Faces: Bob Moczydlowsky

I consider myself extremely lucky that my life’s work allows me to get to know some of the most amazing and driven people living on the edge of creativity in the startup corner of the business world. I thought it would be fun to share some of their stories by beginning a series of posts which I’m going to call “Faces.”

“Moz”

In this first installment, I want you to introduce you to my friend Bob Moczydlowsky (“Moz” to his friends). Bob’s the VP of Product and Marketing at Topspin Media, one of the many companies we’re lucky to be an investor in. The Topspin team is on a mission to tilt the economics in the music industry back to the artists by proving a direct-to-fan software platform which allows them to take control of how they interact with their fans and better monetize that relationship instead of having the bulk of the money fans spend wind up lining the pockets of industry corporations.

Hanging out with Bob is like spending time with a living music encyclopedia. At a recent dinner with the Topspin management team and its investors (a venerable feast of music discourse), conversation drifted towards “name the best band to ever evolve from the breakup of another band.” (Footnote – lots of rules were enforced such as “cannot be a solo act on either end of the breakup”). Consensus formed around CSNY which many people know evolved as a result of the breakup of Buffalo Springfield. It was then that the breadth of Bob’s musical knowledge shined. “Yeah but what band breakup allowed Buffalo Springfield to form?” Bob blew the table away (no easy feat considering the participants) and let us know it was the Mynah Birds with none other than Rick James as frontman! Of course, this got great props from everyone, but not before a Google confirmation!

Like so many members of the Topspin team, Bob’s life has been tethered by music. He’s managed bands and events and created artist web sites. In fact, before joining Topspin, Bob produced and directed an achingly beautiful film called 72 Musicians which brings to light the joys and pain of being in a band. You can download the film free here:

http://t.opsp.in/1DMTc

If you have a deep appreciation for rock and roll, then you need to see this film. I’ll warn you however that if the limits of your definition of rock and roll are defined by “Satisfaction”, “Where The Streets Have No Name” or other mainstream songs, this might not be for you. 72 musicians is devoted to the grittier and less glamorous side of rock – Indie Rock. It documents the folks in small bands that you’ve probably never heard driving around the country in a van playing like their lives depend upon it, because they do.

I watched the film again on a long plane flight this week and enjoyed it even more the second time around. I jotted down a few of the most moving quotes from some of the musicians in the film:

“The brutal truth is there’s too many fucking bands in the world. New band, new band, new band. It’s kinda overwhelming, you know? It’s a lot harder these days. Bands bands bands. Everyone’s in a band.”

I loved the “rules of the road” segment in which band members talk about how to get along in a van for months at a time: “Headphones – just a courtesy”. “Piss when everyone else pisses, there’s no honor in holding it in an extra 20 minutes.” And of course, “Don’t sleep with anyone else that’s on your tour – that’s just stupid.”

“Your van is your room. If you can’t find a place to stay, that’s where you’re sleeping. You can’t afford a hotel. You can’t afford food. You’re eating crackers with pickle relish at a truck stop.”

“You’re a traveling salesman of a different ilk. You can’t get heard without touring. Nobody really wants to hear you. You have to really want to go play. You have to really love human beings to do it and I think the older you get, the less you love human beings.”

“It’s fucking scary. The older I get the scarier it gets. When I was 16 years old, nothing could stop me. Kansas City to New York? Try to stop me. I’m gonna get there. Now? It’s scary dude. The Highway Patrol are scary. They’re weird outback Christian hillbillies and they’re scary.”

“Playing to an empty room is humbling. It makes you think about if you need to get a job as a telemarketer.”

“Signing a label deal means the beginning of a lot of work and the most competitive phase of your life, and god help you if you don’t have a good lawyer.”

“I decided a long time ago that I was going to live poor because I wanted to play music. If I’m gonna have to live poor than that’s the way I’m gonna have to do it. I gotta take shit jobs to pay rent. If you want to do what you want to do, and if THIS is what you want to do, well then you’re gonna be broke, and you’re gonna stink, and you’re gonna be hungry.”

