Three Lessons Punk Rock Teaches Us About Being a Business Leader


Inspiration comes in many forms, and as an entrepreneur, I found mine early on in an unusual place: punk rock.

There are strong parallels between the business of punk rock and startups. When you’re starting a new business venture, you wear many hats—leader, innovator, developer, marketer, HR rep—with very little budget or certainty. You might work out of your home, a cafe, or a co-working space. That doesn’t sound all too different from life on the road, living in motels, making little money, and sharing a tour bus with 18 people.

Had I not taken a break from the tech world and spent the early 2000s as the tour manager for Flogging Molly, a Celtic punk rock band, or working on the Warped Tour traveling music festival, I might not have uncovered some of the secrets to running an honest and successful business.

There are three important lessons I learned from my days on the road that I’d like to share with new and emerging tech leaders and entrepreneurs looking to make a difference in an increasingly noisy and competitive market.

Have a hard-core focus on the customer experience

Reeves (left) pretending to hitchhike after the bus taking him and the catering crew to the Warped Tour broke down on the highway. (Photo courtesy: Robert Reeves.)

Being a strong business leader, especially in tech, is all about knowing your customers, knowing your audience, and genuinely giving a sh– about them. Leaders who forget this will fail. Why? Because second to your employees, your customers aren’t just a source of revenue, they’re your biggest advocates. They buy more than just your product. They buy your brand and your vision. They evangelize your products with a fervor you could never buy.

Flogging Molly understood this philosophy. The band had just finished a show at The Gorge in Washington state. Concertgoers had to walk up a darkened hill back to their cars, past a row of merchant tents selling t-shirts, hoodies, you name it. No one had thought to bring lights—except Flogging Molly.

They saw an opportunity to own that hill and seized it. Instead of returning to the bus or the hotel, the Flogging Molly members hung out in their brightly lit tent, selling t-shirts, signing autographs, posing for photos, and even giving out free beer. The band made far more than they usually did that night but that wasn’t the point, or why they stuck around.

Flogging Molly didn’t care about selling swag. They were more invested in their fans and creating a full experience for them. The same goes in the technology industry. You should always be selling more than just your software; you should be selling an experience, selling a story that matters.

Be zealous and fearless

Startups and punk rock bands share a key trait—fearlessness. Both … Next Page »

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Robert Reeves is co-founder and chief technology officer of Datical in Austin. Follow @robertreeves

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