Nice Analogy

I've often thought this analogy is pretty spot on.


The image comes from this blog post from shane snow.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Jamie Forrest

    I guess this implies that your chances of having a successful startup are about the same as your chances of having a successful band? If so, that’s pretty low.

    1. fredwilson

      maybe not so much anymoreread Harry’s post that he links to in his comment

      1. Jared McKiernan

        Band is but a tiny subset of startup, so it seems right that it should be less likely overall. If you only look at those reasonably skilled in something that could succeed as music, then the chances of success are probably close to equal.

  2. Harry DeMott

    Very good. Amazing coincidence. I wrote a similar piece on my blog yesterday (more about the business side of things – Love the chart. Because the friction in the system has dropped for both banks and consumer tech companies – I actually believe that more and more bands and start-ups will reach Level 7 and get through Level 7. However, because it is so much easier to get through the first 6 levels than it was in years past, you will have a lot of company – and getting to level 8 will become even harder. Look at the top selling records (or aggregate the singles from artists) in the last few years. They don’t even scratch the surface of the all time best sellers. Maybe Lady Gaga has broken through for now – but will she become Madonna? Will anyone of the current crop of companies showing massive consumer adoption become Google or Microsoft or Yahoo? That’s wht’s beyond stage 7 – and its harder and harder to get there.

    1. fredwilson

      great post Harryi like the idea of an artist and an entrepreneur’s “middle class”

      1. Jared McKiernan

        I wonder how many artists who set out with the goal of “middle class” end up there? I can’t think of many artists who did what they wanted to (with reasonable talent), tried to earn a decent living, and failed.The desire to be a rock star is probably not a desirable trait in actual rock stars, and certainly not in professional artists of more modest success.

        1. ShanaC

          I hate to say this-we’re in a plague of:Kitsch since the idea of Avant-Guarde sold out. it too became mass and ironic….

          1. Tereza

            hey hey careful there! my uncle is a kitsch painter. i LOVE kitsch.…He studied under Josef Beuys, which was a big f-ing deal. And turned out they HATED each other. Beuys told him his paintings should be banned. LOL.But whatever the genre, a great artist is on a mission.

          2. ShanaC

            A great artist is on a mission- definitely true.

    2. paramendra

      Before new media and the web either you were a nobody, or somebody really big. Now there are many possibilities in between. You can do work that you love and maybe not get super rich, but make a decent living and always hope to some day strike it big.

      1. Harry DeMott

        Exactly. That’s the idea. Do the work you love. Do it for yourself and the audience you deserve. As long as you can survive doing that – then everything else is pure upside.

      2. JLM

        Quick thoughts —When you really do hit it big, you will still spend a considerable amount of time chasing the perfect cheeseburger. You will never catch it regardless of your net worth.Sex is not better when you are richer.Nobody on their death bed has ever expressed regret they did not spend more time at the office.Billionaires and paupers all share the same sun and both need sunscreen.Everybody is always somebody.

        1. RichardF

          thanks JLM – I appreciate your perspective. It’s too easy to get caught up chasing the dollar

        2. paramendra

          Bill Gates said the same thing about burgers a few days back at a MIT talk. 🙂

          1. Tereza

            Bill Gates is following the right person, then!

          2. JLM

            Who the **** do you think Billy Boy heard it from? LOL

          3. paramendra


    3. ShanaC

      Having seen the post-Lady Gaga has one advantage- she owns her masters of her very first album. The question is in all of this- who owns the masters?- the masters means control of how you and your team move with and against other players.These aren’t stages as much as organic growth moments. And you have to own more of yourself to play these games. It is a fight to the core of what makes up something, and who controls all the pieces, in order to get returns- it may be we have to re-evaluate the idea of how ownership comes into being, especially for ideas, in order to make sense of the new middle class artist.

      1. Harry DeMott

        Everything I know about Lady Gaga I owe to this article in NY Magazine… – great read if you haven’t seen it already. Amazing if she does own her own masters. Absolutely – you need to own your “art” – whatever the medium. And the more of it you own the better – look, there’s always a trade-off when you take in financing of any sort – be it from professional investors (who have fiduciary duties to their investors to maximize returns) to your relatives who you have to see at holiday dinners. The question is just how much you are willing to give up to achieve your goal – whatever that may be. Want to be Lady Gaga – you’ll probably give up a lot (imagine the cost of those outfits). Want to manufacture a new electric car – better get ready to cede a lot of control because that’s going to cost a ton.

