What Big Business can learn from Billie Eilish.
I was lucky enough to be in Silicon Valley recently, and there in Addison Street, Palo Alto, is a small single garage made of timber. Nothing special, other than way back in 1935 it was where two Stanford graduates, Bill Hewlett and David Packard, started tinkering with calculators. They called their business Hewlett Packard, and last year HP posted nearly $60 billion in revenue.
There are many other famous '2 Guys in a Garage' stories. You might have heard of Apple, started by Steve and Woz near HP's garage. Walt and Roy Disney made their first movie inside their uncle's garage. Bill Gates and his buddy Paul Allen started Microsoft in an Albuquerque garage. And Larry page and Sergei Brin, also Stanford graduates, started Google in their friend Susan's garage. All of those companies went on to become worth at least $25 billion dollars.
In 1989 in Singapore my friend Peter and I started our own advertising agency in his spare bedroom, reimagining the ad agency as an integrated communications resource, and built it up into a highly profitable business which we then sold to DraftFCB in 1997 (for somewhat less than $25 billion).
So what's at work here?
A starting point is a passion for doing something differently. There is also a massive single-minded dedication to the purpose. All the above examples will tell you of endless long nights, sacrificed weekends, and struggling through the shortage of cash and credibility for the first little while.
But there's more than hard work. There's agility, there's speed, there's fast learning. And there's a perspective on what the market needs, unclouded and undiluted by committees and bureaucracy, no middle-management naysayers trying to preserve the status quo because there is no status quo in a start-up. It's do or die. Pivot or perish.
And this was highlighted again last week when I was watching the Grammy Awards, the music industry equivalent of the Oscars. Billie Eilish made a clean sweep of the four main categories:
Best New Artist, Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
So what you say?
I should have mentioned, she's just turned 18, and she recorded her album sitting cross-legged on her brother Finneas's bed while he recorded and produced the album for her. 2 Guys in a Garage.
No shiny cathedral-ceilinged timber-panelled record label studios in prime real estate, with the clock ticking, bills racking up (Guns 'n Roses' last album cost $13 million to produce), and nervous record label execs pacing up and down reading audience research spreadsheets outside the audio booth cramping the creative process.
The beauty of using her brother's bedroom to record is it's just 5 steps from her own room, so they can lay down ideas anytime. And they can do endless retakes. Believe it or not, there were 34 takes of the signature hook 'Duh!' in the middle of her huge song 'Bad Guy'. 34!
That speaks to a massive professionalism and pride in the product.
Although she is now signed to a major label, Interscope, the people on that team grew up in their own garage/bedroom business, so are fully on board with Billie's DIY ethic. She gets to sign off on every single decision made.
The result is an uniquely authentic artistic yet commercial product, which in the case of 'When We All Fall Asleep ...' has completely challenged the notion that albums are dead in this age of singles and curated playlists. The album blitzed all Apple's previous records, with over 800,000 pre-orders, and over 300,000 downloads in its first week, to send it to #1 on the Billboard album chart. It remained there for months, selling 2.5 million copies by year end, plus 2.3 billion (yes with a B) streams.
Above the doorway in Finneas' bedroom studio, he's scribbled '10,000' hours on the wall. That's obviously taken from Malcolm Gladwell's 'Outliers', and reminds him of his dedication to mastery of his craft. I think he can tick that off now.
So why is this relevant to your business?
Well, the bad news is that right now there are two guys (and please take that term to mean male, female, transgender, etc) in a garage somewhere. It could be Dublin, Berlin, Guangzhou, or Timbuktu. The main asset of their business is a smart phone and a disruptive idea -- an idea that when built out and scaled up, could wipe out your Fortune 500 or major corporation.
Trust me, they are working on it, and will happily work late on it again tonight, fuelled by pizza and industrial-grade caffeine. They want to take you down and put you out of business, like 250 of current Fortune 500s are predicted to be within 10 years (maybe not completely Kodak-ked, but at least out of the 500).
So what are you going to do about it?
You could do what most are doing, unbelievably; taking the 'We're too big to fail' head-in-the-sand approach. Business as usual, until the mothership smashes into the iceberg.
Or you can carve out some time for a facilitated session in which you answer the question:
"If we were 2 evil guys with a smartphone in a garage, how could we put [insert your company name here] out of business?"
That should result in a whole bunch of interesting initiatives to consider in saving your business. They might be product ideas, or they might be to do with process, or people, or ... any other under-belly weakness in your currently super-successful current business model that could be digitally exploited or disrupted.
I don't want to be the bad guy here (really), I'm just trying to help you find the future. Because that's what I do. From my home office above the garage. Of course I can always come to your shiny downtown office to run the session for you. Duh!