One of the Best Entrepreneur Stories You’ll Read This Year (Or At Least the Most Unexpected)
If you’re an entrepreneur — or an entrepreneur at heart — you’ll see a little of yourself in Mayday Parade and guitarist Brooks Betts.
CREDIT: Guadalupe Bustos
In thirty minutes Brooks Betts will trade his t-shirt and shorts for black skinny jeans and a black cut-off shirt.
In forty minutes the Mayday Parade guitarist will step onstage and ignite a roar from thousands of fans by playing the opening riffs of It's Hard to Be Religious When Certain People Are Never Incinerated by Lighting, a song from the band's great new album, Sunnyland.
Because Brooks Betts is a rock star.
Mayday Parade guitarist Brooks Betts. CREDIT: Guadalupe Bustos
But right now he's quietly walking the festival grounds of the Virginia Beach edition of Warped Tour, holding a boxful of CDs signed by every member of the band in one hand and a homemade sign saying "Signed Mayday Parade CDs $10" in the other.
Because, like every other member of the band, Brooks Betts is also an entrepreneur -- an entrepreneur who knows that talent isn't always enough.
You need to be willing to grind.
And you need to be willing to connect.
While Jim Collins popularized the concept of the flywheel, Amazon has taken it to a notable extreme. The Whole Foods purchase is one more spoke on an already huge wheel.
The premise is simple. A flywheel is an incredibly heavy wheel. Keep pushing and the flywheel builds momentum. Eventually it helps generate its own momentum -- and that's when a company goes, as Collins would say, from good to great.
A flywheel is a self-reinforcing loop made up of a few key initiatives. Those initiatives feed and are in turn driven by each other, and build a long-term business.
Brad Stone describes an early version of Amazon's flywheel in The Everything Store:
... Bezos and his lieutenants sketched their own virtuous cycle, which they believed powered their business. It went something like this: lower prices led to more customer visits. More customers increased the volume of sales and attracted more commission-paying third-party sellers to the site. That allowed Amazon to get more out of fixed costs like the fulfillment centers and the servers needed to run the website. This greater efficiency then enabled it to lower prices further. Feed any part of this flywheel, they reasoned, and it should accelerate the loop.
The key is the last sentence: Feed any part of the flywheel. Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods doesn't just add grocery stores to its flywheel; it adds over 400 distribution hubs as well. (Think Whole Foods locations will simply be used to sell groceries? Think again.)
Now consider a band like Mayday Parade.
Mayday generates revenue by releasing music, music that also creates interest in their live shows. Touring generates revenue, which in turn drives physical and digital sales as well as merchandise sales. Merchandise sales also serve as implicit advertisements for the band's music and shows. Placing music on streaming outlets generates (a little) revenue while also sparking interest in shows and downloads... and so on.
Cumulatively, each component of the flywheel both supports and pushes the other components; when a flywheel is working, feeding one part naturally accelerates the whole.
Talent clearly matters -- everything starts with talent -- but in Mayday's case their flywheel has helped them build a 13-year career in a business where few artists manage to eke out a living, much less endure.
Selling signed CDs? You could argue it forms a part of the Mayday Parade flywheel.
But I won't.
As I walked with Brooks it was clear that for fans, the CD was the least important part of the transaction. They wanted a signed CD as a memento, but they cherished the time with Brooks even more; many were surprised to see a member of the co-headlining band walk so unassumingly through the crowd.
Their brush with fame made some people shy. Others got giddy. One girl wiped away a small tear.
It was cute. It was, at times, touching.
(And it impressed the crap out of me that Brooks was willing -- in fact, eager -- to do what few "rock stars" would do. That's one of the reasons Mayday Parade is so successful: Brooks, and the rest of the band, are rock stars who still think like working musicians -- which is probably how they managed to become rock stars in the first place.)
Mayday Parade singer Derek Sanders (center) and guitarist Brooks Betts (right). CREDIT: Guadalupe Bustos
Brooks spent a few moments with every person. He chatted. He asked questions. He said, "See you at 5.40," the time when the band would take the stage that day.
In short, he connected.
So yeah: Selling signed CDs does feed the Mayday flywheel. Will every person later download a few songs, view a few videos, maybe buy a t-shirt...?
No. But many will.
More importantly, though, each person walks away with a moment, a memory... and a stronger bond with the band.
I spent a couple of hours with Brooks and feel sure he's too humble to see it the way I just described; to him, he's just generating a little extra revenue for the band. Selling a couple hundred CDs each day over the course of the tour grosses an extra $70k the band would otherwise never see.
So why not? He has the time.
More importantly, though, Brooks has the willingness. Successful people don't believe dues have ever been paid. Successful people believe dues get paid, each and every day. The only real value is the tangible contribution you make on a daily basis. Grinding is in the band's DNA: Early on they started turning their flywheel by selling homemade CDs in parking lots before shows they weren't even booked to play.
No matter what you've done or accomplished in the past, you're never too good to roll up your sleeves, get dirty, and do the grunt work. No job is ever too menial, no task too unskilled or boring.
Even for rock stars.
Plus, selling CDs lets Brooks connect with the most critical element of any flywheel:
Fans. Customers. The Mayday Parade community.
One person, one conversation, one interaction at a time. That's what great small businesses do. That's what great big businesses do.
Because that is how you cultivate truly loyal fans... and is how you keep them.
Want more of Brooks? Check out this Ernie Ball "Set Me Up" video with Brooks, lead guitarist Alex Garcia, and singer Derek Sanders.