Monthly Archives: February 2015

Guest blog: 10 Things Startups and Local Bands Should Avoid Screwing Up On

Originally published at on January 12, 2015.

10 Things Startups and Local Bands Should Avoid Screwing Up On

For those who may not know, we in the music industry are quite fond of lists. Best albums, best songs, best guitar players, etc. — we love to compile and compile. And we love to argue our points a thousand times over, and then a few more thousand times after that. It makes for good dialogue.

One of the more popular lists to compile now, though, has a bit more meaning behind it (in my opinion) than the writer simply touting his or her new favorite picks for the week. Lately, the list of annoying things that (local) bands do has been getting longer and longer, and they’re becoming more prevalent within the community. A good (though albeit too lengthy) example is the one that MetalSucks compiled back in 2008 which I’ve seen making its rounds again in the new year.

As I read through it again, however, it occurs to me that many of the points that are being made might very well apply to startups within the tech sphere as well (or any other industry for that matter). Malicious intentions not withstanding, numerous points jump out at me as translatable in an almost eery way. Thus I will take what I think are 10 of the most important points and translate them from the independent (local) music arena to that of the startup tech world. Let’s begin:

1. Bands who feel a need to bang on their drums and guitars in an annoying display of a lack of talent before the doors to the club have even opened Startups that feel a need to tell you they will have the next big thing before they have written a line of code or made any effort to set up a structural base for a company. You’re not fooling anyone, and just come off as delusional and annoying until you have an actual product to play/build/sell. (The term “stealth mode” comes to mind).

2. Bands who have more roadies than actual band members Startups that have more employees/cofounders than are actually needed to get the job done and run a company efficiently. You’re only hurting yourself in the end and people actually look at those extra cooks in the kitchen as a detriment too early on.

3. Bands who arrive at the club and state that they’ve talked to “someone” about a paying gig, but when asked who, can’t remember the person, all the while insisting that it was “just someone who worked at the club” Startups who try to “network” by insisting they have a mutual contact and that the person has totally introduced you once before. Again, you’re not fooling anyone, and in fact are coming off as scheming and dishonest. Take the time to build the relationships you want to cultivate rather than trying to take the shortcut to your end goal.

4. Bands whose draw is so bad that even their guests don’t show up Startups who have absolutely no feedback at all because not even their friends want to use and try out their product. If you can’t at least sell your music or product to your friends, you have a major problem.

5. Bands who have no guests because they have no friends Startups who have no users or support because they too have no friends. This one is arguably an extension of #4. Takeaway: have a product that’s at least good enough for your friends to want to use it. (Double takeaway: don’t be a tool; have friends who want to champion you).

6. Bands who show up wearing “All Access” laminates at a club where “all access” means just about nothing since it’s just a stage and soundboard area Startups who wear what they think they’re supposed to (maybe hoodies and quirky shoes) and act they way they think they’re supposed to (take this to mean whatever you will) in order to be “real” founders. Posing isn’t just an insult in the punk vein of the music industry; poseurs are everywhere and they are most easily identified as the people who seem really deep until you start interacting with them. Then you realize that they sing the song and dance the dance, but that’s about it. You don’t want to have this reputation as a band, and you certainly don’t when you’re a startup looking to break out amongst the competition.

7. Bands who market themselves as “We’re ________, but with a mix of ________ and a hint of _________’s vocal/guitar sound” (Example: We’re just like Nirvana, but with some Green Day-style vocals and killer Van Halen guitar licks) Startups who market themselves as “We’re _________, but for ________” (Example: We’re like Netflix/Uber/Facebook, but for candy/socks/refrigerators). No you’re not, and you’re cheapening both these companies and yourselves by suggesting so. If you have a similar business model, say that, but don’t speak in all analogies (especially since you want to distinguish yourself anyway).

