I listed the ideas and adjectives describing the philosophies and passions that shape how I approach life and work. John Keats summed it up pretty well, “Give me books, French wine (beer is my elixir of choice), fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.” My wife gave me a bookmark with that quote many years ago (the first time I heard it). It was a simple, yet perfect gift. Music is ever-present in my life. It shapes, chronicles and entertains. I discovered punk music in my teens and like so many things we do as youth it has remained with me all these years. (see this blog post recounting a recent punk show I attended)
Entrepreneur was also on the list. Yes I spent the first part of my career working as a company man in the Fortune 500, but the desire has always been there. I took an entrepreneurship class at Penn State in the 80’s. It was one of the only 8:00 am classes that I regularly attended. I liked the idea of building something and seeing the results of my labors, being the master of my own destiny and owning the outcomes. My problem was Niagara Falls, NY circa 1989, was not a hot bed of start-ups. Starting your own business meant brick and mortar retail or manufacturing, not exactly the exciting creative game changing ventures that motivated me.
Punk and entrepreneur just seemed to fit together, punktrepreneur. A quick search turned up a reference in Matt Diehl’s book, My So Called Punk. He used the word to describe the musicians who built their own labels, businesses and communities around a philosophy and the music they loved. I knew I was on the right path. I worked in high school and college radio in the 80’s. I bought my records and cassettes through the mail, printed a few fanzines, promoted and attended shows in houses, community centers and anywhere that would have us. Some of the bands that I played on air, promoted, saw and met are documented in Michael Azerrad’s earlier book, Our Band Could Be Your Life.
We did not know it at the time, but we were part of a DIY movement that pushed the idea of consumer choice and community into the music industry. With today’s technology, entrepreneurial artists and their fans derive direct mutual benefit from each other without the need for the old music business model. I once again have the chance to engage with bands directly like I did in the 80’s.
I have had the opportunity to realize my entrepreneurial goals and build new teams from the ground up with creative passionate people at Charles Schwab, Acclaim and HireVue. At HireVue we have created a new way for people to share their passion and skills when looking for their next career. We created a whole new HR Technology category with our talent interaction platform and digital interviewing. Each time I built a new team I followed the principles I learned in the indie music and punk scene of the 80’s. Anyone can be a Punktrepreneur regardless of where you work, the problem you are solving or the team you belong to.
Question Authority – Whatever your role on a team, you must have an opinion and be willing to share it, defend it, debate it and change it. Bigger titles, an investment check, experience or “the way we do it” are not de facto reasons to “go with the flow and do what you are told.” There are a lot of naysayers, poseurs and crony capitalists out there. People have to earn your respect and you have to earn theirs.
Upset the Status Quo – Complacency and mediocrity thrive where long standing routines are left unchecked. Drive change and view every day as a learning experience. Time, technology and an open source environment will foster innovation and engagement. Bud summed it up well in Repo Man, “An ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations, Repo Man spends his life getting into tense situations.” Rewards come to those willing to take risks.
DIY Attitude – Find the people, tools and technology to get the work done. There is so much innovation occurring you have no excuse not to experiment, patch together and create new solutions. If it is doesn’t meet your needs, change it. If it doesn’t exist, create it. Be willing to pick up the hammer or the mop and take out the trash when no one else will.
Community and Network – You need a group of people aligned by a cause, passion or perspective to succeed. You need diversity of thought, skills and background to create. As Joe Strummer said, “Without people, you’re nothing.” Help people first, have their backs and care about their success.
– See you at the barricades