Don’t Stop Believin’: Karaoke and the Entrepreneur

[Note: This was originally posted on Seattle 2.0. Since that site’s move to GeekWire it has gone missing, so I decided to repost it here.]

[Update: It’s back on GeekWire!]

It’s a quarter past 11. The bar is full. You take a drink. You mentally size up the other singers. Some of them are pretty good. You take another drink. Where’s the server? It’s now just about midnight. Your name is called. You take another swig of your drink and make your way through the crowd. You step up to the mic. For the moment, the bar is yours. It’s your time.

I admit it: karaoke is a fundamentally silly thing to do. You’re not a singer. This isn’t “Glee.” What will people think? You risk both failure and embarrassment.

Street lights. People.

Yes, it is silly. But so is starting your own business. In a startup, your chance of failure is even bigger. Even if you execute well you have to break through the noise and indifference, whether it be in a marketplace crowded with competitors and busy customers, or a bar crowded with people interested only in their own conversations and their next cocktail. In both cases, it’s your job to convince them your product is worth their time.

I love karaoke because it’s exciting, it’s scary, and because it parallels the same drive of a founder and the journey (ahem) of a startup.

Rebecca Lovell of GeekWire, herself an avid karaoke enthusiast, has her own three factors that go into karaoke entrepreneurial success. Here, with my commentary, are Rebecca’s Rules:

1.     20% Vocal talent. It’s true, some people have better singing voices than others, but this doesn’t mean that they automatically get the attention. Having a top-notch team with millions in funding doesn’t necessarily equal success in the marketplace.

2.     40% Song selection. This is the elusive “product/market fit” of the karaoke scene: finding the right song for the right time. What will the crowd react to? If it’s a packed house on a Friday, save the slow songs: you need to have a fast song with a catchy intro that cuts through the noise. (Hint: in this situation, you can hardly go wrong with Guns N’ Roses. Just don’t choose “November Rain.”)

3.    40% Bring it! Make me sit up and take notice. Execution is everything! A great performance can easily make up for bad vocal talent and poor song selection, especially if you do something that is unexpected. I saw someone bring the house down with a version of “Monster Mash.” 

If you’re pitching, there’s no easier way to practice being in front of a large audience. When I pitched my company at NWEN’s First Look Forum in early 2011, I was completely comfortable being on stage in front of strangers because I’d done it many times before at karaoke bars across the city. I could be natural and “present” during pitching.

Making the leap to start your own business can be hard, but being a karaoke startupper is easy. Pick a friendly bar. Find a good song you know and people will like, and keep it short (fail fast). If you do a bad job of it, I guarantee the only person who will be thinking about it 5 minutes later will be you. If you succeed, the entire bar is yours for that time. Can’t do it alone? Find a “co-founder” and sing together. If you’re still not sure about singing in front of strangers, take a few close friends to private room karaoke.

Being an entrepreneur means stepping out of your comfort zone, taking risks, and trying things you’d thought you’d never do. But just like karaoke, it’s possible to succeed. Just don’t stop believin’.

 

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