I fell in love with jazz when I was 20 years old. The first time I heard Sonny Stit, I was hooked. I joined a band and we played together for six years. Though I ended up starting a technology company, I still play my sax. Even when I'm at work, I hear music humming in the back of my mind.

I learned a lot when I was swinging with my band. Now that I am leading a company with more than 125 employees, I use these lessons every day:

Improvisation = Innovation

One of the main tenets of jazz is improvisation. Each song has a melody, or "head." When you get to the solo section, you can go wherever you want within the harmonic structure. A good rhythm section (drums, bass, piano, guitar) will follow, but a great rhythm section will fuel you. The drummer might pick up on a syncopation you're playing and pop the snare to enhance it. The piano riffs on the same idea. The crowd creates another energy, bringing the experience to a new level. That's what you live for in jazz. It's spontaneous and unpredictable and keeps moving forward. That's invention.

In my company, we need to constantly innovate as a team. The process works just like jazz. Sometimes you experiment, sometimes you toss out the rules; other times you remix them. Pretty soon you have something new to share with the world.

Let go and explore

Pop music is repetitive and formulaic, but with jazz, you can't hold onto anything for too long. You don't do six sets of a hook and call it a day. You play a bit, then explore a new direction and see where it takes you. In business, you can't cling to the same strategy for years and years or you will get stale. In order to own the future, you have to let go of the way you used to do things. This is true in engineering, design, product, customer service, marketing and sales.

You have to feel it

You can't fake jazz. When you hear Frank Sinatra singing "Where or When," you know he's got it. That swagger is unmistakable. You can feel Lester Young's heart break when he blows "Ghost of a Chance." Scat may sound random but when someone is doing it right, it has a rhythm and a mood. If you wing it, even the most casual listener will think it feels "off."

The same is true for business. Copying something that works for someone else might make you a little money, but you can't build a sustainable business without heart and a sense of purpose. You have to believe in what you're selling. If you don't, everyone will know it. What's worse, the first time you hit a setback, you'll know it, too.

Read your audience

I've played enough gigs -- good and bad -- to know that reading the audience is crucial. If you start playing ballads when people want to bounce, you're gonna lose them. At my company we do a lot of listening. We ask our customers what we can do to improve and what they wish we could offer them. Our initial product was a little device you would attach to your keys so you wouldn't't lose them. People wanted to use it in their wallets, but they said that the original design was too bulky for that purpose. We heard them and made a flatter version that was shaped like a credit card.

Get it tight

When a jazz band is in a groove, they've got "swing." You can't swing if the band is all over the place. When it's tight, everything comes together -- everyone in the audience is nodding their head and snapping their fingers.

As the leader of a company, your job is to lay out the vision and strategy for everyone from the executive team to your junior engineers. When you're swinging, everyone can be creative; one person on the team can try something new, yet everyone else can still keep up. Lester Young was famous for flipping the beat all over the place yet his band always knew exactly where they were. They let him crank ahead and eventually they landed in the right spot at the same time.

Jazz is my inspiration -- what's yours?