones. For instance, building Tesla, learning from this experience to acquire Solar City, achieving smaller goals with Space X, etc, all lead up to building a big mission to colonize Mars.
A final important aspect of this, is to make sure the goal has a number attached to it. So if the dream is to colonize Mars, then say it will be by 2022. Or with 200,000 young adults, you get the idea. For us, it was really important to finish off the year with specific, measurable objectives in order to start 2018 and work our way backwards (and get more valuable lessons).
Embrace the process, not the event.
In our team retreat, I tried to voice out my thoughts as to what I believe should be our mantra. Thinking that if we embrace the process and every task we do in between, we’ll always be looking forward to the next major feat or achievement, rather than only spinning the hamster wheel until we probably realize that the ‘event’ (i.e. final goal) wasn’t probably what we wanted in the first place. It’s key to execute ideas, not coming up with more and more of them; strive to make informed decisions as to which ideas to execute and be great at executing them.
Our team is relentlessly focused on creating the best possible tools for professional development in the music industry, with the goal in mind of fostering and building sustainable careers in music. We believe that creative minds are entrepreneurial by nature, but need clear roadmaps and tools in order to not be deterred by external pressures. It’s never been a more exciting time to be a musician or in the music industry, because technology complements our left brain in ways never explored before.
Cheers to 2018.