        1. ShanaC

          I remember that article really distinctly because I quoted from it in my tumblr-… Unlike most struggling musicians, she chose to decline part of her advance so that she could walk with her masters (two of her six hits are on this original record).In the same article, and I have an annoying sense of recall.Lady Gaga played on a very serious industry deficit – the idea of image as something far off was missing. Honestly, she probably gets those outfits on loan right now- it’s a huge boost for those in the fashion industry. She gave up a huge amount of her personal life in exchange for a persona. (or partially- we have no idea what her private life is like)As someone whose made art of various types (and then suddenly find myself here) -is it better to own yourself or own the persona-I think a ton of people miss that, or even how to balance them- and it is something I think very seriously long term.(edit: those two links have different quotes=-one just proof that I read it, the other what I want to quote from the article)

  3. RichardF

    ha – love it, must show my wife, might raise me some extra points.

  4. kirklove

    Very nice.Sidenote: Is there a way to simply “like” a post of AVC via Disqus? Meaning this was a great post, wanted to acknowledge that, but as you can clearly see I don’t have much to add since it’s all said so well.

    1. fredwilson

      i hope disqus adds a like buttoni’d put that on my blog

      1. falicon

        You should check out the recent initiative … oh and then of course my (an open sentiment web service designed to piggyback off the OpenLike initative) 😉

        1. Mark Essel

          Absolutely, like’s need to be liberated from services. If I like something, I want it to echo throughout the social web, not just feed Audrey2

      2. Mark Essel

        Kevin’s worked out some great details on this.

        1. falicon

          Thanks ;-)If Disqus likes my ‘likes’ feature…I wonder what they would think of my approach to comments (I took my people based view idea and applied it to comments and comment threads)…I would LOVE to see something like Fred’s blog move to a people based view for the comments as they have so much action (and it’s hard to really catch all the good stuff — especially from the people I know I want to read all stuff from) ;-D

          1. fredwilson

            i’ll make sure daniel sees this thread

          2. Elita @ Blacktating

            Sorry, I thought I was still on the disqus site, didn’t realize I was responding on someone’s personal blog! Please feel free to delete! Sorry again.

          3. obscurelyfamous

            That’s a cool idea. Is the idea essentially a people filter? I hadn’t thought of that — it’s actually quite good for active communities like this one.We’re working on something that is somewhat related to better managing active communities; thanks for the idea. We might toy with this.

          4. Elita @ Blacktating

            Please help, having major problems with disqus.

          5. obscurelyfamous

            Sure. Please hit with some details.

          6. Elita @ Blacktating

            Have been doing that over and over since last night, keep being told to email it and I have DONE THAT. It’s been entered into disqus system twice and is showing as “solved.” Have hit you and everyone else up on twitter, beyond frustrated.

          7. falicon

            Cool! Yeah, I would say the idea is a noise filter…based on people.I initially came up with it because I get a lot of people in my Twitter stream that are noisy…I didn’t want to unfollow them, but I didn’t want them to drown out the other people I follow either…and I also think there’s too much emphasis on time in most systems right now…so groups the tweets by person, then shows you the list of people based on recent activity.The draftwizard approach is slightly different because instead of grouping by person, it groups by thread (using the logo of the person that started the thread)…and then shows those logos in the order of recent activity.Overall, I find this approach to be much easier for dealing with a large volume of activity/noise…because I can quickly see which threads have the latest activity, but still flip through all the threads and drill down into any/all as my interest hits…Anyway, I haven’t had a chance to play with the disqus API lately but if you guys are interested, I’ll try to throw together this sort of view using that soon…

  5. kidmercury

    well boss as you know the major labels are dying……no worries though. stage 3 occurs at your local blog star. this will lead to the re-birth of stage 5, and then of stage 7.

    1. Jared McKiernan

      Why should record labels exist? I see the market for curated labels, but a lot of these are offshoots of a successful indie artist (epitaph, rhymesayers, being examples)- why shouldn’t the “core artist” just release/promote records from their yet-unknown friends as a part of their own business?I view it as similar to taking a band on tour as an opener- you’re giving the intro, with little risk to your reputation as an artist. This could allow the “big indie” bands to make major-label type $ without any of the commercialization, paid hype, and marketed genre music that made the term major-label carry the negatives it does. Without any of the horrible contract terms and indentured servitude.Given how little capital it takes to record a quality album, none of the later “investment steps” are needed in 2010; that artists still presumably view records, labels, and expensive campaigns as the easiest way to make it big shows why the real money lies not in fame, but in exploiting those who naively seek their own name in lights. While not caring much how or for what they achieve it. own brand?

