Before the eBay experiment, there was the time I decided to take on Myspace at their own game.
Back in 2006 I was introduced to the world of MySpace. I can barely recall what the average user profile looked like but I certainly jazzed mine up to the max, taking particular care on the selected music track that would start playing automatically when you clicked on anyone’s profile.
The really interesting part of this new world was the response rate to the random messages I sent. Whether reaching out to a musician in LA or a film maker in Melbourne it became apparent that everyone would respond, meaning I could reach hundreds of thousands of people in just a few clicks and key strokes. No need to take a deep breath, walk across the room and offer a hand shake. I know what’s going through the average readers’ head at this point. When you’ve started a career and find yourself responsible for things such as paying rent and pension planning this doesn’t seem very interesting, but at the time I was an unemployed twenty something with no responsibility thus making it a brilliant way to kill a few hours.
This slow dance with Myspace led to the creation of my first ‘business’ Dogs Can Drive. It was a website that started out as a showcase for budding film directors to show their work and ended up becoming a weekly track battle where unsigned bands went head to head with each other for a public vote. Thanks to MySpace, it wasn’t difficult to find/meet bands from across the world online and persuade them to send me their MP3 files. By the end of it Dogs Can Drive hosted around 100 unsigned bands with an average of 3 tracks each. The website had great functionality and looked very professional, but there were some unanswered questions:
- What’s the long term plan?
- How will the site make money?
I didn’t consider these to be important questions because I owned and ran a website, making me the all knowing man in the room. Friends and family would often act as the voice of reason and ask the sensible questions listed above but I would stubbornly refuse to give any kind of real answer. The reason for this was a combination of three things. First of all, I lacked any entrepreneurial experience whatsoever. I had once made a business from writing down the full lyrics to Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (the cartoon in the UK used ‘hero’ not ‘ninja’) for my class mates at primary school, charging ten pence a copy but that doesn’t really count. Secondly, my ego was playing a big part. The website was mine, I had started it, reached out to all the artists, paid and directed a web developer and hearing anything that sounded vaguely critical wasn’t an option. Finally, I was being stupid and irresponsible.
There was one thing I really knew how to do well, and that was networking. One message on MySpace could turn into lunch at a recording studio. One email became free tickets to a concert in Nottingham, showcasing the best of the unsigned acts from the local area. I started getting to know journalists and band managers. They’d invite me out to all kinds of events, seduced by my good looking website and its concept.
Networking is important, but it can only get you so far. It was networking that put me in the same room as two succesful investors. I can remember sitting in Starbucks beforehand, nervous as hell, writing notes on an A4 pad that I would just love to read now if I still had them. About two or three minutes into the meeting in their plush office, with all the pleasantries out the way, one of the investors popped the question.
“What do you want from us?”
I thought that was a little direct, couldn’t we carry on chatting a little more, maybe about how great my website was? Then maybe they could make an offer to buy it?
“What do you want from us?”
No idea. I had less than no idea. I could have said anything that would have been better than my response, but I thought an honest approach was important.
Suddenly, the answer came to me.
“I don’t know.”
That was 5-7 minutes of their day I had taken up, and needless to say there was no further contact. In all honesty, I probably didn’t need any investment. Correction, if I didn’t know what I wanted, then I definitely didn’t need investment.
I was left with a pretty cool website that nobody knew about, and a painfully thin strategy. Or, no strategy.
Here’s a very small checklist for new entrepreneurs and their business (apologies in advance to the bright, hard working readers who may feel insulted just by reading it).
- What does your business do? If it doesn’t solve a problem it should probably be seriously entertaining.
- Are you spending too much time on your own fantasy of being a CEO?
- Good with people? Bit of a networker? You can’t hide behind that forever.