Punk Rock Startup

It’s a parallel universe.


I’ve been into music since i was a kid. The type of music that really moved me was punk rock. The Offspring’s “Smash” was the first album i ever copied — into a cassette (different ages you see). But of course Ramones, Pennywise, Bad Religion, Millencolin, Green Day, Rancid were also some of my favorites. Growing up, I used to have all their CDs and used to read about them, in magazines and then in forums. Listening to music back then was a completely different story — the pretty much monopolistic environment of the labels and the scarcity of supply priced music incredibly high which made you buy limited amounts and thus, value the utility of the product much higher. But anyway, i will write about this on another post.

Music is created when different people perform together in harmony.

Growing up, i worked my way through a variety of environments; school, university and later on corporates. The last few years i am in the startup world, and i’ve caught myself several times along the way thinking how similar many things are between what i am experiencing today and the music i used to listen to when i was a kid. This is what this post is about; how much alike is the Punk Rock scene of the ’90s with today’s Startup scene.


The Band
Punk rock legends, Bad Religion

A band is usually a group of guys (like the founding team) who became friends because they all believed in a common cause (like the idea). The cause usually was to change (like to disrupt) the way things were done until that very point in time. Each member of the band is usually very good at playing one specific instrument (like specific skillsets) that helps the group achieve its cause; playing music in its own unique way which is the sum of all member instruments and styles. Rhythm and hunch result to good improvisation skills which are essential for the team to make the end result, its music (like the product), sound right (like the UX) to a very specific type of listeners (like the target customer).


The Album
Classic punk rock album, Smash by the Offspring

The album is the baby of the band (like the app). Each band and album had very clear identity and aesthetics which defined the reasons the band wrote music (like the purpose, the why, what, how). The combination of purpose and aesthetics usually created a strong reputation for each band (like the brand). Besides its music, the band had very limited physical space on the album where it could address its listeners; the front cover, the back cover, the cd and the leaflet. Each area allowed the band to transmit its thoughts and lyrics to them, a poetic rationalization of the existence of the band (like copywriting and messaging). The final page, the credits, usually said “thank you” to all those who helped each member of the band reach that place today. This last part is something i haven’t seen at all in today’s startups and i personally consider it essential. Now whether the album sold well or not, used to be the way to define the success of the band (like KPIs and Product-Market Fit). But the bands had very few ways they could become well-known (like the go-to-market strategy). Music has a high viral coefficient by default, but at the very beginning bands had to make even hundreds of live shows (like pitching) for relatively small audiences.


Selling Out
If you type Punk Rock Sellouts on Google, you get Green Day, for example.

Back then, you took pride into discovering and following a band (like early adopters). You also took pride into spreading the word about that band to your peers (like evangelists and community). Most of these punk rock bands started very small, in a garage (like bootstrapping), with a tiny but extremely passionate audience (like the minimum viable segment). But there was a point at the band’s life when it would go mainstream (like crossing the chasm). That was the point where people would start talking about selling out (here are the Top 10 sell-outs ever). Sex Pistols even wrote the infamous song, “EMI”. Once the news would break that your favorite band had signed with a major label (like the vc), meaning they now had major budgets (like the funding) you’d expect them to go “pop”, shoot more expensive video clips and appear on MTV (like the growth stage). That would be the point where you would forget about them and move on to discover the next big thing.

In today’s startup world, we don’t really have that behaviour. Actually, we have the exact opposite one — once a startup gets funding, its big & good news. Could we say that punk rockers were bigger fans of sustainable growth? Sounds like it.

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