      1. ShanaC


        1. Matt A. Myers

          A lot of people are happy not scaling and not dealing with the implications of it (or not capable without the help of a record label / management company).

          1. ShanaC

            true- but the question was- what is the purpose of big labels- answer: scaling. at some point, if you get big, you do need help.

  6. Aviah Laor

    First they take Manhattan. Than they take Berlin.

    1. fredwilson


  7. sigmaalgebra

    Cute.But, the rock band and the startup go quite parallel, including getting customers and making money, except eventually the startup gets equity funding and the rock band does not.With things so parallel, and both so far into revenue before the startup gets equity funding, it appears that the startup might not need equity funding anymore than the rock band.In particular, the rock band doesn’t need equity funding to build a recording studio, and now the information technology startup doesn’t need equity funding to build a factory.For more, the US, coast to coast, from villages that are just a cross road with three retail stores to the largest cities, is just awash in entrepreneurs, with no MBA and no equity funding, who have built and own successful businesses. So, might have someone work their way up to a franchised fast food restaurant and grow from there to doing well owning and managing 10 of them. Now they can join people in a nice community of second homes on a beautiful lake in the country and get a 40′ boat and be welcomed at a yacht club. Indeed, those communities consist mostly of people who built and own just such businesses.Now, if get a Web server (say, from parts for $1500, e.g., 4 core 3.0 GHz processor for less than $100, 1.5 TB Seagate 7200 RPM SATA disk for $70, etc., with free Microsoft server software from BizSpark) with 15 Mbps upload speed (used to be 10 T-1 lines and expensive; now it can be $55 a month), find a way to get users enough to fill the bandwidth with simple Web pages with simple ads, use a lot less of own bandwidth due to Akamai caching (say, especially for the JavaScript code from ASP.NET), and the user’s browser getting the ads from a third party ad server, then at even $0.10 revenue per thousand (RPM) ad impressions, via charge per thousand (CPM), charge per click (CPC), or charge per action (CPA), can throw off enough cash to double server capacity in, say, a month.And notice that here we’re talking MUCH less in capital expense than a pizza shop, an electrician’s or plumber’s van, an auto repair shop, a dentist’s office, or even a lawn mowing service.Let’s see: Assume 100 KB per page and just one ad per page. Assume each 8 bit byte takes 10 bits of bandwidth. Assume 15 Mbps bandwidth is on average 2/3rds full for 16 hours a day. Assume $0.10 RPM. Then in a 30 day month get revenue0.10 * 15 * ( 2/3 ) * 10**6 * ( 1 / ( 10 * 100 * 10**3 ) ) * ( 1 / 1000 ) * 3600 * 16 * 30 = 1,728dollars.So, even at $0.10 RPM, if the number of users per day grows, then ballpark (simple tax accounting or maybe ‘leasing’, etc.) can double the server capacity each month.Get 10 servers and 150 Mbps upload speed ($9,000 a month) and ad targeting enough for a more common $1 RPM, then get monthly revenue100 * 1,728 – 9,000 = 163,800dollars.With good ad targeting and good user demographics, might get the RPM up to $10 at which time 10 servers will generate monthly revenue of10 * 163,800 = 1,638,000dollars. And the 10 servers will easily fit on a wire shelf unit 18″ x 48″ x 60″ for $100 at Sam’s Club, and several of those, for redundancy, etc. will easily fit in any of three spare bedrooms. Gee, might need to replace the house 100 A box with a 200 A box and put an air conditioner in a window!If the usage keeps growing, then get more servers and more bandwidth. Suppose that the server farm has been designed and the software written from the start to be ‘scalable’ somewhere past Pluto.Suppose for “hire someone a little more talented than you to take over the coding”, as the founder has proved for years from peer reviewed original research to practical coding totally blowing away some of the brightest coders and computer scientists on the planet, only a tiny fraction of coders are more talented than the founder. And suppose the crucial, technical part of the business is not coding and is well beyond nearly everyone at the top of US research computer science. And suppose the founder is reluctant to work “harder than ever” to prove to investors what the founder has long since envisioned, made real, and known, that he has a good business. Suppose the founder wants to maintain his anonymity and not see his “name in the press” or be on the stage at NerdCon and doesn’t need and especially doesn’t want to “deal with added pressure from a Board, investors, shareholders”, the IRS, the SEC, various politicians, various interest groups, etc.Or why, as in Mother Goose, does The Little Red Hen, with loaves hot out of the oven and customers lining up to buy, want to “prove” anything to all those people who declined to help while the Hen was plowing, planting, cultivating, harvesting, …, and baking?Suppose if the founder has some extra time, maybe from hiring a COO, maybe just from selling the business, he wants to compose orchestral music, attend seminars in mathematical physics at some of the best research universities, do research in mathematical physics, and otherwise look out a nice picture window on a quiet pastoral scene and for dinner have a little Montrachet with some scallops or lobster. Maybe charter a plane to take a pretty women to dinner in the Piedmont and opera (not ‘La Traviata’!) at La Scala.Suppose some of the last things he wants to do is to get invitations to speak, solicitations to give money, attention from crooks, praise, respect, admiration, approval from the public, screams from groupies, write for the popular media, play golf (just HATES golf), or rub shoulders with the rich and famous, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Page & Brin, Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Doerr, Mike Moritz, Mike Bloomberg, etc.?Maybe chat with M. Turner at Chicago or I. Karatzas at Columbia, but the public wouldn’t recognize them.Generally with the equity funding described, the entrepreneur doesn’t qualify for it until after he doesn’t need it or want it.So, just where in there should the entrepreneur take on the seed or Series A equity funding?

