Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos Talks Rock Band 3, Entrepreneur Advice, and What’s Next for the Firm

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we have other ideas in the works as well, but it’s too early to talk about those!

X: What’s your number-one lesson you’ve learned in running the company for 15 years? What would be your top advice to a tech entrepreneur or first-time CEO?

AR: This is a supreme cliché, but it’s still absolutely true and worth repeating: the single most important priority in building a successful business is finding awesome people. Market conditions change, competitive landscapes shift, industry dynamics evolve, and no one set of strategies or organizational methods or practices is uniformly well-suited for dealing with the churning universe of possible conditions. But when you have awesome people, you can successfully adapt and weather the changes around you. I should also add that it’s not enough to find people who are talented and driven; it’s also vitally important to find people who have integrity of character and self-knowledge, because without those attributes, organizations with plenty of talent and drive can rapidly deteriorate into dysfunction.

One last piece of advice: Entrepreneurs tend to have a proclivity for stubborn optimism. And god knows they need it, given how much the odds are generally stacked against them. But a consequence of this optimism is a tendency to turn a blind eye to potentially fatal flaws in their thinking, to chronically shy away from the “bad news” from the outside world that calls into question the viability of the venture. It’s vitally important that entrepreneurs run towards the bad news, do everything they can to aggressively confront the holes in their thinking, so that they can either plug them or change course. Otherwise, years can be lost and ships can be run aground because storm clouds were optimistically ignored.

X: What’s your favorite/craziest rock musician story that you can share?

AR: This doesn’t qualify as a “crazy” story, but it was a moving one for me. It was the second time I met with Paul McCartney, early in the process of producing The Beatles: Rock Band. And it was the first time I was meeting him to present some of the creative ideas we’d been developing for the game. As you might imagine, I was more than a bit nervous about it, and the demonstration was rather nerve-wracking. Fortunately, it went reasonably well. Afterwards, as I was preparing to depart the meeting, Sir Paul handed me a few sprigs of lavender. He explained that he’d just cut them fresh from his garden, and that he finds that the scent of lavender helps calm him at stressful moments. It was a surprising gesture under the circumstances and helped set the tone for the rest of the project.

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