Filed under Punk Startup Lesson

I’ll choose my own shit scene.

This is why the internet rules…this is something that I wrote a long time ago that really should fall under the heading of “no shit”.  Anyway, thought I would post it here since I haven’t written in a while.

At Thousand Oaks High School there were about 30 punk rockers*. That was out of about 2,500 students. We were all into different sub-genres, but when you’ve got a small core of people like that, you all bundle yourselves up and that’s your scene. We’d all go to the same shows, and the same kids would cycle through the various bands. Great. 30 kids. Can you really call that a scene, or just some kind of local gang or group?

At some point toward the second half of high school, when my friends and I started driving, we’d venture outside of our town and go to some other shows. We’d mix with kids from other schools and you would realize that there were more punk rockers around and the scene you were a part of grew by leaps and bounds. Basically, you took those 30 kids, multiplied them by the amount of local schools, added some older guys and girls, maybe a few younger ones, and now you’re one in a thousand…or more. You could feel like you were a part of something huge.

Now, there’s the internet. Holy crap. If a local band could get their demo to 100 kids at a local show that came from the 6 closest schools, imagine that your core 30 kids were now connected with not only the 6 closest schools, but every single school in the world. The United States has around 40,000 high schools in it. If each of those schools had 30 punkers, you’d now have a reach of about 1.2 MILLION punk rockers in the United States alone. And that is just in high school. The average local band could now have their demo heard by thousands the same day they recorded it. Insane.

The lesson here? No matter how small an idea, or how obscure a product, service or anything is…it’s 2012. You can find interested people. Do what you want. There ARE others who will be interested. You can find them.

*All the numbers on this post are off the top of my head and for demonstration only.  Why the eff would you hold me to them, anyway?!
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More than just another crowd…

Over a year and a half ago I recorded a little video with my 5 Tips for a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign.  We share it with new Invested.in users that need a little help, and I honestly hadn’t watched it in its entirety since the week I recorded it.  Today I got an email from YouTube that directed me to it, and so I watched it.  Not bad.  Besides the references to MySpace (insert obligatory insult), and the absence of my glasses, I think it holds up.

The things that are kind-of a bummer are that I made it so long, and that PROMOTE is the last tip.  It makes sense in relation to the steps it takes to create a campaign, and because I wanted to drive it home, but I wonder how many of the people watching the video or reading our blog got to that last, most important step.

“If you build it, they will come” is great, but if nobody knows you built it, nobody’s coming.

Promotion is a skill that I began learning in high school.  It started out with me making flyers for my friends’ punk rock bands.  As a die-hard supporter, I wanted to make sure that everyone knew that MUTE, Misfire and P.O.S. were playing in Will’s garage (The Carpet Palace) on Friday night!  From there it grew to promoting my own punk shows, my own label, etc…  Over time, I got pretty good at it.  I learned quickly that a lot of what it took to promote a show well was the time and effort you put into it.  As I’ve moved towards working on crowdfunding, startups and tech events/meetups, I have realized that the skill-set and rules are almost identical.

Below are some of my lessons learned from my punk rock life, applied to my business life.

Crowdfunding:  When an unknown band takes the stage in a small club, nobody is up front, champing at the bit for them to start playing.  When a band is new, or from out of town, the best thing they can do is make friends before they get up on stage.  If they have an entourage with them, they gotta make sure they stay in the room and get up close.  When people look interested and excited, it makes us want to find out why.  Of course, the sound that comes out of their instruments is the most important factor in keeping the crowd, but bringing in the “smoking in the parking lot” masses with an unfamiliar tune will always be an uphill battle.

The one thing I ALWAYS tell people about crowdfunding is that “nothing attracts a crowd more than a crowd“.  The most common response is a defensive one that it’s hard for people to get that initial group of supporters.  Especially for crowdfunding, I think that’s a completely bullshit response.  For one, if you can’t get your best friend, your mom, your sister, your brother and/or your grandma to support you, then what makes you think you’ll find anyone else?  Any well planned and thought out crowdfunding campaign will have various levels of entry (Step 2!) for people with different budgets.  Get your friends and family involved right away, and their support will be instant validation to future supporters that you are worth something.