8. Bands who can’t play longer than a 10-minute set Startups who have no idea how to last longer than a few months (i.e. have not thought about any structure or organization of the company beyond the writing of the code). This tells investors, customers, and your peers that you’re not capable of sitting down with a pad and pen and planning out how to take your idea from: an idea => a working prototype => a viable, long-term business. This is a particularly essential thing to figure out before you take any financing (think of it as having more than 3 songs before you get up on that stage).

9. Bands who don’t even have enough respect for their fans and musical peers to stick around for the whole show after their set is finished Startups who don’t even have enough respect for their peers to reciprocate feedback when they receive it. Seriously, this is both a stupid and jerk move. Firstly, it earns you a poor reputation as someone who won’t reciprocate the good will shown to you because one of your peers may end up “competing” with you sometime in the future. Secondly, it’s stupid because you lose out on anything you might have learned from the experience to make your own startup a better company.

10. Bands who grow supermassive egos and forget their fans and musical peers when they get a little taste of success Startups who grow supermassive egos when they taste a little success and seem to forget their early supporters. Regarding bands/artists, yes this does happen (I’ve experienced it myself) and no, it doesn’t end well. Don’t forget the people who came out to your show before anyone knew you, or the other bands who took you on tour when you were nobody. Regarding startups, it may happen a little less often (in particular ways), but I can’t imagine it doesn’t happen at all (again, I’ve experienced it myself). Don’t forget your early supporters and believers, and certainly don’t ever forget your core customer-base. When the smoke clears, they’re most likely the only people who will stand by you (unless you’re very lucky).

These are just a few points that occurred to me to have crossover appeal and application. Certainly more exist, though I think these are the some of the most obvious. In many ways being in a startup is like being in a new local band (who would’ve thought?) — we should all strive to avoid these pitfalls. Otherwise, we’re just that crappy local band that everyone wishes would just finish their set and get off the stage.


Engage with Adam on Twitter @adammarx13.


Why Music Journalism Bias Works — Medium


Adam Marx
on Feb 186 min
You and Terrence Yang recommendedREAD NEXT

Why Music Journalism Bias Works

A Shopworn Adage
When I began music blogging, one of the first things I heard repeated over and over was the phrase, “you need to be unbiased in your journalism.” I heard it even more when I shifted my focus from writing about artists that everyone already knew about to ones that people should know about. As I retuned my radar (under the moniker Underground Takeover) to scan for artists that were up and coming, I noticed that the skepticism became more palpable; it seemed that writing a post slamming a new artists — being “unbiased” — was somehow a badge of honor that marked one as “a real journalist.” Yet something didn’t fit.


Me with Those Mockingbirds at The Middles East in Cambridge, MA, 3/9/14
The shopworn adage that music journalists should be and need to be unbiased when reviewing music doesn’t work in practice simply because it’s based upon a flawed premise. Non-bias works well in coverage of politics and economics — however, it does not work well within the realm of music and art. Music is an individualized, subjective response to the world or to life by each respective artist. It is a contradiction in terms to try to judge that individualized, subjective response by an impersonal, objective standard, even assuming that we could agree on what that standard is. In addition to that internal contradiction, the fact is that so-called “objective” music journalism is unenjoyable to read either by the music fan or by the artist. Indeed, I didn’t — and still don’t — like writing negative music journalism. Concluding that a work of music is either “great” or “terrible,” or somewhere in between, fails to provide the reader with an understanding of the artist’s intent, or worldview, or what the artist was seeking to express by his or her creation.

Music At Its Core
At its very core, music is simply another form of art; an expression by one or more creative minds of how they see and interact with the world. As with all forms of art, you either like something or you don’t. You may like it somewhat, or it may grow on you after a period of time. All of these possibilities have nothing to do with how “good” or “bad” something is. Within the context of art, concepts of “good” and “bad” don’t exist. How can they? I’m not much of a Rolling Stones fan, but there are a ton of people who are. I’d prefer to listen to a Wipers album (if you know who the Wipers are, then I’m impressed), but my preference doesn’t make me right or wrong.
What I learned from my days in music journalism is that, regardless of what one might glean from watching Almost Famous or reading Rolling Stone, today’s world with the internet and plethora of music blogs and journalists has brought about the democratization of music journalism. This has created a new view of music journalists within the music community, both by artists and by journalists as well. This new perspective is that if you write negative pieces, you’re just some fool with a laptop and internet connection; but if you write positive pieces, then you become a credible news source. And amazingly, this new understanding of music journalism is held as much by music fans as by the artists themselves. After all, when someone attacks an artist I love as “derivative” and “overdriven,” then that journalist attacks me by extension, an action which does not engender a positive feeling in me for the writer.


