Have Yaherd…There is something there

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blob-looking-for-something-clipartLast I left you, my partner had gone MIA (pardon the acronym pun) and I was grateful we never signed anything official. She was in and out in a matter of a few weeks. MIA was now called Papillion and though I could have entertained self-doubt, I wasn’t left alone. I still had Haytham from the Zahn Center and he introduced me to Dmitry Koltunov. The way Haytham described Dmitry, he sounded like a musician with some technical knowledge who had a good ear for ideas. I imagined him to be an older white man with sage like knowledge. Well sage like knowledge he did possess, but not a grey hair on his head. We met at a cafe at 49th street in the Spring of 2013 and just talked. We talked about music, his broadway show he was working on and eventually my big idea. My breakdown of the idea was a bit convoluted and still didn’t even fit in a freight elevator pitch. I still had some fear of sharing it. Dmitry, when I ask him to sign a NDAt via email, he refused (albeit nicely). So I went against all of my fears meeting with him. Sometimes your fears don’t know shit and truly should be ignored. I was learning the first of what will be many lessons about how I see myself and others. Dmitry explained why I shouldn’t fear sharing my ideas at its early stages of development. Because they are just ideas. “The work” he said ” that it takes to build a start-up, someone has to be passionate about the idea and be ready to see it through”. “Not to mention”, he continued, “ideas change in that process”. I had thought similarly in regard to the arts but never applied it to business ventures, though business is still a form of art. I always said that art is not what you do but how. Ideas come a dime a dozen but art is an individual’s interpretation of that idea. The dominant factors in both points are the work, the team and the follow through.

Dmitry then revealed to me that while he worked on his Broadway show he also advised startups. I felt blessed to have met him and met him as one musician talking to another as oppose to just a start up looking for help. I soon went back on tour and we stayed in touch. During that time I started to trim the big idea down to a solid one. What I appreciate about Dmitry’s guidance is that he never shot any of my ideas down but left me thinking about them differently. What I appreciate about myself is that I never stayed stuck on an idea and remained open to change. I was grateful for the help and guidance so why shit on it with my ego.

When I came back from tour we met again after several revisions of the idea. In the last wireframe which visually laid out the app idea, buried underneath what was really 3 ideas was yaHerd. Dmitry showed me how what i thought was a single idea was really 3. I had a online community, a curation and support tool all in one. He asked me out of the three which provided more value? Without question it was what would become yaherd.  A simple service of making it easier for music lovers to “follow” an artist only that they discover at a live event.  It didn’t have the glitter and world changing feel I thought myself to be able to create but it was solid and clear. And it fit in a french elevator pitch. What I am coming to learn is that focusing on the runt prepares you to later expand it into a litter of ideas. Ok that was a weird metaphor, but better said while focusing on the simple idea of yaherd, the process became dooable, accessible, and fully fed my passions around sustainability for artists. I could imagine in all the ways it could grow…but wait one thing at a time. I needed to think even smaller.

leancoverTo help with this, Haytham recommended a book “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. To some of you this book is the bible along with Steve Bank’s “The Startups Owner’s Manual”. I was already taking Steve Bank’s Udacity course online but had stopped because I was so early in my  process I didn’t know how to apply anything. But The Lean Startup came to me just in time. And ironically, through a friend Natalie P. Tucker who I asked to help me find a CTO (again to early in the process), she gifted me Steve’s book. But “The Owner’s Manual” is a monster of a book and probably best read as a reference manual as you put action to idea. The Lean Startup was smaller and I found a free PDF download online that I could put on my Ipad and read while on the road. So read I did. So skype with Dmitry I did and revised I did. And the universe has a funny way of giving you what you need when your ready. The Zahn Competition came around again and this time it would be different.

Have yaherd…about the big idea

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yaHerd started out as MIA (Music is Alive). Wait rewind…

I wasn’t even thinking of MIA or any music tech entrepreneurial ideas in Fall 2012 semester when this journey began.  I had never received my BA and went back to major in cultural anthropology. That major later morphed into Pop Culture and Collaborative Media. My curiosities lie in understanding how people can collaborate or create community in an social-economically sustainable platform. My passions were in creating sustainable platforms for musicians in the information age where music has been devalued greatly in the independent market. So In Fall 2012 for a Research Methods class I wrote a paper about an idea similar to ccMixter but pushing the envelope in regard to publishing, copyright and profitability. It was a ccmixter hybrid. It was also another idea, I thought in the back of my head, that I had little resources and support to bring into fruition. So I got intellectually high around my proposed brilliance and the idea of it existing one day. I got off from anticipating the praise I would receive from my fellow musicians and how we would challenge the damage done to music by greedy corporations. Well, I did get an A on that paper, at least.

It wasn’t until Spring 2013 that I received the email from the Zahn Center at City College of New York. The Zahn Center was the result of a huge grant the college received to support student lead start-ups. They were having a competition called the Internet-of-Things. They were offering to provide the support (substantial support) to a student lead team to build a company around a physical device that would work along with the internet or mobile apps. I immediately thought about my paper from last fall but new it had little to do with any tangible device. But I was more intrigued about the potential of being supported. Someone, something to help me see my ideas through. Someone to hold my hand dammit; there I said it! So I went to the information session and started to think.

How could I reconsider my original idea for this competition? It wasn’t until a few days later after my entrepreneurial bug started eating away at my brain that in the middle of my morning chant (I’m buddhist), an idea popped into my head. So sweet, so simple (I thought) I could kiss it.

