First-time Tech EntrepreneurTuesday, 04 September 2012 15:15
Radical Openness, Australian Start-ups and the Music Industry
Recently, I bumped into a few people from my past who surprised me by knowing everything going on in my life by reading this blog.
I started the blog to keep a record of my ups and downs on this crazy path, and cement the lessons I'm learning along the way by writing them down.
I didn't think of the people actually reading it! One thing they comment on is how honest the blog is and how surprised they are that I'm so publicly open.
People from my past are surprised because I used to be the opposite.
For years, I worked in the appearance-obsessed music business. Mistake and failure are dirty words as everyone is as popular as their latest hit.
Dud records vanish from view, and everyone strives to look as if they're doing “amazingly”, constantly on the verge of the next big thing.
But, the music industry is very hard and can be brutal.
I struggled many times as an artist manager: my first band fired me; people didn't return my calls; I made hiring mistakes; wasted wads of money; and frequently fell out with record company execs.
I remember a series of meetings with one record company that left me driving back to my office in tears.
Back then, I didn't believe it was acceptable to be open about my challenges and mistakes. People, I thought, wouldn't want to work with me or invest in my artists unless they thought I was perfect.
When I started Posse, I quickly learned that keeping my cards close to my chest didn't work and had to recalibrate.
It all started with my first board meeting. Before starting the company, I didn't even know what a board did, or how it functioned.
Then, someone suggested it would help me raise money if I persuaded a few well known people in the industry to be on my board. A friend with a fancy office in the city let me use his boardroom, and I called our first meeting.
I walked in, pleased that I'd assembled such an impressive group of people, only to discover that they wanted to know everything.
So, that was what a board was for!
It was scary: We were months from running out of cash, a lawyer was suing us for a bill I thought was outrageous, and our product wasn't working.
But as I unloaded my catalogue of disasters, something strange happened. To my surprise and delight, they weren't angry or disappointed.
We just put our heads together and worked through the challenges. It felt like an amazing therapy, and I walked out of the meeting 10 times lighter.
From then on, I switched 180 degrees and practised complete transparency with everyone. With our team, investors, users, even the public. Now some people actually criticise me for being too open, but I don't care.
Here are four awesome things I've learnt about transparency:
1. It makes teams work
At the end of our Tuesday staff lunch meetings we have a question time when anyone can ask anything they want – nothing is off limits.
At the start of each month, I share the company's financial position. Although unnerving at first, I find that complete transparency creates a real sense of camaraderie among the team.
Everyone understands how their work contributes to the company's goals, and the reasoning behind decisions to focus on various aspects of the product, user growth, PR or fundraising.
It also allows me to get feedback on key business decisions, which is helpful when you've got a team as smart as ours and I sense it gives everyone a sense of security as there's no unresolved questions or gossip about what might be happening.
2. People get behind you
When I posted the 'Redesigning our strategy' and 'This is really hard' blogs, I didn't know how people would react.
I thought some might laugh at my novice mistakes, but I was wrong.
Loads of users signed up as a result of those posts, and I was overwhelmed by the volume of feedback and suggestions emailed to me in the days following.
I've found that by being open with our users about our vision, what we're learning and what we plan to do next, we're inviting them to join our journey.
Users can become a part of the process of building this great platform. This helps get people behind you and it also helps to have lots of feedback and ideas to draw on.
3. You'll have more energy
If you run the City to Surf, you'll know how, at the start, everyone looks great in their flash Sydney running gear and fake tans. But there's a point where you're exhausted trying to slog up the hill, you grunt, splash water on your face, and no longer care what anyone thinks about you.
Running a start-up is like this all the time!
It is hard work and sometimes downright draining.
It takes energy to maintain the appearance of perfection: give it up and you're lighter and happier!
4. It helps everyone else learn
I love the music business, but the need for everyone to look perpetually brilliant suffocates the industry's ability to evolve as quickly as it must.
If record company execs, managers and promoters would talk openly and publicly about their challenges and failures then they could work together to solve problems and it would save making so many of the same mistakes over and over.
Thankfully, the start-up industry is completely different.
Failure is applauded – almost too much – and there's a community of events, groups and media that encourages us all to share what we're learning.
Start-up teams and their products are evolving faster and as a result everyone is more likely to succeed and the world will get higher quality new products to experience.
So, radical openness is my new philosophy.
The more open you are the more likely you'll get the advice you need from team members, users and the start-up community at large.
You'll take people with you on a journey and if nothing else, being candid requires a lot less energy than being guarded!
Rebekah Campbell is a music industry entrepreneur. She started out by organising a music festival to raise awareness of New Zealand’s youth suicide epidemic at the age of 19. In 2008, Rebekah came up with the idea for Posse.com whilst promoting a tour for Evermore. Rebekah raised over $3 million from investors Australia and Silicon Valley to kick-start the business. Posse.com launched in music in 2012 and in retail in 2012, with plans to expand to the United States later this year.
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