Panos Panay left a well-paying job as a talent agent to start Sonicbids, which he recently sold to the actor's job-board, Backstage, in a deal backed by Guggenheim Partners. He explains the wise words that helped guide his way.
I started Sonicbids after working as a talent agent for nearly seven years, booking some of the world's jazz legends, such as Pat Metheny, Sonny Rollins, and Chick Corea. That's when I got the idea for my own business: If there is already a marketplace to buy and sell goods online, why isn't there one to find and book musical talent? So with $50,000 in personal savings, some funding from family and friends, and a little extra space in my apartment, Sonicbids was born. I left a well-paying job, but I did it because I had to. Because that unexplored business idea just wouldn't let me sleep at night.
In 2013, I sold Sonicbids. It was a wild ride, but along the way I received a lot of advice from mentors and colleagues, and from reading about the creative entrepreneurs whom I admire. Here are some wise words that were passed on to me, which have since become some of my own rules to live by as an entrepreneur:
1. Business is personal. Everyone's heard the phrase, "It's not personal, it's business." Yet I found that to be as far from reality as it gets. It is personal--business is, after all, about people. When you start and run a business, you deal with people constantly, whether it's your partners, investors, employees or customers. Whether you like it or not, their psyche, emotions, personal ambitions, aspirations, insecurities, strengths and motivations all come into play when you are dealing with them. Business is about relationships--and no one wants to do business in the long term with someone who doesn't care.
2. Say "yes" more than "no." It's easy to miss opportunities if you are hyper-focused on just doing what needs to get done that day, never lifting your head up to see the big picture. Pushing yourself outside your own comfort zone is critical for success. Saying "yes"--to meeting new people, pursuing a left-of-center partnership, going into a new line of business or hiring a young, inexperienced person--expands your own knowledge as well as that of your organization. And, who knows, it may build the next multimillion-dollar revenue stream for your company.
3. Passionate people are more important than smart ideas. Give me a team of passionate people with a decent idea any day over the inverse. Motivation, the desire to win, the ability to persevere against the odds, the wanting to be part of a greater whole and do collective good--all of these are crucial to getting a start-up off the ground, especially in the early days. Sonicbids was a good idea--but what made us successful was the people that made that idea come to fruition. I have entrepreneurs ask me to sign an NDA before they tell me their idea, but they will gladly share with me who else is involved in the project. Maybe it should be the other way around!
Panos Panay is the founder and CEO of Sonicbids, the leading platform for bands to book gigs and market themselves online. He speaks regularly about entrepreneurship at many universities and industry events, and is passionate about helping fellow dreamers.