    1. falicon

      wow…I guess a picture really does say a thousand words! 😀

    2. Mark Essel

      Sigma you’re a dedicated soul to write this one up, bookmarking it and adding it to my ebook reading collection.

    3. ShanaC

      I just need to check the numbers, they look right- yet I’m not calculating these with regularity. I don’t think starting a business for fame in mind is a good thing (that isn’t to say you shouldn’t be active in your community) but being in tech conference is not the same as perfecting your concerto.

    4. Dave Pinsen

      “Or why, as in Mother Goose, does The Little Red Hen, with loaves hot out of the oven and customers lining up to buy, want to “prove” anything to all those people who declined to help while the Hen was plowing, planting, cultivating, harvesting, …, and baking?”An interesting question. I wonder how many already-profitable start-ups have decided to take outside financing.

      1. paramendra

        You take the money to grow faster, and to be able to use the VC’s perspectives, contacts, etc.

        1. Tereza

          The point of the story, is if there being jerks about it, and are really not that helpful anyway, and you can eek by without taking it, then don’t take their money.

      2. Tereza

        I read The Little Red Hen to my kids all the time. Love that story.Great illustration of all those that didn’t help her when she needed it. And how people always remember that later on.If you care for a more optimistic kids’ book relating to startups, take a fresh look at Stone Soup. A classic.In fact, in a lot of ways, I’d say the great social networks are like Stone Soup.

    5. paramendra

      Da whad? 🙂

    6. Aviah Laor

      but both will need a band-width 😀

  8. William Mougayar

    So true. Everything else pretty much dove tails out of these steps. As I was reading each step, I kept thinking of a 3rd column which would include the common ecosystem requirements that must be there to facilitate these steps. Nashville = Silicon Valley

  9. ShanaC

    Well being in a band has gotten more middle class- thanks MySpace.But umm, I don’t aspire to NerdCon. Let’s pretend I got invited to NerdCon over the Next ten years. I’d cringe at the invite, and I’d go. I’m sort of shy on stage as myself. Really, my google searches are the same as everyone elses…which is umm, why I want to be in this business…to make everyone feel better about what they do online (and offline)….not that complicated…Also I really don’t think NerdCon is going to take a Girl with a big orange flower in her hair to well….

  10. andyswan

    Sports, bands, companies…’s all the same idea, the same attributes of winners, etc.Great post.

    1. fredwilson

      right, sports would be an easy third column

  11. Harry Love

    I think the parallels are spot on if you’re living in an 80s movie.

  12. daryn

    what’s the startup equivalent of a cover song?

    1. Nick Giglia

      White-label service?

    2. kidmercury

      API? sort of, i think. lol good question!

    3. fredwilson

      building a better twitter client than tweetie

      1. daryn

        haha, perfect!

  13. alexismichelle

    Great chart (and blog post by Shane!). This something I’ve thought about alot, working for a startup in the music industry and interacting with up and coming artists all the time.Adding to the analogy too is the role that technology has played in enabling artists and startups alike to produce AMAZING things with much fewer resources (people, equipment, money). Seems like so many of my favorite albums these days are actually just one or two people who play all the instruments and do all the production themselves, yet the sound is incredibly polished, full, and rich. Same thing with many of my favorite apps– like tweetie/ atebits for example– you’d never know how small the team was by the quality of the app itself.

