The Boulder Beats logo mark, designed by yours truly.

A few weeks ago I met a former coworker – someone I’ve been fortunate to learn a lot from over the years – for an after-work cocktail. We discussed business ventures, new projects, and past experiences. Our conversation made me reminisce about the run my former roommate, Josh, and I had as owner/operators of a bootstrapped entertainment business.

Josh and I were fortunate to learn a remarkable amount in the three years we spent operating the company. Almost ten years later I find myself exercising the knowledge from those experiences frequently in both my personal and professional life. I haven’t written much about Boulder Beats here on The Bern Blog, so I am going to take this opportunity to share a handful of key learnings from my time running and growing a small business.

1. Experience is The Best Way to Learn

At the start I knew nothing. Not about promoting events, not about blogging, not about the music industry, and most certainly not about building a business.

To put it simply, I recognized that there was an opportunity to capitalize on the budding EDM scene in Boulder and used my limited knowledge of web design to cobble together the first iteration of The website was initially just a platform for local DJs to share their mixes, but it quickly developed a strong following and we realized there was money to be made promoting shows. So how did we do it?

Well, the book titled “How To: Leverage Digital Engagement to Turn a Fledgling Music Blog Into a Promotional Vehicle While Throwing Concerts and Parties” does not exist. And trust me, I looked.

Robotic Pirate Monkey at The Fox Theatre

The marquee outside The Fox Theatre at the first Boulder Beats concert production.

Josh and I had no choice but to get our hands dirty and figure it out as we went. When we decided to produce and book our first concert – Robotic Pirate Monkey at The Fox Theatre – Josh and I were truly amateurs. Did we leave a few boxes unchecked or miss a few opportunities? No doubt. But when the lights came on after the show we had thrown a successful party and learned key lessons that would ensure the success of our future events.

Operating a business throws you right into the fire, and we quickly developed the ability to learn on the fly, a skill that has value in any career.

2. Problem Solving is Your Greatest Tool

Starting a business from scratch is hard. Sometimes, it seemed downright impossible and I would be lying if I said there weren’t times that I felt completely lost. In most cases, those situations were brought on by a problem we had to solve.

In some cases the problems were big. The lighting guy didn’t show up. The artist is going to be an hour late. The sound system is broken.

Other times they were minor. Our email server is down. The stickers didn’t show up in time. The green room catering order is wrong.

Boulder Beats Successful Promo

One of our most successful promotion ideas; swapping free drinks for contact information.

I recall a number of times where Josh and I looked at each other blankly after something didn’t go our way, unsure how to proceed. Instead of getting down or allowing the feeling of defeat to set in, we looked ahead and developed another approach, taking into account what we had just learned. These experiences sparked creativity and taught me to take a step back, assess the root of the problem, and develop an innovative solution.

Now when presented with a challenge I have a different perspective. There are no dead ends, only speed bumps, because no matter what you’re faced with, there’s a solution.

3. You Can’t Fear Failure

When building a business through learning by experience and problem solving, failure on some level is inevitable. If you allow fear to prevent you from trying to new things and experimenting, it’s going to be hard to have success.

Boulder Beats Shows - Concert Posters

A few of the shows we promoted and supported.

Experimentation is incredibly important to growth and progress, which is something we discovered early on. Taking risks, trying new approaches, and learning from the experiences – both positive and negative – was incredibly valuable.

It’s helped me be more confident and decisive, and has led to some of my greatest successes. While I still carefully assess risk prior to making major decisions, overcoming a fear of failure early in my career has helped me grow tremendously.

4. Accountability Is Critical

Along with failure comes accountability. When you own your own business and things go wrong, there’s nobody to blame but yourself. When an event doesn’t turn out how you expected or a deal falls through, you can’t look to anyone else and pointing fingers isn’t going to solve things. The only path forward from a failure is to own it, evaluate the situation, and develop a solution.

Boulder Beats Party at Absinthe House

One of many successful parties at Absinthe House in Boulder.

Accountability is an extremely desirable trait in the business world, and will help you earn the trust and respect of your managers, coworkers, and employees.

5. Prioritize Relationships over Networking

Throughout the existence of Boulder Beats I started, maintained, fractured, ended, and repaired relationships of all types. I must have met thousands of people while running Boulder Beats. Out of all those contacts there was a select group that produced real business opportunities, and it was almost always for the same reason.

The most valuable contacts Josh and I made were based on deeper relationships; connections that were more than just a handshake and the exchange of a business card. Taking the time to get to know people, to learn what’s important to them, to understand how you can provide value and, most importantly, to build trust, is critical to a fruitful business relationship.

Wrapping It Up

During the three plus years Boulder Beats was in business there were countless shows, concerts, bar parties, fundraisers, after-parties, late nights, and early mornings. Despite those moments living prominently at the forefront of my memory, it was the time between those events that has proved most valuable. Spending hours digging for opportunities, brainstorming solutions to problems, banging our heads against the wall, devising new strategies, negotiating contracts, and building relationships taught me some of the most important lessons of my professional career.

Starting and running my own business was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had, and is one that I recommend that everyone has for themselves.