The idea was to have a physical device that people would use to share music but also form community by the act of sharing community in the real world with each other, friends, strangers. They were responsible for this device that if neglected could die. Much like a Tamagotchi, the japanese toy pet from the 90’s.  I was into the cultural cache of the tangible object regarding music.  I entered the contest but didn’t win because I was the only CCNY student on my team and I needed a minimum of two students (including myself) to be eligible. But Prof. Haytham Elharwary who runs the Zahn Center took interest in my  idea and later became my first advisor. He gave me food for thought every time we met. Regardless of his advice though, the big idea started to mushroom in an even larger BIG IDEA! An idea that didn’t dare try to fit in an elevator pitch.

That idea put into a Prezi presentation got me an “A” that Spring for an independent study. But I was still feeling alone with my brilliant ideas. So I contacted the girlfriend of a my girlfriend’s friend who had just graduated Cornell Business school to help. I felt distrustful of sharing the idea so I made her sign a NDA (Non-disclosure Agreement). This feeling of protecting one’s idea can be crippling. I later learn that hiding your idea from folks closes the door (spiritually and pragmatically) to help and much needed early feedback. I thought, well business shit is not my strong suite so why not seek some help (what a naive assumption to make about myself having never really ran a business). Anyway, She seemed game! Together we tried to flesh this idea out more. Through the Zahn Center they connected me with two CTO development companies that basically help start-ups with its technical needs and a network of resources to help it grow. They make money on the backend but first they have to take your idea on; and they hear a lot of BIG ideas. My now partner and I discussed this idea with the first firm. The big idea had grown past sharing the tangible object because of costs. It turned into a music sharing idea based on gps and physical locations. But they were more interested in the original device idea and not so much how it currently existed. We brainstormed with these two dudes and I felt a bit strange. I don’t know them though they were referred to me by Zahn. I felt distrustful of the process (not so much them). So, if we were to continue brainstorming, new ideas would arise and who then has the right to run with it? These are cats more established than me. What use would they have of me. I left the meeting feeling a bit lost. Like my original idea had traveled so far from its roots, I, nor my partner, knew what end was up. Ideas, like melodies are elusive. They come and then they change and then they possibly fade away.

The partnership, though never acknowledged, became strained. I am an idea person and she was a business person. Our brainstorms seemed to bud heads and honestly, I didn’t really care how she showed dressed for the first meeting, but who was I to judge at this point. Regardless, I started to sense a slight rip in the fabric. I still pressed on hoping for an aha moment for us both but the aha was not what I expected. All of a sudden my emails were not being answered and meeting times missed. Uhm…wtf? Its one thing to decide maybe this project is not for you and leave with a  little grace and it’s another to fall the fuck off the face of the earth. How rude, how unnecessary and how it made me angry enough to continue. I could have just said fuck it , another idea bites the dust because people fall the fuck off, but something else, for once in my life, said “No, there is something here. Hang on for just a bit”.

More later….

Have yaherd?

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I’m deciding to compliment the RULE 4081 blog about music, tech revolutionary topics with the very day to day revolution of founding and running a start up. I am placing my actions where my mouth is and share the process of bringing an idea into fruition. This is a scary prospect but in the end I know at the very least it will demystify the process for those interested in pursuing it. And if I my startup is successful or if not, I can reflect, learn, grow and know where I was strong or needed to improve as an entrepreneur.

As an artist I understand the emotional and economic struggles of bringing a musical idea to the public. I have lead creative teams but have not ever done so as a business or at least I haven’t treated my creative endeavors as a business. Maybe that is why they haven’t done as well in the past. My startup advisor Dmitry (I’ll introduce him later), asked me if I was ready. And I took the time to think about it and still don’t know if I am, but I do want to see this idea through. I realized that to be ready, what it really means is are you ready to experience, process and be proactive in bringing an idea into fruition. There is no fixed or steady ready. And I am learning this just as I am in the beginning stages of creating yaHerd.com

Like some of you I have taken courses, read my fare share of books and blogs and attended the occasional (online) conference. I do want “it”, but what is “it”. This is one of many questions I have asked myself to get at the root of whatever fears I was holding on to that could potentially hold me back. What is “it”?

I will start at the beginning. I have always been a wanna-trepreneur. I have started, stopped or dropped a number of businesses. Mainly because I hadn’t learned how to delegate, build a dependable team and seek out opportunities and guidance. I am a do it yourself person, a self-motivator, a control freak but then often I complain how alone I feel. I wasn’t raised in a household where finances (other than survival) were prioritized. I break out in hives when tax time comes, I have in the past demonstrated poor organizational skills and an aversion to paperwork. But be damned if I didn’t have brilliant ideas. That is what matters, right? Ideas and passion is what essentially makes a good business? Psst, what an idiot I’ve been. Ideas and passion or rather innovation is nothing without action, sacrifice and remaining present. What it looks like is nothing close to what one can imagine. It is actually more comforting, I’ve found to be in it than to dream it. I’m saying this to those of you that are willing to honor that you are scared of what the true span of your abilities may avail.   Will I let myself down again, will I be a good leader, will I see this shit through?

So these yaHerd entries are for my brilliant artists who want a clue to what it is to see something through. I will chronicle my life as an entrepreneur and founder of yaHerd, a mobile site that makes it easy for the audience to “follow” an artist at a live event across their social media profile. More later…