To Grow and To Thrive: Why Groupmuse is Kickstarting Next Month

Dear friends,

This blog post ended up being vastly longer than I anticipated it would be so I’ll start with an abstract:

Groupmuse, the social network turned social movement, the phenomenon that has put on 1,000 house concerts worldwide and has raised more than $300,000 for young musicians, is launching a Kickstarter on November 19th. While we need resources to fund and build a team that can adequately handle the overwhelming demand for what we’ve created, we’re wary of taking on investment that might pressure us to compromise our mission. So we’re turning to the wonderful community we’ve built over the past three years for support. The money we raise will be used in pursuit of two goals: Sustainability by the time the money is gone, and growing the community to include two new cities.

To be a part of this most important moment in Groupmuse’s short life, visit www.groupmuse.com/kickstarter.

And for those of you who’ve got some spare time, the long version:

When I first started Groupmuse, I found myself a de-facto CEO. I didn’t really know what that meant — what does a CEO do? How does a CEO spend his or her day? What does a CEO eat? Peanut butter and jelly, or ramen noodles?

Given all that uncertainty, it was rather tough to know whether or not I was actually doing a good job. But someone gave me some very simple and tough-nails-advice those three years ago.

A CEO does three things, in the following order of importance:

  1. Makes sure there’s enough money in the piggy bank.
  2. Builds the best possible team.
  3. Guides the vision.

Thus far, 2. and 3. are, if I may say so, in the bag.

The vision of Groupmuse practically guides itself at this point, so deep and strong are our community ties. We’ve got thousands of committed hosts, attendees, and musicians we can thank for the integrity of the project and to whom we can rely upon to safe-guard the vision.

In regards the second item on the list, we’ve had glorious success. Every person who I’ve at different points been lucky enough to call a team member, Ezra, Kyle, Emily, Emma Lynn, Ben, and now Hailey and Will are among the most brilliant, devoted, genuine, and creative people I’ve ever known, and if Groupmuse ever has the sort of success we all know it’s capable of having, it’s because a cadre of truly great leaders took up the cause and made it part of themselves.

That first order of business, however, hasn’t been quite so much of a walk in the park. A scramble up a mountain is more apt — a trudge in the mud gets the drift. It was almost a year ago that Ezra, Kyle and myself decided it was time to capitalize. We’d all been working for so long without compensation, but Groupmuse had just grown too big for us to handle without growing the team, especially if side jobs were necessary to pay rent. We set the target at $500,000, which is how much we thought we’d need to build a team and buy the time to get to true sustainability.

I had some great beginner’s luck and raised $100,000 in the first month from four extremely wonderful investors. The next six months were more challenging. Our traction is very strong and the response to Groupmuse has been overwhelming, but I soon got the impression that if we took cash from a typical startup investor, there was going to be a lot of pressure on us to grow at all costs, and that pressure was going to be coming from places outside of our community from people who don’t actually go to groupmuses and don’t fully appreciate how miraculous what we’ve created really is. During pitches and conversations with potential investors, I wouldn’t hide the fact that we’re committed to our mission above all other things, and that’s not the way to raise capital these days.

I don’t mean this to be a wholesale indictment of Valley culture, and indeed many of the most transformative companies have been born of a willingness to flexibly meet market demands. But that’s just not what Groupmuse is; it’s not what this spectacular team has devoted the last few years of its life to. We don’t want quarterly pressures to bevel and genericize this strange and marvelous movement that has brought so much depth and beauty and warmth and connection into people’s lives. We want to stay bizarre; we want people to continue to regard this odd idea with some initial skepticism, and we want them to all, one by one, come to a groupmuse, and be blown away by the power of the experience and by the sincerity and optimism of its ambitions.

But we do need capital. Groupmuse has become too big and too important for us to continue to do it justice with our shoestring budget and our skeleton staff. We want a world covered in groupmuses. We want an international community of people who believe in the power of this great art and who give up their living rooms for a night to share a moment of humanity with their friends and neighbors. We want summer Groupmuse festivals. We want warm homes where you can find shining faces and profound masterworks in any city you might be passing through.

We don’t just want to change the way communities interact with art — we want to change the way communities interact with themselves. It might sound too good to be true, but it already is true. With practically no resources, we’ve put on 1,000 groupmuses in less than three years. We have tens of thousands of users. We’ve raised more than $300,000 for young players. We’ve gathered crowds of hundreds of millennials dancing like pagans to live performances of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. We’ve had crowds of new listeners demanding an encore of a Bach Fugue under the implied threat of mob violence.

And we’re just getting started. It’s quite literally dizzying thinking about where this beautiful beast could be in ten years if we continue growing and developing in the way we have. We’ve satisfied a deep need in a most unexpected way, and the sky is the limit. But we can’t do it without your support. