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  • Claudia Sauter-Steiger

Stairway to Startup - How to be a Rock Star Founder


Successful founders are a lot like rock stars. They have carefully curated images as performers, they are celebrities, full of drive and energy, are loved by media and fans alike. But like Bruce Springsteen, Kurt Cobain and Mick Jagger, startup founders were not born the rock stars they might be today, they merely developed into them. Yet many founders are convinced from the start that the world is at their feet while they are playing up on stage. This, however, is a dangerous mindset, because being a rock star in the business and startup world takes a lot more than just a good idea.

In this article, we dive into what it takes for you to become the rock star founder you might think you can be and discuss how to put the business back in show business.

Here are 8 points on how to rock your startup (like a hurricane):

1) Passion.

Rock stars and founders all over the world hold one thing in common: a relentless drive for the things that they are passionate about. A person who is strikingly dedicated to her cause is magnetic not just to those who have similar interests or pursuits, but to almost everyone they encounter along the way. So don’t be shy to be passionate about your idea and your business. It’s what’s going to make you a rock star, remember? Show the world what you do and why you love it, and they’ll (hopefully) follow suit. And while not a rock start in today’s sense, even Ludwig van Beethoven believed that playing a wrong note is unimportant, but playing without passion is unforgivable.

2) Discipline

There is hardly any natural born talent. Discipline, practice and rehearsing is everything. The same is true for founders. You have to learn how to lead a company. Most founders have never been in that position. And while it’s fun, it certainly isn’t easy, there is no way to sugarcoat it. It takes a lot of learning, listening and countless mistakes to be good at something, so better start now. And while you’re at it, do it like rock stars, which all happen to have very strict and disciplined work regimens (most of them, at least). This includes staying away from things that can be a distraction or have a negative influence on what you do. Never lose your joy of life (your favorite rock stars surely didn’t), but when it gets tough, discipline is of the essence. Just like a 16 hour recording session, there will be days when you’ll need to just put in the work. Almost every day, really.

3) Courage

What do artists all have in common? They have courage, and lots of it. There has never been a rock star who cowardly followed everyone else. Quite the opposite, actually: they were, and are still, united in their quest to defy the status quo, to create something new and reinvent themselves many times throughout their careers. David Bowie, he himself an amazing shape shifter, showed how he was not afraid of progress and change when he launched his own internet service provider in 1993, appropriately named BowieNet - the first ever “artist-created ISP”. Under the pseudonym “Sailor”, he even communicated with his fans, occasionally answered fan questions, gave recommendations or shared updates. This shows that Bowie (or why not Ziggy Startup, while we're at it?) was not just an extraordinary artist and visionary, he might just have been a great startup founder, too.

4) Entourage

Being a rock star is synonymous to having large numbers of fans. Those are great, but they are not as loyal as one might think they are. Having band members helps to give you security, and if you see yourself more as a solo artist, then you need an entourage, a tightly knit group of friends that is not only cheering you on and supports whatever you do, but also one that challenges you and makes you better. There is also no need to rival Madonna with her 200 person entourage; a small crew consisting of a few loved ones, friends or even co-workers will do the job just fine. Either way, it’s important to accept their support, deepen those relationships, and acknowledge their contributions to your success.

5) Consistency

Rock stars are expected to perform and to bring their A-game every single night. And while being a rock star founder hopefully comes without the drugs and rock n’ roll, you’ll still need to be able to perform consistently on a high level. Working hard is a start, but people are looking for someone who is reliable all the more. Be someone who shows up on time and puts in impeccable performances, regardless of the circumstances. Don’t worry, we are not asking you to come back to work just minutes after breaking your leg like Dave Grohl. Regardless, achieving consistency is no easy feat and requires regular training, a history of success, and the ability to meet or exceed expectations every time. And don’t make the mistake of expecting your employees to work as hard or as long as you are, you run the show after all and the startup is your baby. So while the spotlight is on you and the mic is in your hand, you better rock the stage.

6) Encore

Rock stars are first and foremost entertainers. The unwritten rule of show business is to satisfy the fans but, more importantly, to “leave them longing for more.” Make sure you make your show an experience for those who are watching. Let them be amazed and not bored. Freddie Mercury was an amazing artist, but he was an even greater entertainer. Nobody could control crowds better than he could. He hooked them with his playful yet confident attitude and had the entire audience clapping and singing in unison. As a founder, try to entertain, but unite at the same time. Expand your stage to include the entire arena and your audience will be in your hand!

7) Modesty

A rock star is a shining figure on top of a pedestal made of glitz and glamour, but only the real ones are gracious enough to have the ability to connect to their audience and to their roots. While it’s easy to get distracted by the jet-set, over-the-top lifestyles of some, it’s important to realize that those who are the most respected, appreciated and followed are the ones who remain humble, put others first, and aren’t cocky. I'll never forget the time I met Kylie Minogue at a gym in Croatia and she was just casually doing her yoga routine next to me. Ever since then, I just can't get you out of my head, Kylie! Modesty is what puts the star in rock star.

8) Influence

If you want to be a rock star, you’re going to have to learn how to lead others, how to become a better communicator, and how to graciously accept feedback from others. You are never going to see everyone be on your side, but it still is valuable to listen, especially to those with different viewpoints. Honest feedback becomes more valuable the more famous you become. And if you fear feedback, do it like the great Jim Morrison: Expose yourself to your deepest fear. After that, fear has no power. You are free.

Every beginning is difficult and no one is born a rock star. And even if you do think you are one, you should never forget where you came from. May these 8 points help you on your quest to becoming a rock star founder. And even if it doesn’t go as planned, never forget to enjoy the ride and keep on rockin' in the startup world. Or, as Mercury would say: The show must go on.

Article by Luca Müller and Claudia Sauter

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