DJs and startup founders

TLDR: if you are the only person that has this idea, it means that either this is a bad idea or you have not yet found the 10 other people who are already working on it. Therefore, don’t get hung upon guarding the idea, but get busy perfecting the execution.

Long version

Several years ago I read two blog posts on the same subject: Skiing And Startups by Fred Wilson: and “Motorcycle Instincts And Startups” by @phineas. I ride motorcycles, I love skiing and I worked in Startups for the last 10 years, so these posts really resonated with me. The authors do a great job describing the everyday craziness of working in and with a startup. How things move and change really fast, and how you have to react to the changes instantly often relying on your instincts, and how if you fix your sight on the wall – you end up hitting it.

Well, I am also a (rather amateur) DJ, and I can tell you that being a DJ has its similarities to working in a startup too – although in a very different way.

Finding that perfect track

I came to this realization on the way to a DJing gig, as I was listening to new music which I had just bought and downloaded (yes, you read that right – bought) and was going to play in my set. When you are a DJ, you are always on the lookout for the next amazing producer that nobody has heard of before, or an amazing track that no one has discovered yet. Once you find this amazing track, you can be absolutely sure, that in two-three months every other DJ will be playing it and no one will give you credit for being the first to discover it. Not like you deserve the credit for it anyway. You may not be the first one anyway, even if you think so, because there are thousands of DJs out there who you’ve never heard of and they may have played this track elsewhere before you.

The same thing happens to startups. When you are building a startup you are always in search of great ideas. Lets say, you have this amazing product idea and you start working on it. It is almost certain that 3-6 month later when you are ready to release your MVP to your devoted alpha testers, there will be 10 other startups quietly working on the same idea.

It’s not WHAT you play – it is HOW you play it

Many DJs will tell you that you can ruin even the best track if you play it at a wrong time, or to a wrong crowd or start it from a wrong place. On a dance floor, a good DJ builds up the energy of the crowd gradually and controls it by parts of different tracks one after another. Every track and transition matters, and the higher the energy, the easier it is to screw up the set. Without the skill, even if a DJ picked the best music ever, he will still sound no better then an iTunes play list on shuffle.

An analogy with startups is that great ideas are not enough to make successful business. This has been preached by investors ever since the dot-com bust. Your idea may be the most brilliant one, and yet without the ability to execute, you will loose to competition. In fact, execution is often thought to be more important than idea, because an idea does not become anything without execution. An average idea with stellar execution yields a great product, but a great idea with poor execution yields a poor product that only makes people wish that someone else makes it better.

It is not all about you

The similarities do not end there. As a DJ, even if you play music of your own production, you are almost certainly playing tracks written by someone else as well. Just the same, as a startup founder, once your product has grown beyond prototype, you probably have several people working on it. If you are also an engineer and contribute to the product directly, as your startup grows, your own contribution constitutes smaller part of the product. While your team is churning out code you have to be out there selling, partnering, evangelizing, and testing. In the end of the day, the success of your startup depends on everyone involved.


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