    1. fredwilson

      small is the new big in many ways

  14. shanedsnow

    Thanks for the reblog, Fred! Now what I’d like to see is for some “tech superstar/investors” to start a rock band. I’d kill to see Howard Morgan do a stage dive…

    1. Jared McKiernan

      The Mark Zuckerberg Experience.Coming soon to your local dive bar, rock club, and amphitheatre. All requests met (if they’re on the setlist)- get ready for the best show ever, for everyone, simultaneously. Are you ready?

      1. Dave Pinsen

        The Mark Zuckerberg Experience — would that be where a session guitarist walks off with your notes for your demo EP, and then expands it into a double-length concept album and lands a major record deal?

        1. Aviah Laor

          and file a patent for it

    2. paramendra

      I’d like to provide some lyrics.

    3. fredwilson

      bijan could be in iti can’t play a single instrument

      1. Tereza

        We’ll give you a tambourine and you can stand in the back.

        1. Tereza

          Or be like Milli Vanilli and mouth the words.

  15. Justin Herrick

    Wow.I’ve always thought of this analogy when viewing startups, but never planned it out so in-depth. I think the analogy is a good one. Coming froms someone who worked with local/indie bands for a long time I can see how they match up.Bands make it if they work hard enough, are skilled enough, and have just the right amount of luck. Obviously there are some bands who make it only because they got really lucky.The exact same thing is true with startups. The tech industry has bubbles and waves of interest, while the music industry has fads and subgenres.It takes one band who worked hard for 10 years to make it big with a new sound, and then the next year 10 bands who have only been around for 1 year make it big because they grabbed on to that new sound until the fad has been played out and the producers and audiences crave something new.

  16. Kevin Vogelsang

    Not bad. I prefer the analogies to athletics though. Of course, this is because I was an athlete all my life…..

    1. fredwilson

      yeah, andy said in another comment that sports, music, and startups all share similar characteristics

  17. andreaitis

    exhibits a, b and c: thomas dolby, david byrne and peter gabriel. would actually love to hear any (or all) of them speak to the analogy.

  18. Guest

    I really enjoyed reading that post yesterday too. That’s also probably why Steve Jobs is so fond of relating The Beatles to great businesses. In this short video on 60 Minutes (, he also makes that analogy:”My model for business is The Beatles: They were four guys that kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are not done by one person, they are done by a team of people.”And I love this quote by Miles Davis in his autobiography: “You get the right guys to play the right things at the right time and you got a motherfucker.” Also true for start-ups.

    1. akharris

      Feels a bit odd to hear Jobs promoting teamwork so heavily, considering his proclivity for near megalomaniacal control.Still, I like the analogy.

      1. Tereza

        It still pisses me off that his “teamwork” clearly didn’t involved any women, when he landed on the iPad name.A couple months have passed and I still scratch my head at that one. I can’t get used to it.

        1. akharris

          Sometimes I wonder if he did that just to stick it to all the bloggers predicting the iSlate. Still, as much uproar as the name initially caused, it doesn’t seem to have impacted sales. No such thing as bad publicity, and all that?

          1. Tereza

            I do agree with you that bad publicity is better than no publicity. But each month, when I’m already really cranky, I think of Apple and get crankier!

        2. Guest

          Yeah, my female friends feel the same way – still can’t believe they went with that name. You’d think that they would’ve gotten several second opinions before moving forward w/ it.

      2. Guest

        Yeah, that’s how he’s typically thought of as, though at the same time there’s tremendous talent in place on his team, which we rarely hear about. I remember reading this great article on Tim Cook:

        1. akharris

          Great article. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when those two butt heads.

  19. Mars Dorian

    Nice analogy – no, wait. Brilliant analogy !!Stage 6 and the end are awesome – I luv it when people combine valuable content with entertaining and creative ideas !Way to go, Fred !

    1. fredwilson

      i didn’t make this. shane snow did

  20. Paul Sanwald

    I really like steps 1-4. steps 5-7 don’t appeal to me at all, either as a musician or as a technologist. I am really surprised that being signed by a major label is still viewed as a goal by people younger than me, when I went on tour with my first band 15 years ago when I was just out of high school, we played with lots of bands who had major label deals and I remember quickly realizing that maybe they didn’t have it so great after all.

  21. Sllecks

    The band is going to make it!

  22. goldwerger

    I love it, especially that last step… 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      most of the best investors have been retired entrepreneurs. but not all of them.