Me with Sunshine & Bullets at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta, GA, 7/5/14
I expect that the established music journalism world will say that without articles ripping new album releases, music fans will be unable to know what’s “good” and what’s not. But as demonstrated already, that line of thinking is flawed in itself since the notions of “good” and “bad” don’t exist within the confines of art at all. You either like something or you don’t — “good” or “bad” simply don’t enter into the equation. (Outside the scope of music journalism, interestingly enough, Marc Andreessen makes a similar point about journalism in general in the new age here, when he spoke last year at Stanford).
I do not advocate for writing positive pieces about music one doesn’t like. If you don’t like a piece of music, it’s impossible to fake a positive review written well enough to fool a reader. Thus it becomes clear that one should write about the music that really resonates with one’s personal tastes. Don’t write rap music journalism if you’re a punk fan. But the flip side is also true: when you’re writing about something you absolutely love and can barely contain yourself long enough to lay the words down on paper because you’re dying to get back to that song again — well your audience can also tell that, and from my experience, that’s when you have them hooked.

Don’t Be “The Enemy”
The added benefit to writing positive pieces about music you like is that you very quickly begin to develop relationships with those very artists. You will no longer be held at arm’s length — as “the enemy” portrayed in Almost Famous. Instead, as you become as much of a fan as those who attend the artists’ shows, you will benefit from reciprocal artist loyalty in most cases that becomes indispensable to you as a writer. I could never have imagined how much reputation is tied to what and how you write until I started getting emails from friends of friends of artists I’d reviewed, asking me to review or interview bands they knew, or their own bands. This opened me up to opportunities I’d never even considered but retrospectively was so lucky to be able to be exposed to (something that Steven Sinofsky talked about here, when he spoke at UC Berkley last year).


Me with June Divided at Warped Tour Atlanta, 2012
Within my own universe I began to do things I’d never thought of. Writing music articles turned into artists seeking me out to do interviews (and making themselves readily available to do so), artists sharing demo mixes with me weeks or even months before final products were released, and artists asking for my opinion, initially just as a fan and eventually as a friend. It’s a wonderful feeling to see your name in the liner notes of an album by an artist you so doggedly support.
Through all of these experiences, I became privy to things that I never could have, had I been shut out as the “enemy journalist.” Having a reputation as an “album killer” may be good for climbing the corporate ladder at an established music magazine, but it’s counterproductive in the real world of music. If you want to sit behind a desk all day and write reviews that will garner views because of how ruthless they are, by all means do that. But if you got into music journalism to talk to artists (which I do daily), to go to shows and (very possibly) get waved past security backstage (which I have been often), to get press access to festivals like Warped Tour (draw your own conclusions here), and grow a reputation as someone to be in contact with within your industry (draw your own conclusions here too), then I highly suggest reaching out with a positive keyboard to this industry.
Thanks to Dad, Charles Jo, Scott Menor, and Terrence Yang for reading drafts of this.

Originally published at on February 18, 2015.

Adam Marx
Artist, Poet, Founder, President & CEO at Glipple, Inc. Brandeis grad n proud of it

StartupStudyGroup Intentional Diversity

Intentional Diversity

Some of you may know this already: I run a private email/Slack group of 97 founders & investors on Slack for current and future startup founders to help support and learn from each other. Would you know anyone who may be interested? I am especially interested in founders from underrepresented groups.

Please point them to:

Thank you in advance.

