On Monday, June 13th, Next Big Sound Cofounder and Head of Product David Hoffman came to talk to our accelerator teams at our weekly Founders Dinner. Next Big Sound is the leading provider of online music analytics and insights, tracking hundreds of thousands of artists around the world. They analyze the popularity of artists, comparing them to a benchmark set by artists of a similar level of recognition. They then use this to predict how they will perform and answer their root question, “How does a band become famous?” Based in New York City, Next Big Sound was launched in 2009 and acquired in the summer of 2015 by Pandora. It was named the most innovative company in the music industry and one of the top 50 most innovative companies overall by Fast Company. Here are some key takeaways from David’s talk with our founders.
- People make the idea work, not the other way around
A common theme among successful startup investors is that they invest in people. Great ideas are a dime a dozen, but people who are capable and driven enough to turn those ideas into a reality are a rarity. When David and his cofounders showed up to the TechStars accelerator in 2009, they had just decided to completely scrap their original idea that got them into the program in the first place. They were afraid the program leaders would boot them out of the program, but instead they said, “We invest in people, not ideas.” A once in a generation idea is great, but every founder must know that if they aren’t fully committed to the process and driven to action then they won’t be successful. On the other hand, those who possess these qualities can achieve success, even if their original idea falls flat.
- Find a problem to solve, and go solve it
When the Next Big Sound founders were first starting their business they wanted to answer one question: how does a band become famous? It took them a while, but every time their idea failed they went back to that original question, and eventually began to uncover the answer. They saw that the music industry was progressing to the online space and designed software to track online listeners and compile it in a database that record labels could use to easily evaluate talent. They found an area in which the industry was lacking and they came up with a solution. Your startup must solve a real, measurable problem in order to find success.
- Choose your team carefully
David counseled the same caution in picking team members as Brad Silver did a few weeks ago in his Founders Dinner talk. “Hire slow, fire fast.” If you don’t follow this policy you can end up with a couple of bad eggs infecting your company’s culture, as Next Big Sound experienced. They learned from their mistakes, however, and are now more cautious when hiring. They also feature a constantly evolving company culture handbook that allows for employee input and suggestions.
- Know when to pivot
Another echo of Mr. Silver’s talk, David stressed that you must be willing to completely change your business if it isn’t working. He described the first idea he and his cofounders had as “fantasy football for music”. Not surprisingly, this failed, but they quickly realized their mistake and were willing to switch paths. They had to go through this recycling process multiple times until they found out what worked. If your idea isn’t working, let it go.
- Failure is a part of the process
“You’re going to try a lot of things and they’re not going to work, and that’s okay. As long as you’re persistent and stick with what you believe in, something great will happen.” When starting a business, you must be accepting of failure. In order to find out what works, you first have to find out what doesn’t work. Take every failure as a learning opportunity. The Next Big Sound founders were dedicated to the music industry and making an impact within it, and they didn’t let their failures sway them from their true passion. You must be willing to evolve while also sticking with your foundational values and beliefs. It’s a difficult, yet necessary balance to maintain.
Grant Hechinger is a Start Co. Summer Associate and a rising senior at Rhodes College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.