  23. Guest

    Definitely a great analogy!

  24. Fernando Gutierrez

    IMHO, there’s something missing in the chart. In order to get to stage 7 and beyond you have to enjoy the previous ones.Yes, it’s quite hard to be without cash and sleep, but there is something special around it. I have never started a band (although I’m trying to learn to play the guitar lately…), but I’m trying with my own company, and the process is already enjoyable. If I never strike it big with my company I’ll sell the leftovers or close if there are any. And then I’ll start again. Because I love this kind of life.

  25. Matt A. Myers

    I find I’m constantly on Stage 1 to 7.

  26. Tereza

    For a while I compared a tech startup to producing a film. But this is more apt.I kinda feel like web 1.0 was traditional film production; pre-2008 was leaner, more like indie film production; and now it’s rock band. Especially the early merch and iterating. (Although I’d also say that early merch and iterating is newer to B2C, it’s been the way forever in B2B).But, a question I do have is — there is a tradeoff in B2C tech startups between building that audience and bringing in revenue. That tradeoff doesn’t seem to occur in the Rock Band model.Or does it?

    1. JLM

      Musical theatre productions and film productions are almost exactly like the organizational and financial dynamic of building a high rise office building. It is uncanny.

      1. Tereza

        Really glad you think so! I’m banking on it. :-)You think through and manage every element, from big picture to most micro detail, relying on a huge number of varying talents.And then you sit back and pray that it’ll work.Sometimes, it does.

      2. Tereza

        Hey JLM could I talk to you about the business I’m cooking?I think the very attractive ladies of Texas could be very important to me. And I know you have a handle on them…T.

        1. JLM

          One must always be careful when dealing w/ fast Yankee women however my training as a Ranger is probably adequate to counter their wily [email protected] week for me this week with earnings, Board meeting, earnings CC and entertaining Board members — in case I am slow in getting back to you.

          1. Tereza

            LOL. That wiliness is nurture, not nature.You may know that our community warmly calls your great state “Czech-xas”. I am probably related to some of your leggy blonde SMU-educated property managers, as I understand many of them are of Czech descent.Nowhere else in this great land has such a long-established Czech language major at the state university and still holds Kolaches festivals complete with folk dancing and costumes. (Iowa Falls, Chicago and Pittsburgh don’t come close)I promise to be nice.

  27. Tereza

    Is there a Johnny Cash of startups?I’d really like to know.

    1. fredwilson

      i work with one entrepreneur, isaak karaev, who is still at it in his 60s. he’s done four startups and got into it after coming to the US from Belarus in his late 30s. he’s not a big name like Johnny, but Isaak doesn’t look like he plans to stop anytime soon.

      1. Tereza

        That’s freaking awesome.Like a great artist, if it’s in your blood you can’t shake it.

  28. Kevin Kai Shen


  29. Donna Brewington White

    This is a great analogy. However, to be a little nitpicky, I think the analogy breaks down slightly at the transition from stage 1 to stage 2. It seems that the relationship between the band’s “sound” and the songs they write will be different than the relationship between a vision for a product and the product itself. For the band, seems like the sound is the product and the songs are a vehicle of sorts. Whereas for the company, wouldn’t the product be…well…the product? Perhaps, in effect, the distinction is minuscule when it comes to the bands that really make it big.The funny thing about the analogy is that when I think of the personalities of the people who start bands and those who start companies, the difference is pretty much night and day! While I do know a lot of entrepreneurs who are musicians on the side…most of the musicians I know are not entrepreneurs. (There’s a study in itself.) However, I find that both groups are often still awake at two a.m.

