Some things sound incredibly simple... and yet are extremely difficult to actually pull off.
Take the saying, "No one accomplishes anything worthwhile on their own." It's true -- but how do you find talented people to partner with? How do you build connections and partnerships that are not just mutually beneficial but allow a group of people to accomplish significantly more together than they ever would have as individuals?
That's the trick... and that's why I got advice from Scott Manson, Chief Operating Officer of SB Projects, the entertainment and media company that works with folks like Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Kanye, Usher...
Their business is based on finding talent, creating strategic partnerships, and spotting opportunities... just like yours.
(Note: I wrote the numbered headings that appear in bold; the text under each is what Scott told me.)
1. Building relationships and trust always comes first.
At a high level, the best partnerships happen when there's an opportunity neither side needs... but instead is something that both feel really makes sense to go for. (When one side really needs something, as opposed to wanting it, that can impact the partnership dynamic... and also make it harder to find and stay focused on common goals.)
But before that, any good partnership starts with building relationships and building trust. Our business moves really quickly, so in a short period of time we have to decide whether to make certain choices and take certain shots... and we're only willing to commit and put our reputations on the line if we can build great personal relationships and business relationships.
The goal should always be to win together and have fun while you do.
Find the right people to work with, and one plus one really does equal three. When you have complementary skills and non-overlapping partner value adds... something magical often happen.
2. Don't try to grab the watermelon; look for grapes.
Here's an example. We partnered with Universal Music Group, developing acts with them for three years.
We had a tremendous amount of success together. We were able to spot talent and bring our expertise to building their brands and rolling them out: styling, voice, music, brand, etc. UMG has tremendous resources and a worldwide staff. We were able to plug into that infrastructure in a way that both we and UMG had incentives to prioritize the relationship.
There are a lot of companies that try to partner with the music companies where they want to retain all the ownership and only give away a sliver of the economics. We don't work that way. We wanted to work with them... and we wanted to give them great reasons to want to work with us.
We're constantly looking for the next partnership to really drive culture and provide value, so we always try to cut fair deals. Think about it this way: you can ask for the watermelon, but if your partner doesn't have a reason to prioritize the relationship, that watermelon may have no value.
When you find the right partners and are both invested success, you both may only get grapes.... but you may both get a lot of grapes.
3. To find talent, get input... but also trust your instincts.
We're very fortunate in that we have a diverse network of friends and advisers in different industries. If we decide we want to partner in a particular sector, we know experts in that sector who can guide us to the people who can disrupt the industry in the most strategic way possible.
But honestly, when we're deciding who to represent or partner with, we have a very unscientific but proven system: the "Scooter (Scooter Braun, founder of SB Projects) Gut Check..
The Scooter Gut Check is not only the ultimate tie-breaker in deciding what we go for but the guiding light in what we follow. You will sometimes be wrong, but if you go with your gut and you're wrong, you will always learn a valuable lesson. If you go against your gut and you're wrong... that's an unforgivable offense.
As we keep scaling up the business and continue to grow in different industries like television, film, consumer products... it's impossible for us to have a hit rate of 100%.
You won't either, but never just think it's a number's game and take a scattershot approach: be very thoughtful and always try to protect your brand equity as you build it.
4. Knowing when to stop can be more important than knowing when to start.
Time is the most valuable asset we and our partners have. That means being decisive about when to shut something down, learn the lessons we need to learn, and apply them to the next venture is as important as deciding to get into a business in the first place.
If you don't, you find yourself in ventures that go stale, that distract you from more important aspects of your business, and that over time don't even fit with where you and your brand are going.
Don't be afraid to shut something down if it's not working. The only way you really fail is if you don't learn from what didn't work -- and if you don't apply what you've learned to whatever you do next.
5. Never try to control talented people.
We try to shape where the business goes. We're not the artists, but by providing artists with new influences, by opening creative conversations, finding ways for them to be inspired... we hope they will arrive at the same conclusions on the sound.
A good example is "Where are You Now," Justin Bieber's first single that was released in advance of his album "Purpose." Scooter was talking with Skrillex and Diplo and really felt Justin as a recognizable voice teaming up with those guys could create new a sound and would be refreshing and fill a void in the marketplace.
It was extremely successful, both critically and commercially, really helped establish Justin's sound going forward -- and he was very much a part of leading that creative process.
The takeaway is when you put super creative people together with other super creative people... they'll do great stuff. But you can't tell them what to do. The key is to put them in a position to succeed and then let them do what they do best.
6. If your industry is changing... stay as close to the talent as possible.
Like many industries, the business of music has changed dramatically. So as managers, we try to sit as close to the talent as possible.
Digital distribution and distribution in general is being disrupted, but the content and most sought-after, exclusive, and valuable content still comes from stars. So by helping them figure out how to release their music, position their music, cut the deals around their music as the business of the music keeps changing... then we're in a great seat, one that allows us to stay in front of the changes in the business instead of being forced to react.
Ultimately, the talented people in any industry will shape that industry -- so stay as close to them as you can.
7. No matter how big your reach, communicate as if it's one-to-one.
Especially where social media is concerned, one thing Scooter constantly impresses on all our artists and on our team is to always communicate in a one-on-one style.
People consume content and interact with your brand in an intimate way. Crack the person-to-person tone in an organic way and one-to-one natural becomes one-to-many as your community grows.
And don't try to control the social voices of your team. We aren't puppet masters who control every single social media outlet and mimic the voices of our talent. We want them to speak in their own voices.
What we want is authenticity and intimate and organic. Even if being authentic and organic sometimes is polarizing or leads to negative press, that's a teachable moment. We still want their real personalities to come across in social media.
That applies to everyone in our business, and should apply to everyone in yours. People don't build social relationships with companies. They build social relationships with people.
8. Never give up equity for celebrity promotion.
If a founder of an early-stage company is willing to give us a tremendous amount of their sweat equity to help with marketing and distribution... it's unlikely to work out unless they also have real resources behind them.
For example, often a startup founder will come to us and say, "I'll give you 25% of the company if (a particular artist) tweets about our product ten times..." but it doesn't work like that. Talent decides what they promote. Fans decide whether they believe it and whether it's worth a look...
The fans are incredibly smart. The FCC is trying to figure out how to manage sponsored posts on social media, proposing guidelines like #sponsored or #ad to let people know the artist is being paid to promote something... but that kind of thing is unnecessary.
Fans are smart. They can tell.