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Startup Strategies – Best of 2012

Here is a fantastic compilation of posts and articles from 2012 about managing startups from  Professor at Harvard Business School who studies lean startups, entrepreneurship, platforms, and network effects (Twitter: @teisenmann).  This is so much information and wisdom here for anyone starting a new venture or trying to make their startup successful.

As Tom says “The generosity of the startup community is amazing, and these insights are invaluable to those of us who teach and coach aspiring entrepreneurs.”  Dig in, there is a lot to digest:

Lean Startup

Business Models
Customer Discovery and Validation

Marketing: Demand Generation and Optimization

Sales and Sales Management
Viral Marketing
PR Strategy

Branding/Naming a Startup

Product Management/Product Design

Business Development

  • John O’Farrell of a16z describes how quality trumps quantity and clarity regarding mutual objectives is crucial in doing business development deals, using Opsware’s transformative distribution agreement with Cisco as a case study.

Funding Strategy

Founding Process
  • My colleague Noam Wasserman published his book, The Founder’s Dilemmas, that describes tradeoffs that founders confront when deciding when/with whom to found, how to split equity, how to divide roles, etc.
  • Blake Masters’ summary of Peter Thiel’s Stanford CS183 lecture on the importance on early founding decisions.
  • Charlie O’Donnell of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures on questions that co-founders must address ASAP and the concept of the “minimum viable team,” i.e., the smallest set of skills needed to get traction in an early-stage startup.
Company Culture, Organizational Structure, Recruiting and Other HR Issues
Board Management

Startup Failure

Exiting By Selling Your Company

The Startup Mindset and Coping with Startup Pressures

Management Advice, Not Elsewhere Classified
Career Advice (Especially for MBAs)

Startup Hubs

  • Brad Feld of Foundry Group and TechStars has published the book Startup Communities, a guide to building an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Tools for Entrepreneurs

  • Beyond Steve Blank’s Startup Owner’s Manual, a book he co-authored with Bob Dorf, here is a list of the fantastic resources Steve has made available to the startup community — mostly for free.
 Original post is here.  Thank’s for compiling and sharing this Tom.
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Ridin’ with Hypebot

My buddy Bruce Houghton at Hypebot, caught me last week for a quick interview before Rethink Music.  Here is an except from our discussion:

HYPEBOT: Your new focus is on consulting and investing. Are there any sectors, particularly within music and music tech, that particularly interest you or where you see the most room for growth?

DAVE KUSEK: Online education is one of them. This is an area that is already transforming how people learn and gain job skills and it is only going to grow as time goes on. There are big opportunities here that will effect tens of millions of people around the world. Online training is going to be huge. Job requirements are shifting and people need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances that can benefit them. The traditional model of higher education is already under pressure and there are many people and companies exploring alternative models that are very interesting.

The other area I am bullish on is live music and live events. The live concert experience cannot be digitized, yet can benefit enormously from technology. There really has not been much innovation in live music or in music merchandising beyond ticketing. I think there is a lot more that can be done with mobile technology and am actively working in this area. My investment in Tastemate is one way of digging into this potential in a meaningful way. We will be bringing our service to a venue near you, very soon.

I also think that there is potential to expand the reach of live performance using remote technologies. I am interested in ways to cut the costs out of touring to make it more profitable and to reach broader audiences. It is amazing to me that there has not been more activity in this area either, so I am looking for companies and people to work with that are thinking differently about what live music is all about and how to make it even more lucrative.

HYPEBOT: What are some of the things that Digital Cowboys has done in the past or is looking to do now?

DAVE KUSEK: We are focused on business development, marketing and product development, particularly in online and mobile services. We also do strategy consulting for businesses wanting to expand or enter new markets or make acquisitions. I say we, because while I am the managing partner, I also leverage a network of people around the world and with different specialties that I bring together to form a team to address the issues. For example, with a lot of the product work that we have done I brought together a team of visual designers and user experience people to execute on the product vision and do the testing. With business development projects I sometimes work with friends that have particular contacts or relationships that are beneficial to my clients. Sometimes I put together a couple different investors or strategic partners to provide capital or distribution or some other need. The main thing is to get the work done and show results, while trying to have some fun and work on interesting projects that are pushing the envelope.

HYPEBOT: There’s some talk of another tech bubble. Do you see think we’re approaching one in music and media technology?

DAVE KUSEK: I do think that some of the deals we have seen recently are off the charts, like Instagram – but who knows? That has all the earmarks of “bubble” written all over it. But Facebook is also about to go public and at their level, what’s another billion dollars?

But really I don’t think overall that we are at the point of frivolousness and excess that we witnessed in the earlier dot-com bubble, at least not yet. I believe that people are just beginning to figure out better ways to communicate and interact and learn via technology. That is having massive implications on the future of society around the world. Take a look at the stock market trend over the past 100 years and you will see that things tend to move up and people get smarter and more prosperous. I am an optimist.

There are a lot of music startups getting funded these days and certainly they are not all going to make it. I think we will see some consolidation in the DIY space as there are probably more companies addressing that market than the market really needs. The same is true for music streaming and distribution and music discovery. I think the real breakthrough companies will be formed by trying to do something completely different, rather than mimicking the past with technology. We’ll see.

HYPEBOT: Any plans to write a follow-up to the “Future Of Music” book?

DAVE KUSEK: I plan to spend a lot more time posting things to my blog and on This is a much better way to continue to update original thinking and way more efficient than writing another book. The music industry has gone digital and online outlets like Hypebot really do work as conduits in this business. That is a real bright spot in the transformation of the music industry. So, look for more at

You can get the entire interview here.