    1. Tereza

      So I’m an amateur (classical) musician and i have a few artists of various types in the family.You describe musicians interpreting existing compositions. This is only somewhat the case. Classical musicians are more interpretive of existing compositions, as you describe. But the good ones get involved in avant-garde works in tandem with the composer that are iterative. If you hear the words ‘world premiere’ they were probably changing stuff til the last minute. And good chance it’ll change some more. Many artists of many stripes do mashups of other’s work all the time, throughout history. It’s a lot more than playing the written music.I sing with a bunch of up-and-coming opera professionals in a choir weekly. These are all Yale/Juilliard musicians — national caliber. It’s exhilerating and scary to watch them and their ups and downs with the auditions, the personal investment. They are all amazing. Few and possibly none will make it really big.This is apparently a coveted gig for them. It’s a top-flight church choir in an affluent town with healthy budget, a national-caliber organist and they can cycle through tons of choral repertoire while they make money to pay their rent. To do it, they’re on a 6am train Sunday mornings to get up here in time for pre-service rehearsal, and they do it even if they sang late the night before.It is really important to support artists, to give them an opportunity to make a living. It is a great joy for me to participate in this because it is a win/win/win.My lifelong observation is there is an alchemy you’re constantly seeking that is highly analagous to product/market fit in startups. The iterative work and the emotional struggle are identical.So a big piece of the ‘struggling artist’ persona is finding your voice, and that necessitates iteration.And then your ‘voice’ needs to intersect with a moment in time, where it resonates in a unique special way.My grandmother was an accomplished pianist. She had a profound understanding of the artist’s path. It was clear when her son, my uncle, was a young child that for him creating art was like breathing and he couldn’t not do it. My mom told stories of Milan as a 6-yr-old going outside in the winter to paint washable watercolors on the sidewalk, and hours later he’d ring the doorbell crying because his cup of water froze and he couldn’t paint anymore. He was unaware his ears and nose were practically frostbitten. Luckily he had the mother he did because she understood this and supported him (through very hard times) well into adulthood.Innovation and Art and the struggle are unique to humans. It’s really important for all of us to nurture it in the ones that show promise.I guess I just wrote a blog post. Thanks, Donna! 🙂

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Great stories, Tereza!I wonder how many blog posts are inspired from A VC? My two most recent posts on my own blog were in direct response to Fred’s. I think part of the beauty of this blog is the thought it inspires — a mark of true leadership is what is inspired in others.I do see numerous huge analogies between artists and entrepreneurs (both need to be cultivated at all costs) and development of “product” in both arenas. I also know bands that have been created around someone’s songwriting abilities and others where they have to find someone to write songs for them because they have the musical talent and “showmanship” but not the full songwriting capability (i.e., maybe can write music but not lyrics).The reason I made the disclaimer about the difference between the “sound” vs. “songs” perhaps being minuscule for rock bands that make it big is that the “rock band” is a particular phenomenon within the world of music and musicians in general and I can see why this particular group is so aptly compared to startups. In reflection, I couldn’t think of any big rock bands that didn’t write all (or most?) of their own music. I thought of several highly successful recording artists who don’t write their own songs, but not many (if any) big rock bands.I didn’t want to stretch the analogy too far but I do find it interesting that there are a lot of highly talented musicians who will never start rock bands and a lot of highly talented product developer types who will never start companies nor should they (and ones that should not have, but did — another story). This ties into why I think VCs are so important, or can be — yet another story.

  30. Barney Austen

    Super analogy, thanks for sharing. As a recent start-up, bootstrapping is exactly what it has been all about. While we go looking for funding, the assumption is that we won’t get it just yet – so rather than sit on our laurels waiting for the cash to come in, we are doing whatever we can to get over the line. Hopefully, by getting some initial cash from customers, the investment opportunity will become more attractive. If not, then slow and steady as she goes will be the mantra.

  31. carenkelleher

    Thx for sharing @teisenmann. Timely b/c I’m writing on parallels btwn entertainment and VC, and what the former can learn from the later. RT @fredwilson

  32. Steve Latronica

    Entertaining for a Monday morning, great post!

  33. sweller

    I have been involved in both bands and start-ups. The analogy you posted here is really is spot on.I often meet people who have the goal of what is listed in “If all goes well”. They talk about success, fame and mostly money as the ultimate goal. I think this is far too general of a goal when starting a business (or a band).I believe you can enable yourself to create truly inspiring results when you focus on producing something you are passionate about. There are many great examples of successful entrepreneurs in both music and tech that do it because they are driven to create something that truly inspires them.So, I think Stage 1 on this list should really read “First, inspire yourself, discover something you want to see in the world”.If a future business partner were to tell you that their goal for the business was to “be famous”, or to “be richer than Bill Gates”, you may want to find a new partner. ;)Oh and in both cases, it also helps to have a really good leader.

  34. kenberger

    This is the top reason I’m in startups today: came close but no cigar in rock n roll.Experience: 2 bands, as bassist and singer.Band #1: Ithaca, NY, during college. so-so music, but few bands and plenty of drunk kids to play for. Wound up being the opening act for INXS and 10,000 Maniacs. Highest highs and lowest lows of my life.Band #2: Los Angeles. Amazing music with amazing bandmates (today you’d probably call it Emo/Grunge). but massive competition and low marketing expertise. Played frequently on bill of 10 bands with Weezer being one of the others. I left upon receiving partial scholarship to b-school. Saw Rivers (Weezer leader) later and asked how he made it. A: “persistence my friend!!”

