I don't have a traditional business background. I was a punk musician and an artist before I became a consultant, entrepreneur and CEO. When we were launching my company, Plum Organics, folks would take a long, slow look at the tattoos on my arms. I saw their skepticism. This guy?
I often wondered myself if I had any business starting a business. Since then I've put trust in--and leaned on--my outsider status. Rather than a disadvantage, it's what allowed us to build a company that blindsided the food industry. What I've come to learn is that punk bands and progressive businesses have plenty in common.
Here are five tenets that I learned in my punk days that can help you stand out as an entrepreneur.
1. Take a Stand
You've got to have a clear, strong conviction about what you are going to do on behalf of your customers--or take it up a few notches--about how you are going to change the world. When my band, Paxston Quiggly, took the stage in the early '90s we had something to say, and we shouted it. Before a gig, we'd announce our arrival in town by spray-painting stencils on unsuspecting walls and sidewalks.
If you looked at the baby food market before Plum you wouldn't have touched it. There was almost no money in it. Those little glass jars of mushy peas selling for 49 cents were loss leaders. We didn't care. We didn't have any reverence for the way it had been done before. Our mission was to bring better food to every baby. We focused on that, not on the dollars. And then the dollars started coming.
When you do the right things on behalf of your customer, the fundamental business economics start to work.
2. Build Your Tribe
Like the punk movement, any stand you take should attract like-minded people. At Plum that was young, modern parents. You need to identify who your co-conspirators are and find out how to tap into that community. Before my band hit the road we'd put the word out that we were looking for any venue: from warehouse to grungy bar. We included our punk tribe in the whole process--they dictated the towns we played in, and the spaces where the shows happened.
Same thing in our business. Our tribe was made up of parents like us, people who were fumbling along with their children's food needs as best they could. What was missing was something we could get behind. Our tribe started with parents who formed a company to meet our own needs. It grew when we started to shout that we were coming to a grocery store in your town.
Find your tribe, the people for whom you are the missing piece. Make them part of the way forward.
3. Lead with heart
The phrase "it's not personal, it's business" is one of the most damaging ideas in business today. It removes humanity and empathy from the decision-making process. Plum was founded by the love parents had for their children. Find that heart in your business. It is what guides you through the tough decisions and forces you to be better. People can spot a phony in a second--whether it's a song or a product.
When you lead with heart--there is no question for employees or customers about your authenticity. It's what you do and how you conduct business.
4 BYOS: Bring your own self
Sporting a man bun and a '70s mustache? Awesome! Wearing pants that look like they were in a fight with a knife and a paint brush? Sweet! Nothing is more liberating than dressing, acting and expressing yourself exactly as who you are. It doesn't matter whether you are on stage or behind a computer. When people come as they truly are, genius occurs. When they don't, they leave behind that creative spark and originality that can elevate a product, a campaign or a meeting to something truly unique and valuable.
Hire people who don't look at the world--or look--quite the same as everyone else. Get an eclectic bunch together, and let them be themselves. Rather than run counter to the idea of a tribe, it strengthens it, because diversity of thinking matters.
Letting tension happen will lead to better ideas and to heightened respect for each other as individuals.
5. Fight the good fight
Go out and slay dragons. Stand up for your values in service of your customers. That's your role in business and in society. Plum's fight is about getting better food to kids. What's yours? It's never going to be easy, but do it anyway.
Go fight the good fight.