It's Important To Learn From Business Model Failures As Well

from the lessons-learned dept

When we held our artists & entrepreneurs working group meeting in October, one of things that was discussed was how little discussion there is about what doesn't work. And that's kind of important, since so much is bound to fail. Some of the entrepreneurs noted that it's not unheard of (though still not exactly common) for failed entrepreneurs to write up a postmortem about their experience. However, with artists, it was almost entirely unheard of for an artist to delve into a failed experiment to say what happened (and what didn't happen!). This isn't a huge surprise. It's tough to talk about the failures -- but with entrepreneurs, they can wipe their hands clean of the startup and move on to the next thing. For a musician, they can't just walk away from themselves. So I can completely understand why artists would be hesitant to talk too much about what didn't work, because they fear it will reflect poorly on themselves.

So it's great to see that Kyle Clements has decided to post the details (over at Step2) of an experiment he helped set up with a musician that failed and to discuss where he thinks it went wrong. You should check out the full story, but, the short version is that he helped set up a plan for a musician to record a quick "improv" song each week and a more "full" song once a month, and release them all on YouTube. There was one part of the plan that immediately struck me when I was reading it. A plan to not promote this:
The first 3 months are Operation: Stay quiet. Produce and publish content, but don't advertise it. leave it for people to randomly stumble across. You don't want to advertise, have people love it, want to see more, and realize there is no backlog of content. No one wants to be the first to arrive at a party. Let the backlog build up while no one is watching.
My first reaction was that I wasn't sure the assumptions here necessarily held. While I do think that there's an "empty" room problem, where people don't necessarily want to be the first on the dance floor, I'm not sure that applies to not promoting videos for 3 months. Especially when it comes to music, there are a number of taste-makers who absolutely do want to get there first and think they found something early. So there were a number of ways I could see this part of the plan backfiring. In fact, it seemed to me like the "first to arrive" part actually is made worse after three months, because when people come in at that point, they see that no one else has watched the 3 months of videos and might assume that they're likely worthless. It seems like those three months could be used more wisely trying to bring the artist's audience to the videos and building connections around them.

And, in fact, it seems that this "don't tell anyone" aspect to the project really did hurt:
First month: Everything went as planned. 4 improved songs, 1 developed song, a few odd hits, nothing unusual.

Second Month: artist grows impatient. Is discouraged that no one is watching. Writes more songs. No developed, proper song is released this month. slightly more hits than last month, but nothing unusual.

Third Month: Artist grows impatient, begins posting new songs to facebook. A much lower than expected number of friends follow through and watch the videos (they will drive an hour and pay $10 to watch him play live, but they wont click a button in facebook?!?!) Artist is discouraged. No proper, developed song this month.

Fourth Month: only 2 improvised songs see the light of day this month. viewership drops. Artist gets discouraged.
It only goes on for a bit more before the artist gives up entirely -- and eventually blocks the videos. There are definitely lessons here -- and even though the plan was not to promote the songs, that alone led to frustration, which is reasonable. That said, almost any artistic endeavor tends to take much longer than people expect. The overnight sensations rarely are overnight sensations at all. Kyle wonders if there was just too much competition and they didn't do enough to stand out. That's entirely possible too, though I'd be curious what other people think as well.

Either way, kudos to Kyle for sharing the story, and hopefully it's something that others can learn from. Personally, my takeaway would be that you should never wait to connect with fans. That should be built in from the beginning.
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Filed Under: business models, experiments, failures


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  1. icon
    Kevin Clark (profile), 28 Nov 2012 @ 3:11pm

    That's what I thought, too - and let me repeat a giant heap of congratulations for publishing that study!

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