Why starting a business is a lot like writing a hit song

Songwriter and Idealog advertising manager Anita Hayhoe waxes lyrical on how, when it comes to starting a new venture, you have to follow your muse...

I spoke to Jason Ennor this week, the co-founder of MyHR, and discovered that he used to be the drummer in a charmingly-monikered nineties punk band, Muckhole.

I come across these people a lot actually, entrepreneurs with hidden musical talents. Immediately I can relate.

By nothing more than pure coincidence, all of the Idealog team are, in one way or another, musicians, and we, like our own little musical start-up, have all the components needed to make one full band, including backing vocals, production, styling and unrequested throat-singing solos.

What I am getting at here is that a good team, just like a good start-up, is a lot like a good song.  

Bear with me on this.

A-one. A-two. A-one-two-three-four!

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to write a song, but the first and hardest part for me is in accepting I can.

When writing a song, just as when starting a business, there is a moment when you have to just be brave and begin. You need to take an idea, nebulous and unformed, and just believe in it. At this stage, it's all about just letting go, having faith, and without formula or frame, simply…starting.

Similarly, there’s a moment during the genesis of any good business idea where ‘faith’ is the most important element. The first step is to record all the possible incarnations of your idea – the ‘broad strokes’ so to speak – knowing that the rough stuff can be edited out later. (See the ‘lean canvas method’).   

Getting lost/getting found

Once you’ve demoed your initial concept, the next step is deciding which parts are the good bits, which parts are shite, which bit goes with what, and piecing them all together to form a coherent verse, bridge, chorus. Actually, scratch that, start over.

My experience – starting with the Fostr app – is as above, times a thousand. There’s a real rush of euphoria in those opening stages – oh the possibilities! – but often, that moment of excitement is fleeting, and soon you are tangled in the refinement process, with seemingly no hope of extrication.

During the creation of Fostr (an app designed to facilitate peer-to-peer fostering for dogs), that meant justifying an app that connects local pet sitters, performing (sometimes disheartening) market validations and generally making yourself more confused than you thought possible.

Don’t bore us, get to the chorus

“But what about the formula?” you ask.

Well, sure. There might be a formula somewhere in all of this. You can, after all, follow the tried and true methods that have worked in the past. Verse, chorus, verse.

But as we all know, the tried-and-true path is rarely the most interesting, nor the one that leads to the top of the charts. 

So how does this apply to your start-up?

Simple. There is a time for inspiration and there is a time for action. What’s needed here is discipline, desire and a hunger to finish, and that means remaining steadfast during the process of feedback, collaboration and reflection, as well as remembering why you started the whole project at all. Presumably fame, fortune or some sort of higher purpose. (See Porter’s five forces analysis).

Getting to the gig

Then, suddenly, all those parts fall into place and actually start to look like....something. You’ve written and rewritten. You’ve practiced so much you’ve stopped caring. You got bloody, stubbed fingers, but there it is, a song.

Of course, there are always better songs out there, but this is your song, the only of its kind. Where others have tried and failed, you’ve gone ahead and done it. And in fact, you’re pretty darn proud of how it sounds.

Now comes risky part. Now it’s time to sing it. Because that brilliant song no-one has ever heard is no song at all.

Similarly, your product – that product you’ve slaved over, invested in and suffered for – is only one part of the business. It’s the brand-to-market that makes the real impression. A song will grow on you if you listen to it enough.

That methodology has worked for MyHR. Sure, Jason brought traditional HR management online – and that’s pretty damn impressive – but what has actually made him successful is all the other stuff. Pairing with big trendy brands, and getting in front of people, and putting in the face-time at those conferences and conventions. Making the video. Putting on the show.

Image: Anita Hayhoe, on stage with her band, Sushi Cats