  35. Mark Mc Laughlin

    Really interesting comparison. I started a company with 2 school friends and we had all played in a band together before that. Universal paid for some demos, we got radio play but never broke through but I now can see why that was the case but of course only in hindsight. I can see similarities with the early days of being in a start up and what does and doesn’t generate investors’ interest.I definitely think some of the hassling and haggling skills learned from being in a band were very valuable when it came to a start up. Chasing a VC is very like chasing an A&R or manager. Utlimately the majority make very quick judgements on you and your company / music and only a tiny proportion end up getting signed or funded.There is definitely a likeness in the type of person that wants to be in a band that wants to work in a start up with the main concern of not wanting a proper job. Alot of good programmers are also very good musicians.The most interesting aspect of the start up is that it originated from identifying a gap in the market based on our experience of being musicians. If you go to a band’s website or MySpace page you can buy their merchandise or download their music but you can’t really buy their tickets yet but the shift is occurring.The 2 big barriers to entry to becoming a ticket seller of the hassle of distributing paper tickets and needing the marketing power of a ticket agency like Ticketmaster have been replaced by digital tickets and the ability to leverage existing customer databases like on Facebook fan pages.

  36. Donna Brewington White

    Just realized that a HUGE missing piece is the band manager. This is often the role which among countless other contributions can be the difference between the band staying together or killing each other. (Occasionally, this person is a band member, but not always.) Who is the band manager in the startup world? In the model above, the VC doesn’t enter in early enough to play this role, unless an early-stage investor, and yet it does seem that the VC brings (or can bring) the guidance, boundaries and accountability that will help the startup to not only survive but thrive. A good band manager does this without squelching the creativity of the musicians and yet saves them from themselves. (Many of the musicians near and dear to me would agree.)

    1. Tereza

      Really interesting question.Is it because conventionally-defined creative talent needs more babysitting than an entrepreneur? And/or that VCs and angels are more Darwinistic about the ‘talent’?I am hard-pressed to think that a VC or angel would want to deal with barroom brawls, drug use, severe mood disorders. At least, not if they can help it. So they’d screen them out.But in the rock band world, these people could still make money on stage and in the studio while being barely functioning behind the scenes.Or is the “Band Manager” or Agent a rough equivalent the startup Finder or Broker/Dealer? I’ve found that to be a pretty radioactive subject…Alternatively, could be a Coach — but a coach is an hourly rate thing, and not on the hook and accountable the way a band manager is. If an Entrepreneur doesn’t show up for a key event, the Coach isn’t gonna get ripped a new one….

  37. john

    Great. So the whole point is to figure out how to bypass the major labels (VCs) and keep all the money.

    1. Leland

      Agreed John. You know what? I think that most businesses could do well without the VC funding. In the end, if you build a great product/service and you have the confidence to put in a strong business model you shouldn’t need VC money. Bandwidth and CPU are the most expensive things for a startup. Ideally, you will be working with a very tight and small group of people that are willing to work for free until the startup gets going.If your idea sucks, all the VC money in the world won’t help you.That’s the problem with VC money. Generally, when it’s available, you don’t need it. Additionally, access to such a large pool of capital so quickly encourages huge waste on marketing and other things that money can be dumped into. But as youtube has proved, if you have a good idea (viral video) you don’t need huge sums of money to get it out to many people.Work your ass off, 80 hours a week, and build on an idea you genuinely believe in and you will be successful. If you arn’t prepared for that, don’t even bother.Sorry if my comment was a bit rambling. : )

  38. George A.

    of course, you can always skip straight to the cushy investor gig…

  39. jeddings

    Everyone here should read “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. You’ll see why there are parallels not only for rock bands and tech startups, but also authors, actors, photographers, etc. There are a VERY few people who are extremely successful, but by and large, the masses are starving or not getting by at all. There is very little middle ground.

  40. Tom Turnbull

    Not a bad comparison

  41. The Central Scrutinizer

    Fred,Great post, as always. I was wondering if you had a chance to read the Harvard study, which found that angels backed start ups are more likely to succeed than those back by VC alone, and if your experience matches the study. Thanks…

  42. Saami Matloob

    so true

  43. badams77

    Hate to kill the dream but,Busking, and doing Work just to show that you can.The Record Company get most of the money. The company owner gets most of the money.No one supports you when you building/composing, and you have to give away the product just to get people to know about you.

  44. fredwilson

    which was more fun?