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Bon Jovi Celebrates 50th Birthday Today

2 Mar
Jon Bon Jovi in the 1980s and now

Jon Bon Jovi, then and now

A 50th birthday seems like a good time to reflect on your life so far, and Jon Bon Jovi certainly has nothing to regret in terms of accomplishments. He’s led one of the most successful rock bands for over 30 years, which has sold well over 100 million albums; he’s amassed a net worth of roughly $120 million; he’s received acclaim and awards for his solo albums; he’s enjoyed cross-over success on a number of songs; and he’s had a bit of fun dabbling in television and film acting.

And the fruits of his labor have extended to charitable ventures as well. He started the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation in 2006 in an effort to help America’s homeless, hungry, and poor. Then in late 2011, with his wife and personal chef, he opened Soul Kitchen, a “community restaurant” in New Jersey to offer those with little or no money the chance to enjoy better food through a “pay what you can” model. (The food is mainly donated by Whole Foods, with much of the vegetables grown on the property.) The concept allows people with low incomes to enjoy a restaurant meal that’s not fast food, while people with more means can pay a suggested price, or more, to help those who can’t. Incidentally, Panera Bread has been successfully operating several restaurants under the same model for a few years.

Bon Jovi exemplifies a number of key traits that mark every successful entrepreneur:

  • Hard work—He is a noted workaholic among his band and peers, diligently tending to his music business and other ventures.
  • Ethics—He doesn’t use his industrious nature as an excuse to run over people, treating those around him with due respect, especially his band mates who as a result have mostly been with him since the beginning.
  • Brand management—His flagship venture, his band, has been handled magnificently over the years, perhaps only matched (at that level) by U2, AC/DC, and Aerosmith. Though his and the band’s look and music has evolved over the years to keep up with the times, their core values have not. Bon Jovi’s middle-class, blue-collar, Jersey roots still run through all that he does both on stage and off stage; he never relocated to Los Angeles and adopted a Sunset Boulevard lifestyle.
  • Leadership—Aside from his solid ethical grounding, his band members attribute their loyalty to his leadership. He has a strong vision for Bon Jovi (the band) but has also allowed the others their creative room to breathe in side projects. He’s demanding, and yet doesn’t expect his band mates to share his workaholic nature.

Though he’s now eligible for membership in AARP, it’s highly unlikely Bon Jovi will be retiring anytime soon. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if he has another 50 years of meaningful contribution to music, business, and society in him.

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Overcoming Setbacks and Failure

14 Feb
Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters

Dave Grohl rose from the ashes of Nirvana, achieving his own success

If you’re like most people, setbacks and failure can rock your world and sometimes permanently. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you are more resilient but still susceptible to quitting. But if you’re like successful entrepreneurs, you simply don’t give up. Notice I didn’t write “most” successful entrepreneurs—because successful ones are partially differentiated by the fact that they just don’t throw in the towel. Now, they may quit a project, quit developing a product or service, quit pursuing an idea, and quit many things, but they never give up their quest for entrepreneurial success in some way. In fact, as Seth Godin points out in The Dip, successful entrepreneurs (and successful people in general) quit often; the key, however, is they know when exactly to quit and shift their resources elsewhere. It’s a fine line, balancing dogged determination with flexibility.

Rock stars arguably encounter more severe setbacks than most entrepreneurs. I say this because they have, as an industry, a disproportionate number of unexpected deaths—the ultimate setback—to contend with. When was the last time you heard of an entrepreneur dying of an overdose, throwing the entire company into potential chaos? Even Steve Jobs’ death, as striking as it was, was somewhat anticipated, at least within his inner circle. And Jobs left Apple with a plan for continuity after his passing. I’m guessing Jim Morrison didn’t do that.

This all comes to my mind in the wake of Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters winning their Grammy this week. There are many debates about the Grammys—that they are highly political, that they aren’t a fair measure of artistry and significant contribution to music. But it still remains true that you don’t win a Grammy if you aren’t successful in some way. And so it is with Grohl and Foo.

It’s almost hard to remember that Foo Fighters rose from the ashes of Nirvana, and if you’re under 25 this isn’t even part of your memory. But imagine what it must’ve been like for Dave Grohl on that fateful day in April of 1994. Of course, the overwhelming tragedy was the loss of his bandmate and friend Kurt Cobain. But swirling in that personal loss was also the loss of Nirvana. Few bands have lost such a major member at the peak of the band’s stardom. And more important, it was truly impossible for Nirvana to carry on; there simply could be no Nirvana without Cobain.

Dave Grohl epitomizes the intrepid spirit of all successful entrepreneurs. He quit (Nirvana) but didn’t quit (his pursuit of greater success). Do you know when to quit but not quit?

Learn from Joan Jett and Be a Runaway

21 Jan
Joan Jett rockin' in the '80s

Jett rockin' Norway in the '80s

I finally got around to watching The Runaways—the 2010 film starring Kristen Stewart, of Twilight fame, as Joan Jett. Because Jett was one of the executive producers, we can reasonably expect the movie to be a realistic portrayal of her start in rock and roll. It’s worth noting, however, that the film leans far more toward the tale of The Runaways lead singer, Cherie Currie (played by Dakota Fanning). This makes sense when you learn the film was based on Currie’s autobiography, but will probably surprise viewers who expect more of Jett’s tale.

But the story still does give us a good idea of Joan Jett’s drive, ambition, and take-no-prisoners desire to be a rocker. (Consider this in light of her only being 16 years old when she started The Runaways.) And it was these traits that played a part in Jett’s becoming the first female rocker to start her own record label (at age 21), with the help of manager Kenny Laguna. This was their response to 23 record labels rejecting her solo album (after The Runaways had split).