More coverage from Hypebot here and from Billboard here.

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Fan Financed Music – Symphony of a Million

Patronage of the arts is a time honored practice that is still alive and well in the music business.  Many examples of fan financing from Ellis Paul, to Jill Sobule and many others have been reported and detailed recently in this blog and others.  Now a group of musicians from California have put together a very interesting program to raise money for commissioning projects that I hope catches on.  We need more thinking like this in the music industry today.  Effective and creative methods of connecting music fans to artists, writers, composers and producers will help propel the next generation of music making.

Symphony of a Million

“Symphony of a Million” is a 6-month campaign, a commissioning project that brings together composers, performers, and the general public.

The goal is to sell 1 million notes. Purchased notes will be used in not just one single million note work, but rather many new works. Composers will work with performers and compose pieces of varying lengths. The first work to be written will be a 1000 note work for solo marimba composed by Music Academy Online founder, Dave Schwartz, and written for percussionist Nobue Matsuoka. The second work will be a 4000 note composition for saxophone and harp and it will be composed by Anthony Lanman who will be working with saxophonist Dr. Noah Getz and harpist Jacqueline Pollauf who perform together as the duo Pictures on Silence.

* Buy a note for $1

* Each note becomes part of a piece of music composed by award winning composers. Throughout the process we will be commissioning composers to write new works of varying lengths using the notes that you purchase.

* A special “Symphony of a Million” concert, sponsored by Music Academy Online and featuring world-class ensembles, will premier all of the works created using the notes you buy. The concert will be held May 18, 2011, the 100th anniversary of the death of Gustav Mahler, the man who composed the “Symphony of a Thousand.”

* Buy as many notes as you wish. Dedicate the notes to someone special. Help to shape entire sections of new music with the notes you select! Your name (and theirs) will forever be part of the final scores.

* Encourage your friends and family to buy notes.

Find out more here.

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Cycles in Music – Video

From the Business Innovation Factory Summit, my presentation on the Past, Present and Future of Music.

Here is the story they wrote about me for the Summit.

Back in the seventies, David Kusek walked from his freshman dorm at the University of Connecticut, down a long hill to the music department for classes several times a week. When the routine got a little stale, he began taking other routes. One detour took him past the computer science building where he quickly noted the “hot” cars in the parking lot. Naturally, he began taking computer science courses.

Great ideas are born in such serendipitous ways. When Kusek melded his deep-rooted love of music with his newfound affinity for computers, he opened up unchartered territory in the music world by inventing the electronic drum. His company, Synare, took a relatively unfamiliar technology (computers) and combined it with an indigenous musical tradition that tuned percussion to the key of the song. Kusek also knew how to start a business, develop products, and take them to market. Having the right price point added to the appeal of the electronic drum and attracted the attention of fledgling artist Donna Summers who took a chance on the new sound and propelled her career.

“For better or worse, we had our part in the disco age,” Kusek says. “We helped to define the sound of the era.”

Taking another detour for curiosity’s sake led Kusek to study animal communication in California with noted biologist John Lilly. They were trying to use sound to communicate with dolphins when the Apple II computer came to market.

Kusek was already synthesizing the sounds that dolphins make, so he devised a way to do the same with musical instruments, to “put the Apple II between the instruments.” He explains that his new company, Passport Designs, “broke music down into a language of expression, which we mapped to simple computer code and connected it to the instruments. We created a computer language for music.” Witness the birth of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), developed by a group of companies including Passport, which has left an indelible mark on the music industry by becoming the prototype for all music interface software.

If only they had patented it.

Kusek, along with Dave Smith and the other people responsible for creating MIDI could have made millions with MIDI, but he remains philosophical about this missed opportunity. “Maybe the reason why it took off was that it was absolutely free,” he says. “It was a compact way of representing music in a simple and cheap format.”

Kusek has learned to appreciate and even extol the benefits of free and open access to music. He helped create musical notation software and was instrumental in developing enhanced CDs for the commercial market. He supports the creation of a music utility to “monetize” the immense wave of file-sharing that has become standard operating procedure in the industry. He reasons that Internet users already pay for access to a network that supplies the music, so why not add a nominal fee to the ISP bill and allow for legal trading? With approximately 80 million households using the Internet, a monthly music utility fee of $3 would generate almost $3 billion in annual music sales from households alone.

“If you tracked what was downloaded,” Kusek says, “you could create a system where the money flows exactly to the people who are listening. It could be a 30 to 40 billion dollar business again, as it was in the nineties.”

Admittedly, this system would spread those billions among a larger base of artists, establishing an unfamiliar sense of parity in the music industry. But Kusek says that the megastar is gone, anyway: “In the last four to five years, new artists coming to market are not making anywhere near what artists like Madonna made. I think that happens because of file-sharing, but also because the music industry was taking its eye off what was important. In the mid-nineties, the record companies thought their customers were WalMart and Target. They had no connection to their audience at all.”

File-sharing may have killed the megastar, but not the art, Kusek insists. “I think it’s a great time to be an artist,” he says. New performers may have smaller audiences, but they also have a more efficient way of finding that audience and staying connected to it through online chats, newsletters, and blogs. And instead of the record industry’s marketing machine pushing music at fans with an $18 plastic CD case and the elaborate promotion attached to it, word of mouth is shaping the musical tastes of the rising generation.

As it should, according to Kusek. He has brought technological innovations to the music industry by accepting such change and using it to open up the possibilities of sound. He envisions music flowing in a clean stream wherever people communicate, allowing artists and fans to express themselves freely.