Wednesday, June 6, 2007


We talked last week about Seth Godin’s latest, The Dip. My post focused primarily on the business lessons; the worthy read is loaded with personal, albeit somewhat overly motivational, tips too. I am now furiously digging in to The Long Tail … 30 pages deep and I can’t put it down. Therein, Chris Anderson (the author) references Tower Records vis-à-vis online music stores. Which reminded me of a personal story …

… a wonderful interaction I had with Russ Solomon, Tower’s founder and former chairman/CEO. When we met with him 10-plus years ago (we were developing, as part of a grad school marketing class, a marketing strategy plan – Can Tower Stay On Top? – suggesting how Tower could leverage the Internet [yikes!]), the visual symbols were most memorable. The long hallway leading to his office is flanked by an 50-foot-long-or-so glass frame, featuring several hundred snipped neckties. (If you wore a tie when meeting with Russ, he would ceremoniously cut it off.) His office was immense, packed with mountainous stacks of books and CDs and an out-of-this-world stereo system. Then there’s Russ: A genuine, curious, candid, bright-sparkle-in-the-eye, Birkenstock-wearing character. Russ – who started Tower by selling 78s out of his trunk – is a cool guy.

After volleying fluffy bschool questions, I asked him: What makes you tick? He sought clarification. Well, what else do you need, or what else do you want to do?

Russ chuckled (maybe it was a chortle; regardless, the following is paraphrased due to 10 years of too many senior moments) and looked to his left: I have all the music I need, and I love listening to music, nodding at the stacks of CDs. He glanced to his right: I have all the books I need, and I love to read, acknowledging the skyscrapers of unread books. He then looked at our team: I love ice cream too, so maybe I’ll open an ice cream stand. I can then listen to music, read books, and eat ice cream all day.

Russ was on top. He could afford (he deserved) to both fantasize about and actually purchase an ice cream stand (let alone Ben & Jerry’s). Most importantly, he was succeeding at something he enjoyed.

I’ve had the fortune of chatting with and presenting to hundreds of entrepreneurs. It’s ego bolstering, introspective and rewarding; I think I selfishly get more out of the interaction than the students or audience members. In my standard dog-and-pony, I share the adjacent Venn diagram, engaging whoever will listen to find the sweet spot: the intersection of their abilities, demand, and their ambitions. Simple stuff, but I would wager nine of 10 people are not there. Most people professionally park (out of necessity and/or ambivalence) in the lower two circles: They have skills that fill a need for a company, but they do not enjoy what they’re doing. Most artists, conversely, intersect between ambitions and skills; it’s tough to make money doing what they love. Successful entrepreneurs like Russ operate in the center.

And, they trade ties for Birks.

Post-script (6/14/07): Unearthed the below toons, both worthy of a good chortle (particularly if you're an artist). Enjoy.

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