I have a very close relationship with each of my grandmothers. I’m very lucky they are both alive and well. Last year over the holidays I had a curious thing happen to me when I told them that I was going to start to try writing more. They each said the same thing:
“Do you really think you should be giving advice away for free?”
I was pretty shocked to hear this from two women, both of whom are extremely giving of their time, effort and knowledge. I think it illustrates a wide chasm between the way the business world used to work, and the way it works today - at least in startupland. I think this is one of the most welcome differences between entrepreneurship and traditional business - entrepreneurship is not a zero sum game. In the music industry, my background, if I have the #1 record this week, you can’t have it. Therefore, the incentive to help others succeed could potentially come at a cost. In startupland, I can have a successful music analytics business, you can have a successful solar panel startup, and literally the whole world is better off the better each of our businesses do. More jobs, tax revenue, and hopefully a positive impact for humanity.
I expect absolutely nothing in return for mentoring at Techstars (the program we went through in 2009), for grabbing a quick coffee with new or seasoned founders, or getting together with a soon-to-be graduate. I have made friends, sourced future hires, converted conversations into customers and many other things that have directly impacted my business. But far and away the impact is not immediately tangible. Maybe some of the advice I give will help founders avoid a fatal mistake or land a new customer they wouldn’t have otherwise found? Or perhaps they’ll hire someone I know and respect. The startup world has exploded in the last five years but it’s still a small place. The real reason is hard to explain to my grandmothers. I enjoy it. I feel a debt to those who helped me. I learn something each time I hear their questions, fears, and their approaches to problems. It helps me see patterns in the marketplace.
As the requests to "pick my brain" have become much more frequent, I figured out how to continue this without impacting my business. One of the founders of Unreasonable Institute used to have tea every month where he’d invite those he was too busy to meet with 1:1. I borrowed this idea and changed it to Next Big Drinks where I would invite the 15-20 people each month I was too busy to meet with 1:1 and combine it with a fun excuse to drink with the NBS team, customers in the music, book, and brand space, prospective hires, and friends of the company. We held these every 4-6 weeks for a couple of years and they were some of my favorite nights of the year. I know that co-founders first met each other at Next Big Drinks and we hired people that we invited to Next Big Drinks years earlier. I LOVE the serendipity of introducing a new founder of a music tech company to an executive at a large entertainment company who happen to both be in line for a drink at the same time. Or a marketer from a book publisher, a record label, and a consumer packaged goods brand who all have common pains but different products.
I explained to my grandmothers that I don’t get anything immediate out of these connections but dozens of people met with me over the years who never should have taken my meeting. They were doing it as a favor to the person who introduced us, because I somehow got through one of their screens, or maybe they were just paying it forward? It was only thanks to these hundreds of meetings that we were able to develop the storytelling capabilities that allowed us to grow Next Big Sound through exit. I feel an immense obligation to pay this forward and help the next generation of entrepreneurs.