Quick add-on example:  The last 2 weeks or so, I’ve been trying to get people to follow Invested.in on AngelList.  It has worked the very same way.  Once we got our initial crew of followers, and by just being proactive (posting status updates and following others), I have been able to get introductions to new people every day.  Now that we have our base, it’s all about persistence.

Startups:  My friend Joe is a die-hard fan of Good Riddance, a punk band from Santa Cruz, CA.  My friend Forrest, when making fun of Joe once said something like, “If Good Riddance shit on a CD, Joe would still think it’s great!”  For some reason, after all these years, that statement/idea stuck in my head.  As a huge fan of Bad Religion (and also Good Riddance :-P), I completely understood Joe’s obsession with one of his favorite bands.  People like Joe and I scream from mountain tops (or Facebook walls) when our favorite bands do something new, make announcements or (god forbid) break up.  I can honestly say that I have spent hundreds, probably thousands of hours over the years promoting shows and albums for my favorite bands for no other reason than being obsessed with their sound and message, and thinking that everyone else needs to be as well.  Check out Forrest and Joe’s new band, Out of Trust.  :-P

As a startup founder, the best thing you can do is find your die-hard fans.  If you have the passion it takes to build a startup that you believe can change the world, there will be others out there who will feel passionate about it as well.  When building up your initial follower and customer base, keep your eyes open to those who seem interested in your product and cultivate a relationship with them.  They’ll have great ideas from a completely different perspective, and when you respect, include and acknowledge them as a part of your team (not just another user), you’ll have gained the best team members imaginable.  Invested.in’s consumer site has always been a sandbox for our technology that we’ve let grow organically, without spending money on advertisement or promo.  By building relationships with our die-hard fans, those fans have become evangelists and have done all of the heavy lifting for us.  Without them, we’d have thousands less users.  I’ve had users give interviews to local papers about us, ask me to come speak to their classes and at their conferences, and I even have one user who emailed his list of 20,000 followers for us.

Events:  Believe it or not, not all noise is the same.  Different bands I would book drew different crowds, even if they all fell under the same “punk” umbrella.  Once I understood the differences, I knew exactly who to promote the show to.  I would book similar local bands to open up, and I would post flyers where I knew their fans would be (online AND offline).  Again, get more people involved and they will help you.  Enlist a fan or two to pass out flyers for free tickets.  Once you know who to promote to, again, it’s all about persistence.  If you’re promoting to the right people, there will be a direct relationship between the number of people who show up, and how much effort you put into promoting the event.

I’ve been organizing startup events in the 805 area (805 for the area code – Westlake Village to Santa Barbara) for a few months now.  This area was never known for having a huge tech startup scene.  Most people drive down to Santa Monica or L.A. for tech meetups and events, so when I threw the first event and 60 people came, I thought it was awesome.  When I threw the second event and 160 people showed up, I thought it was insane.  People asked me how I did it, and I just told them that organizing and promoting the events were no different from the days I promoted punk shows.  Everyone looked at me like I was either insane or joking.  David Cremin, musician turned VC (DFJ Fronteir), was the only person who understood the similarities.  In fact, promoting these events are easier.  The target audience is in the name of the group (805 Startups), and the value of each separate event is clear as day to the startups who find out about it.  Example:  Using/want to use AngelList to raise money?  Come hear Dave from Netplenish talk about his experience actually doing it.

When promoting an event, just like promoting a startup, a fundraising campaign or really anything, all you really need to understand is who the target audience is, and why they care.  If you can get that initial crowd (validation), find your die-hard fans (evangelists) and use them to bring in that target audience (customers), the game’s over and you’ve won.

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