I picked up this nasty mindset somewhere along the way. It was this little voice that said “not unless it’s perfect.”
I never would show anybody anything until it was perfect. I would hide from the world, and craft this amazing thing (whether it be a product, a piece of music, a new skill…), then unveil it to the world as the cheers and praise came rolling in. Then I would stand there and be able to say “I did that myself” and “I knocked their socks off.” END Fantasy. Enter Reality.
This mindset flew in the face of one important thing I forgot. Exposure. Not something I forgot, something I was afraid of. I was afraid of exposure because what if I wasn’t good enough. Then came the reframing.
I was fortunate enough to meet with one of the most successful venture capitalists of all time, and he blew my mind. He completely reframed my idea of failure, to see it as a good thing. One of the most important things is to go out and fail, he told me. You have got to put yourself out there because there is the potential not of criticism but for feedback. He talked about the idea of minimum variable product. In a nutshell, this term refers to putting as least amount of something out to test to see if it is worth moving forward, because, he said, that know when to pivot away from something (with the least impact on your time and wallet) is as important as being able to move forward.
I have been trying to take his words to heart. For my current project, GTX,
I have tried to show it to as many trusted people as possible and get as much feedback as I can. It has dramatically shifted the way that I look at the project, and helped me not waste my money. Originally, the project was going to be the most beautiful perfect website, with no money spent to advertise it. Now, it is a work in progress for all to see, which markets the hell out of itself. Now, it is consumer driven- I am getting feedback from users about what works and what doesn’t. I am seeing the holes in the pedagogy, and working to help the people using my product. In this way the focus shifts from this being my project, to it being their project. That’s what it is really about- serving a community of people. And in the end, if it is helping those people the most, won’t they use it more and pay more for it.
If you only take away two things from my rambling then let it be this:
1. Most people are on your side and want to see you succeed. Use that to your advantage and get feedback.
2. Get yourself out there- exposure is more important than a perfect product. Your product/music/whatever is like a tree falling in the forest….if there is nobody there to hear it then…
Taller Comp started as a project to help promote and expand the contemporary music scene in Mexico, especially in my hometown of León. Thought as a composition workshop for beginner students of any age, of any social background that would serve those interested in writing music and learning more on how to develop their skills.
Planning it was in and of itself a quite challenging task, but little did I know it would only be half the battle. I printed out a lot of posters, mailed them to Mexico to start promoting Taller Comp; created a website for the workshop; created a Facebook page; got the school were this workshop took place to start promoting it with their own sources. It all seemed to be going well. I thought the marketing side of things was being taken care of.
Nevertheless when I finally arrived to Leon everything I thought had gone well had gone completely the other way around. From the posters I had sent a month before to distribute all around Leon only 30% had actually been sent to music schools, cultural institutions or universities. I was stuck with 70% of those posters. This meant I had to move fast so enough people would know about this workshop before it started. This actually delayed the beginning of the workshop one whole week.
To promote Taller Comp I went to a lot of places in Leon and in the surrounding towns putting up posters. I went to music academies, cultural institutions both private and public, universities, libraries, and cafes, anyplace where people interested in such a workshop would go. Although putting up posters in such short time added a lot of pressure, in the end it resulted in a very positive thing, because I was able to introduce myself in person to important music schools in the area so they would know about my project and about myself as a musician.
The best most unexpected experience that I had while distributing posters was to meet the “Imagina” Orchestra. This is an El Sistema-based orchestra located in a poor neighborhood in the outskirts of Leon, which works with kids and teens in the area to improve their quality of life. It was a very moving experience for me to see these 80 or more kids who have nothing in the world but their instrument and music, and who showed so much passion and dedication towards music. I felt very very privileged to be studying in a prestigious school such as NEC and felt a strong commitment to help these kids some way. The director of the orchestra was so impressed with Taller Comp that he told me he wanted me to present this kind of workshop to the kids for at least the next 3 years, every summer that I go back to Mexico.
On the other hand there was interest in me presenting Taller Comp next year from other schools as well. One of them was “Praga” Music Academy. I was able to meet the director and she was very interested in me presenting this workshop next year in this school. She encouraged me to tailor the workshop to the different levels they have in the school and take into account as well the age difference between the students. Hopefully next year I will be able to present Taller Comp to the students in “Praga” next summer, and it will be adapted to their specific needs.
The overall learning I had from this pilot project is that Leon has a much wider music field than I originally accredited it for. In fact it is so vast that it was really hard for Taller Comp to try fitting all the specific needs from all the people interested in one session. Therefore in order for Taller Comp to be more successful in the future, I need to present the workshop tailored to the particular requirements from the schools that are interested, and teach Taller Comp directly in those schools. This not only saves me the money and time to do all the marketing, since the schools directly will take care of that, but also it allows me to focus on each particular need that a school might have that maybe another school might not. In addition to this the more locations Taller Comp can take place in, the more people that will learn and benefit from this project. Hopefully in the future this workshop will keep helping promote and develop the music field in Leon and its surrounding areas.
When I learned that EM gave a grant to my project, I felt both delight and a little dread for the same reason: now I had to take real steps forward. In some ways, it’s similar to composing a large work (like the two-hour opera I’ve been working on for almost two years) — once you tell people and have some semblance of a deadline, you really can’t quit! However, the lovely EM staff has ameliorated any remaining anxiety, both through verbal encouragement and introducing me to experienced mentors.
The mentors so far have given advice and wisdom on the following subjects: legal issues (including copyright and setting up an LLC), finding potential long-term business partners, hiring practices, organization, marketing, web presence, social media, and reaching out to related businesses. The advice on finding and working with people was particularly helpful, as I’m naturally trusting and needed the reminder to ask the right kinds of questions. Tanya Kalmanovitch’s EM graduate seminar has also been invaluable for setting realistic goals and fitting the business plan into my artistic life.
Through asking for help when I need it, and continuing to refine the business’ end goals, I’ve learned that this project is not something to be rushed. Because I’m targeting a specific audience (musicians, and primarily composers), it’s important that even in beta, the printing website offers a pleasant user experience. While it tries my go-get-‘em nature to be patient, I’m learning to rely on the suggestions of the extensive resources EM offers, and roll out a well designed beta version of the site sometime after graduating next spring.
Learn more about Mattia’s business idea here.