5 Business Lessons Learned Playing in a Punk Rock Band

5 Business Lessons Learned Playing in a Punk Rock Band

Milo Aukerman and Karl Alvarez of the Descendents.

Image credit: Jackman Chiu | Flickr
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I've spent the past 20 years in punk rock and the past 15 as an entrepreneur. From a distance, the correlation between punk rock and business seems thin, I'm sure. But the more I look at my journey, the closer these two obsessions of mine get -- to the point where I believe that the two terms are nearly synonymous. At least, they should be.

Punk rock and business are notoriously at odds with each other, but this does not and should not be the case. The lessons I have garnered from punk rock were not immediately apparent to me, but in retrospect are definitely rooted in leather jackets and amplifiers turned up to 11.

Here’s what punk rock can teach you about business:

Do it yourself.

The DIY. (do it yourself) ethic is so entrenched in punk rock that we often don't even realize we are doing it. About 99 percent of punk rock records would never have been recorded had it not been for the band themselves doing what was necessary to write, record, produce and publish their own music. Despite all the funding rounds we hear about nowadays, these still make up a virtually non-existent percentage of startups today. Most do it themselves. In business, we just call it bootstrapping.

To be clear, doing it yourself does not mean that you are expected to literally do everything in your business yourself. The DIY. ethic enables and forces you to take action on your ideas today, rather than waiting for someone to give you permission. Start today!

Related: The Make-It-Yourself Movement Is a New Mecca for Entrepreneurs

Pay your dues.

While in high school, I can clearly remember hearing the band Pavement for the first time. During that first listen, I heard the lyric, “You’ve got to pay your dues before you pay the rent,” and it struck a definite chord with me. What I didn’t know was that it was setting the stage and teaching me that there is no easy path to paying your rent.

As entrepreneurs, we tend to focus on and glorify the biggest successes in our marketplaces. The seemingly endless stream of billion-dollar acquisitions and funding rounds tend to leave you feeling that you aren't even playing the same game. Unfortunately, what is always left out of these stories is the years of failures prior to the big wins -- seven years to overnight success.

Your dues will be different than my dues, but they still need to be paid. When starting any new business venture, you need to plan to work in months. Working in months will help you to overcome "shiny object syndrome" and keep you from bouncing from opportunity to opportunity. Your success will take time and your dues need to be paid.

Related: 5 Business Myths that Used To Be True

Question the rules.

Question the rules is probably a phrase that most people can relate to punk rock. Punk rock, like other forms of art and business, rely on rules only to break them. This does not mean you shouldn’t try to learn from other people’s failures and mistakes. We can save ourselves a lot of trouble by doing this. The business world has a lot of rules, both good and bad. 

In business, all rules need to be questioned. The old ways of doing things quickly go out of fashion and need to be replaced with fresh ideas and perspectives. Technology and society are changing at a remarkable rate. Our businesses need to lead the charge, not simply adapt to the changes. Take previously held rules about business, modify them and propel your business to new heights. Don't follow the old way of doing things. Become part of the new noise.

Related: How Being a Post-Punk Singer Prepared Me for the Startup Life

Repel rather than attract.

There is a very clear reason why most people will never listen to punk rock, and that’s okay. Punk rock is noisy, fast, loud and full of attitude. That's also why the people who are into it are really into it.

It is time to stop trying to find your niche. It is much easier and more effective to simply repel the people that will never be into you, your brand or your product. From your attitude to your company culture and branding, you can repel and discourage people from following you. Yes, repel as many people as you can and those who are left paying attention will be your true fans.

There is nothing worse for your business than to have apathetic followers and customers. We don't want or need people on our email lists and social media accounts who don't absolutely love being there. At first, this may seem counter-intuitive, but it is an essential step towards finding your 1,000 true fans, because they are all that matter.

Related: Fake Twitter Followers: How Many Do You Have?

Don’t be lazy.

Of all the adjectives that have been used to describe punk rockers, lazy is rarely one of them. In punk rock, we know that if we want something to happen we have to be the ones to do it. Green Day is one of the most successful punk bands of all time. What most people don't know is that for years before they became MTV stars, Green Day endlessly toured North America in an old mobile library called a bookmobile

The most popular punk rock bands and most successful businesses are not always the best in their market, but with few exceptions, they are the hardest working. On the flip side, this also proves that the best ideas, inventions and businesses often never get recognized due to their founders not putting in the work that it takes. 

If you don’t want to succeed more than you want to watch Mad Men, you have no one to blame but yourself for failing. We all struggle with finding enough time to grow our businesses, yet we all seem to find enough time to watch boring re-runs on television. Starting, running and growing a business takes more work than you can probably imagine. This is not to stop you from starting, but encouraging you to step up to the plate and do what is necessary for your success.

As an entrepreneur, you have to out-hustle and out-work your competition or they will out-hustle you.

Related: Sure, Work Hard, But Also Create Your Own Luck