I tell every entrepreneur the same thing: don’t start a company because you think it’s the fast track to a fortune.
...Start a company because you want to make a difference.
Maybe it’s growing up on a small, divided, sun-drenched island that most maps don’t even show (Cyprus). Or the stories I read as a child about John Kennedy or Alexander the Great. Or maybe it’s spinning my first Elvis Presley record (the King Creole soundtrack) and falling in love with America.
All my life I wanted to do two things: move to the US and make a difference.
I accomplished the first in 1991 when I moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. Sonicbids, which I founded in 2000 out of my apartment, armed with $50,000 of personal savings and a stack of credit cards, gave me the launching pad to accomplish the second.
I was inspired to start a company after my personal experience as a talent agent showed me that a huge part of the music-performing market was not being addressed by traditional agencies. And though I had a great-paying job that enabled me to work and get to know many of my idols like Pat Metheny and Chick Corea, I was restless to do something of my own, to take advantage of the new Internet frontier. I was hungry to make a difference.
Today Sonicbids is the music industry standard for connecting bands with music promoters, with over half-a-million members from 110 countries (there’s 192 in the United Nations in case you were wondering).
In almost 13 years since the launch of Sonicbids, an estimated 750,000 gigs around the planet have come to be as a result of a crazy little idea.
Shows booked by rock bands from Faroe Islands in Dutch clubs; tours booked by Icelandic pianists around China; an Iranian female DJ playing her first show in Spain; an Egyptian female-fronted metal band playing in Austin, TX; a South African pop group getting to perform their first ever gig in Canada.
For me that was something worth launching.
When I decided that it was the right time to sell Sonicbids in January of 2013, I experienced all the emotions associated with letting go of something that had become a huge part of my life, my identity, my family (I met and worked with my wife Kimberly for over 10 years at Sonicbids). When I get asked which was the hardest day I had in the business, my answer is simple: the day we announced that Sonicbids was sold. (In a funny nod to cultural differences, all my American friends congratulated me and all my European friends asked me if I was OK.)
We’re all attracted to the stories of lone entrepreneurial heroes — the Thomas Edisons, the Benjamin Franklins, the Steve Jobses.
But for me, a business is only successful when a bunch of minds and hearts align around a clear a mission and have a unified set of values. After all, that’s why we call it a company.
The pursuit of entrepreneurship is often accompanied by a whole lot of myths (“write a plan and execute flawlessly”) and catchphrases (“it’s not personal, it’s business”). Maybe it’s because simplicity sells or because we like to think of life as a linear process where we are in control of all outcomes.
But building a business is much, much more than that. It’s about damn luck and perseverance, decisiveness and zig-zagging, firmness and flexibility, pragmatism and idealism, tough decisions and unexpected opportunities, and, as Edison said, inspiration and perspiration.
If you are one of the crazy dreamers like me who’s been bitten by the urge to start a company, to the take leap into the great unknown and embark on a great new (ad)venture, then read on and share your stories here. Go on and make a difference.