Creating a Hit: 4 Ways for Entrepreneurs to Improve Their Odds

I’ve been in banking and financial services, and now venture advising and angel investing for entrepreneurs, for most of my career.

But I didn’t start out that way.

I’m a musician. I write songs, sing, and play the acoustic guitar. For the nine years after I graduated college, I played music to make a living. Now it’s my avocation, but I haven’t lost any of passion.

What I like about being at Rev1 and leading an angel fund is that we are around these entrepreneurs—people who are bright, creative, and big risk takers.

Entrepreneurs are like musicians in that we share dreams of that big “someday”—an amazing exit or record deal.

While there’s not really a repeatable model for musicians to increase their chances, there are some proven, repeatable ways for entrepreneurs to improve their odds. Here are four.

 1. Be smart about giving your creative expression life.

All music starts with someone writing a song. All startups begin with someone’s creative idea. You can’t be a musician or an entrepreneur if you don’t put yourself out there and give it try.

My father and grandfather were community bankers. After my parents put me through four years of my college, when I told them that I just had to go try to become a singer/songwriter in LA, to their enormous credit, they said, go. Just have a plan. Set goals and be honest.

Entrepreneurship is like that. At some point, when the bug bites, it might be your destiny to scratch that itch. But you don’t have to do it alone or without a plan.

At Rev1, we help entrepreneurs get started and we also help them stop.

We’ll give an honest assessment of any idea based on our more than 100 years of collective experience as business executives, entrepreneurs, investors, and even for some of us, as musicians.

 2. Play to a live audience.

When I write a song, I’m not thinking about how the audience is going to receive it. I’m writing to express myself. But once that song is written, in music as in entrepreneurship, the audience is so much a part of what we do.

The beauty of the music business is that if I write a song this afternoon and go out and play it at my gig tonight, I get immediate feedback from the audience.

Rev1 has created a simulated live gig, Concept Academy, where entrepreneurs can test and validate their concepts before a “live audience.”

Not to be confused with some celebrity judging competition, Concept Academy is an intensive three-day program over three weeks that helps entrepreneurs collect real data on what the market and customers need and want to buy.

Concept Academy is the entrepreneurial equivalent of getting a gig as an opening act. You don’t have to pay for the lights and the stage; you do get to gain feedback from the audience.

 3. Change the key, the tempo, or the words until you get it right.

I write songs with the intention to sing for people in a live situation and to record for people to listen. The most fun for me is to work hard writing and rewriting a song, taking it to where it needs to be. By pleasing myself, I hope to please others who listen to me.

At the end of the day, it’s all about a great song and delivery that clicks with the audience.

It’s similar for entrepreneurs creating companies. Sure, there are aspects that are about pleasing yourself, but 95 percent of the deal is all about pleasing customers.

Entrepreneurs come to Concept Academy with an idea of how the market might use their solution; then as Ryan Sevey, co-founder of Nexosis found, there’s often a pivot.

“We came to Concept Academy, we thought we were going to do cyber security based on machine learning. We found out that the market wanted to apply machine learning to other applications. My partner and I are analytical people. That’s what the data was telling us, so we trusted what the market was saying and changed our focus.”

In less than a year, Nexosis has signed up three early customers, including a Fortune 100 brand and hired nearly a dozen employees.

For a musician, there is no other feeling in the world like connecting to the audience. I can write a song at home and think it’s my best song yet, but there’s no two-way communication in that. When I sing to an audience, they will tell me whether they are getting it—or the opposite, that they aren’t interested.

When I feel that the audience is getting what I’m trying to convey, it fires me up and the audience feels it too. It adds a layer to the communal feeling in the room.

 4. Don’t let the music go to your head.

In addition to writing, recording and performing my own songs, I played bass for Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, it seems to be the thing about my music career that people are most interested in.

I also turned 30 playing the college student union circuit. I looked around and realized that I was good but not great and that it was very possible that I would wake up at 40 and be in the same spot. At that point, I stopped thinking of music as my vocation. Now I think of it as a great hobby.

Every road trip, every experience added up to make me the banking executive and angel investor I later became.

As an entrepreneur, your first idea might be a toe-tapping hit. If so, Rev1 can help you accelerate.

If not, we’ll will help you figure that out before you invest too much time or resources—while there’s time change the tempo or start a new song.


Parker MacDonell and his band are playing a benefit concert to benefit Team ColumbUS and Pelotonia 15 on Tuesday, July 21, 8-10 pm at Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza and Live Music in Worthington. Scroll to July 21 to get your tickets for the 7:00, 7:30 or 8:00 performance or order tickets by calling Natalie’s at 614-436-2625 5-7pm. $12.50 of each $20 ticket will go directly to support the Team ColumbUS (Rev1’s collaborative peloton Pelotonia!  Natalie’s will also offer a food and drink special that evening to assist us with our efforts.