Fast forward over 30 years to today. Unlike Joan Jett, we have so many more opportunities to produce and publish our own work, and at far less cost. Even promotion is easier with the Internet and social media. Have you been rejected by “23 labels”? Perhaps your “album” is a business idea turned down by investors. Perhaps it’s a book turned down by publishers. Perhaps it’s a product turned down by businesses in that space. Or perhaps it’s an actual music album. Whatever the case, maybe the signs are pointing toward being a runaway—and taking matters into your own hands.

Of all the lessons we can learn from rock stars, perhaps the biggest is to embody or emulate their incredible belief and investment in themselves. Otherwise, the means to success are really all there—we don’t have to press our own vinyl records, print the sleeves and covers, and sell them from the trunks of our cars, as Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna had to. But the one thing Google+, PayPal, CreateSpace, Twitter, Etsy, Kickstarter, WordPress, or any other tool on the Internet can’t give us is belief in ourselves and our ideas. This is what ultimately separates the rock star entrepreneur from the one who doesn’t ever quite make it.

What have you got to lose?

5 Jan

roulette table and gambling chipsWe’re frequently told that gambling is bad. We get this message from a variety of sources in a variety of ways, both applying to literal gambling (as in a casino) and gambling in a more casual way. But are we actually doing ourselves an injustice by lumping all gambling together as a no-no?

I was recently talking with a successful entrepreneur who runs a small business he’s had for three decades. He told me about a $20,000 “gamble” he was taking on a promotional project to start 2012. But he was quick to add that he’s built into the company’s budget the money to take this gamble, and therefore it’s not really a gamble — it’s money that can be lost without causing harm to the business.

It got me to thinking how many entrepreneurs I know, including myself, who don’t allow for there to be any “gambling money” in the budget. This particular entrepreneur even said, “What fun would business be if you can’t play around with ideas because you can’t afford for them to not work?” How true. And yet, again, many entrepreneurs budget themselves into a corner, not allowing any room for the playing around that can result in killer ideas coming to fruition.

Rock stars generally don’t fall into this trap, however, which is yet another reason why we have a lot to learn from them. In fact, rock stars are generally expected to gamble big. Think of the U2 “360 Tour” a couple years ago, with its incredibly massive production. Or at the other end of the spectrum, think of the budding rock stars who quit their jobs, throw everything into a van, and go on a tour. This isn’t to say that it’s savvy business to risk it all or even risk a lot — but we need to be reminded that it’s best to leave some room to gamble. The person who buys only one lottery ticket a year still has one more chance to win the jackpot than the person who never buys a ticket.

So, as 2012 marches on, think about your business and your budget. How much money can you afford to gamble this year on an idea or two that could make your business better or more successful — or perhaps just make it more fun? Some of the coolest things rock stars do in their work (smashing guitars being a great example) are as much about enjoying the business as they are about growing the business.

Happy Birthday, Frank Zappa

22 Dec

Frank Zappa

Today would’ve been Frank Zappa’s 71st birthday. Because he was so bizarre and unconventional for his time, many people don’t realize he was quite a savvy entrepreneur.

Frank Zappa is perhaps the epitome of the rock star as businessman. The touchstone of his philosophy has always been to read the small print and, preferably, help to draft it himself. Zappa, right from the start of his career, has been careful to ensure that he knows what’s going on around his musical activities. — “Frank Zappa: Portrait of an Artist as Businessman,” Cream Magazine, January 1972

Zappa sold encyclopedias to make ends meet while starting his music career. Then, he landed a $1,500 gig (significant money in those days) to score the music for a film. From those earnings, he started a recording studio, which led to his band Mothers of Invention, which led to his successful and lucrative career.

Worth noting as well that, while bands forming their own labels is not so unusual these days, Frank Zappa was one of the earliest rock stars to do so.

Entrepreneur or dabbler?

14 Dec

One of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make is taking on too much at once. Or I should say, taking on too much before you’re successful at one thing. This is understandable because, after all, the DNA of entrepreneurs compels us to start stuff. The problem, though, is the confusing message it often sends out to the world, as well as the dissipation of energy and attention.

I met a woman a few years ago who was selling custom scarves online, writing a book, looking to start a cafe, and getting her real estate license. I forget what else she mentioned. While I commend her Renaissance spirit, purely from a business standpoint (and she did say she wanted to be financially successful, not just have fun) she was making it harder on herself. My guess is, few people at the party where I met her walked away with a clear idea of what this woman’s about, other than being a dabbler.

If her pursuits where all under one brand umbrella, then it might be different. Conceivably, she could tie two of those ventures together, like selling custom scarves and opening a cafe, but that’s about it. The book could tie in, if the intended reader were very much within her target audience for the cafe and scarves — but that would still be pushing it.

The point is, 99% of the time, success comes to those who focus on a very singular pursuit to the exclusion of other opportunities or interests. I think this is a major, unspoken challenge for many budding entrepreneurs. We tend to think that if we throw enough stuff against the wall, something will stick. But look at the stories of successful entrepreneurs (and rock stars), and you’ll see this is not their story. Mark Zuckerberg was very singularly focused on making Facebook a success, as was Gene Simmons with KISS. Jeff Bezos started Amazon as an online retailer only selling books, while Bono helped start U2 to only make great, socially conscious music.

The good news is, you can keep your additional interests and dreams close to your heart, because success in one area will open doors later in others. Amazon now sells everything. Bono promotes and participates in many ventures. Gene Simmons has a TV show. And Mark Zuckerberg is trying to tackle problems in the U.S. education system. Not likely, however, that any of them could’ve achieved their additional (and possibly more meaningful) successes without having focused on making their first venture successful.

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