Charles Jo 650.906.2600

No Backup Plan — Medium

No Backup Plan

In response to a piece by Theranos CEO

“I think that the minute that you have a backup plan, you’ve admitted that you’re not going to succeed.” — Elizabeth Holmes

Going into the wild is scary and a little crazy. It only makes sense that you as a rational person would have a backup plan. Right?….Wrong.

The reasoning behind the quote above makes sense. When you set up a backup plan it’s a different psychology. You’re not fully invested in the venture, you won’t give it all you’ve got, you won’t strive as hard. You won’t think as clearly and intensely as when you’ve got no backup plan. When you don’t have a backup plan you have to focus, you have to figure out the solution, you have to keep driving forward with full confidence and chutzpah.

How’s this, or more so, why is this?

Well, you’ve placed constraints upon yourself, you set parameters, you’ve set a structure, you’ve defined where you want to be and have a clearer idea of what you have to do to get there. You’re out of your comfort zone, you have to be. If you wan’t to get that specific task or goal completed, you’ve got to go out there and keep moving to get it. You know that there is nothing else to come back to or fall back on. So whatever it is, you’re going to have to somehow make it work.


There’s no other choice, there’s no other option BUT to make it work.

So equip yourself with the skills, believe in yourself, set some tasks and go out there and make it happen. Not just because you want to but because you have to.

A quick anecdote: I was at a conference, a speaker went up and did his part, he spoke for sometime on variety of topics and then asked for questions. A question from one of the audience members was “How do you stay motivated and successful?” (I thought that this was one of the stupidest questions to ask. If you’ve got to ask the question. Then that means your in a zone of comfort, you’re coming from a different background or mentality) The speaker was taken aback, hesitated, and then after a minute or so, said “Fear”. “Fear of loss, fear of not being able to live fully, etc..along those lines.”

Place yourself in position to win by being austere, focus on what matters most and focus intensely on them..because you have to.

Thanks to @jdcarluccio, @charlesjo. @theranos, and everyone else who contributed in some way.

Charles Jo


Spokes vs. Tribe Leaders — Medium

Spokes vs. Tribe Leaders

My day job for 20 years has been recruiting high tech talent for Silicon Valley companies so most waking hours are spent surfing LinkedIn profiles, which are approaching proper resumes in level of detail and have potential to bring us resume 2.0. Bulk of my activity is reviewing hundreds of profiles for positions I have open. Supply and demand of skills. Very transactional.

Sometime last year, I found out that the creator of the web browser, Marc Andreessen, was tweeting so I revived my Twitter account to see what this was all about. During this process, I found gems like Hunter WalkMark Suster, and Danielle Morrill who are sharing their unique experiences in the startup world: educating and entertaining current and future entrepreneurs. As I followed and read various personalities, I started to find incredibly talented individuals who are surely on great trajectories.

A friend would describe these people as “spokes” for networking. Basically, you connect with one of them and they help you connect with many, many key contacts to help your business. But the following three individuals are beyond introduction brokers. Whether they realize or not, they are tribal leaders — men and women who through their own internal motivations and passions can influence hundreds, thousands, possibly millions of people. Each has mastered the art of engaging communities and one on one through blogs, tweets, and thought leadership.

JD Carluccio is an angel investor and advisor to startups. His mission is helping founders from the underrepresented demographics, particularly the Latino community. His blog is at and his analysis is excellent for business students and startup teams alike.

Kiki Schirr is the cofounder and Chief Marketing Officer of Fittr app. She has authored the first book Product Hunt called The Product Hunt Book and coined the phrase,“You do PH, don’t you?” Read her writings to better understand the state of marketing now.

Eric Willis is the founder of SteamRolers, a community for underrepresented talent in the tech industry. This is one of the most positive and vibrant communities I’ve ever seen. My colleagues in human resources and tech should keep this community on their radar for talent.

Read their blogs, follow them on Twitter and engage. Help them on their rise.

Thanks to Alan DanielTerrence Yang, and Daniel Crompton for review.

Feedback is always welcome on Twitter @charlesjo.

Charles Jo