Why I Stepped Down as CEO to Pursue Music
I recently stepped down as CEO of the family business to pursue a career in music.
Now why the hell would I do that?
Because I’m crazy? That could very well be true, but before we get into that let’s rewind a few years to what seems like a lifetime ago. It was 2012, I was 25 years old and I went from being a weekend rocker/salesman for my dad’s company to the CEO of that very company, overnight.
It all happened after my father passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm while on vacation, he was a young man, just 52. That’s when my brother, Andy, then 22, and I stepped into his role.
I was hesitant to take the reigns at first because my dream was music, not manufacturing. People around me, including myself, didn’t know if I was delusional or not. Why would I pass up the opportunity for such prestige? We clung to the very probable hypothesis that it must have been the shock of losing my dad that made me so unreasonable.
Luckily my little bro grabbed the devil by the horns and not only took responsibility, but anchored the family as well. I was facing a lot of negativity for my attitude during that period but a plea my brother made a few months in was all it took to for me to put down my guitar and tuck in my shirt!
In that very instant I went from artist to supercharged CEO. Business trips securing relationships with both customers and suppliers, huge plans for growth and the eventual overhaul of the company’s internal operations.
It was a crazy time. At first it was a ton of fun, life was a party. Making connections with people all across the globe was addictive. Improving operations when we got back was inspiring. I learned a lot and wanted to move a thousand miles an hour. But that’s when I ran into trouble…
Even after completely eliminating the party component of my lifestyle in favor of my devotion to getting the job done properly, I learned actions take much longer to materialize than ideas.
In the process I had become militant and hellbent on lightspeed evolution. The joy I once had was gone, I wasn’t a nice person to be around. I didn’t visit anyone anymore, I stayed angry in the warehouse with a stiff upper lip.
The Realization: 10
When I acknowledged how ugly things had gotten, I took a much needed step back. I decided to temporarily work on a more relaxed schedule to gain perspective. One winter morning, as I crunched numbers, I discovered something that changed everything.
I was building a sales forecast spreadsheet for new product lines and for some reason the number 10 kept popping up. All this work would eventually gain us 10% market share, 10 months from prototype to approval, 10 segments we needed to compete in, 10 years until we could become a truly dominant force in the market…
The last one hit me like a ton of bricks. By now I understood proper growth took consistency and patience but according to my calculations it would take about 10 years to get the company to a point where I would be proud of my work, where I could say I accomplished something great.
10 years from now I’d be 40 years old. At that moment I realized I would have spent 15 years trying to reinvent my father’s garage door opener company, when it didn’t necessarily need it, for the sole purpose of putting my stamp on it.
Would I be happier 10 years from now? I’m not so sure. How about the 10 year road ahead of me, would my happiness depend on a potential outcome, and not the journey? Would I still be the miserable prick I am today? If I didn’t love what I was doing, then yes.
The Ultimate Question
These questions led me to the ultimate question I hadn’t even considered in years: “What would you rather spend the next ten years doing?”
The answer was easy; it was music. But how the hell was I going to do that? I hadn’t put anything out in 5 years and had no fanbase.
Simple, I was going to apply everything I’d learnt over the past 5 years. I now understood the importance relationships, how hard work and consistency can take you anywhere and how crucial it is to love what you do.
But how am I going to do this?
Like I said, apply what I’ve picked up over the years. When I was on the road, and like my father before me, I knocked on doors, said hello, got to know the person I was introducing myself to. I didn’t go for the aggressive sell, I knew I was meeting a person who used the particular types of products I was selling, so I made a friend and if they ever needed something I was there. The process was fun and made me a lot of friends!
So you’re going to knock on doors to make friends who might listen to your music one day?
Precisely, the formula is the same but the variables are a little different. Knocking on doors represents meeting someone new; friendships are developed thru interaction, connection, conversation and relatability.
The beauty about the door industry is there are a handful of companies you can yellow page in each city and setup meetings with. Music is broad, “un-yellow-page-able” and there are only so many hours in a day, and days in a year, so I could be knocking for a lifetime before I even make one fan, and then what?
If I look at the heart of what it took to make friends/customers on road, one thing always worked for me: honesty. When I spoke about my frustrations and bonded over how similar our troubles were, I made a friend. The same rules apply now, if I can be honest, and put it out online, instead of cold calling, then in a way that would be like knocking on doors, only a lot more doors.
That’s why I started my blog, to put myself out there.
Ok so you can create awareness and potentially spark interaction via the blog, but even if you make this happen, music is free, how can you make a living?
There’s a point there, using this sales approach in the garage door industry, it eventually lead to sales. With my music, if I’ve made enough of an impact for someone to even consider listening to my music, it’s there for free.
I’m in it for the long game.
This is where hard work and consistency come into play. The more blogs I write, the bigger the opportunity of creating a dialogue and eventually a relationship. The more consistently I put my writing out, the more value I can potentially provide, the bigger the possibility of building momentum; an audience.
The same goes for the music, putting out a song and video every two weeks that is closely tied to the content of my writing means it’s more than just music. Like garage door openers, it was never about the openers, it was always about the stories.
The more I do this, the harder I work, and the more honestly I share, I truly believe I’ll be able to build trust and make real connections. The more I write, the greater the possibilities. I’m only speaking out loud but this is could open doors for eventual mini-tours, collaborations, books, who knows! All I know is if I don’t do this, there will be no opportunities.
It’s a hybrid of the old school and the new. Hard work, consistency, passion and relationship-building is the recipe behind every success story, and the online approach is the most up-to-date way of doing it. The most successful YouTubers have used this exact approach to build successful careers around their passions.
Music: It’s Not a Dream, It’s a Business
The idea of music as a career is often looked at like a dream because it’s often compared to the greats like the Beatles, or Nirvana or Lady Gaga. But if music is treated like a business then wouldn’t you agree it’s still possible to make a living if you’re not Apple or Ford? Over 50% of the United States population is employed by a small business, and that’s exactly what I’m building.
Music, or art, is just the product in this business equation, it could very well substituted with desserts, training or even a travelling circus.
And like any new business, it requires a plan, one open to adjustments, startup costs, lots of grunt work, marketing, blood, sweat and tears and a whole lot of sleepless nights. Even then, things aren’t guaranteed. But as long as passion is there, the journey is more important than the destination.
In 2012, at 25, I lacked discipline, I had a poor work ethic and my music didn’t come from the heart. I really do believe the path I chose has made my inevitable return one where I’d actually have a fighting chance.
I’m thankful and appreciate that road, because I’ve learnt unbelievable lessons. But now I’m clearer and more motivated than ever, and this time I’m not trying to change anything, I’m creating something new.
When I turned 30, I made the decision to leave my position in the family business to build my own. I’m very aware of the uncertain road I have ahead, and most of what I talked about here was my general theory and mindset going into this.
It’s been just over two months and I’m truly humbled by the amount of love I’ve received from my blog, I could’ve never imagined and I’m so grateful. Now I’m not going on tour just yet, but the mere fact I can see a light, a very faint light glimmering in the distance, is enough justification to proudly keep marching forward.
When I think back to the 10 year realization, I much rather spend the next 10 years trying to give this a go than anything else in the world.