This film is just spectacular. Bob does a masterful job of sharing the intimate stories of 72 indie rockers – folks much more like you and me than you might imagine. Do yourself a favor, download it and watch it with headphones and crank it loud. You’ll love it. Don’t forget to watch the credits, they rock! Lastly, following Bob on twitter is a great way to learn about some great new bands before they become commercial hits. Follow him at @bobmoz and let him know how much you enjoyed 72 musicians.

Meat Eaters

Let me tell you a story about Albert. Albert’s a salesman. Has been for 20 years. He got his start in the early nineties as an entry level salesman for Oracle. They taught him how to be relentless; how to treat every no as being one step closer to a yes, how to eat nails for breakfast and most importantly, they taught him how to close business – in other words, they taught him to be what those in the industry refer to as a “meat-eater.”

Albert worked at Oracle for 5 years. He made a great living but then he saw some of his colleagues at Oracle start leaving and joining hot new internet startups where they got big chunks of equity and a few of them became instant millionaires when the company they joined went public after 18 months. Albert decided to do the same and joined Coffee Cups  Dotcom in 1997. Coffee Cups went public in 1999 and Albert cashed in his stock for $1.2 million. He got married, bought an expensive house and car, and joined another hot startup which promptly crashed and burned in mid 2000 when the whole house went up in flames.

Albert worked at three different software companies during the next decade. He earned the reputation as fantastic salesman and made a very good living for his family. From 2009 until the present, Albert worked at Tube Connect until they were acquired by PeopleForce.com earlier this year. Albert called his favorite head hunter and told him to find a senior sales position for him. As CEO of your startup company, you were completely impressed with Albert during the interview process and knew that if you could somehow land Albert, all your sales problems would be answered. You knew you couldn’t pay Albert a competitive wage so you offered him an attractive piece of equity and a shiny new VP Sales title which he demanded if he was going to join. (Stop me if this is starting to sound familiar).

The challenge you now face is that Albert has never managed people and while this is of course a broad generalization, great meat-eaters are seldom great managers, they require completely different skill sets. You will see this problem grow as your company scales. It will work fine for a while. Because Albert is such a great salesperson, he will be able to meet or exceed his quota for the first year while hiring the first couple of salespeople for the company.

This is where the ball begins to unravel. Albert starts spending more time managing people and being stuck in paperwork and reporting hell than selling. His numbers begin to drop and both you and he become frustrated. Now what? You’ve developed a great relationship with Albert and really like him. He’s made great contributions to the company and you don’t know how to handle this. Do you replace him? Do you hire on top of him?

This of course was all avoidable. The challenge has and always will be that because of their success, great meat eaters start believing they’re worthy of VP titles so they push for and wind up in VP Sales positions that they’re not qualified for and because of their successful track records as salespeople and great references, startup CEOs continue to fall in love with them, as they should, but not as a VP Sales. Great Sales VP’s have been taught how to manage people.

Part of being a successful VC is pattern recognition and this is a pattern that I and many of my colleagues have seen play out way too many times. I hope that when it comes time for you to hire great salespeople and a great VP Sales, you’ll remember this and avoid some difficult decisions down the road.

Hey Boise: It’s Time Again For The Mark Solon Challenge

A couple of years ago, David Cohen (CEO and co-founder of TechStars) was in Boise speaking at the WaterCooler and we challenged local entrepreneurs to get a company selected into the TechStars program (He dubbed it “the Mark Solon Challenge”). The challenge was first answered by an Idaho startup called Rewards Force from Coeur d’Alene when they were selected to participate in the first Seattle TechStars program. They ultimately would up moving to Seattle and have enjoyed terrific success since then. It took a little while to get another but last summer Boise-based startup  Meal Ticket (co-founded by Brian Konrath & Dan Henderson, now joined by new CEO Wink Jones) was accepted into the Boulder program and is now thriving back home here in Idaho!

So who’s next Boise? TechStars Seattle applications are open and I wanted to make sure you all know about this incredible opportunity. By now, you know that TechStars is a three month entrepreneur’s boot camp where you’ll receive intensive mentorship and access to their elite network of world-class mentors and investors. For the first time ever, TechStars will also receive a $100k convertible note plus the traditional $18k investment. Apply to TechStars Seattle at apply.techstars.com by June 15, 2012 and join forces with the #1 tech accelerator in the world!

Oh, and don’t take my word for it, I urge you to go talk to Brian and Dan at Meal Ticket for their perspective…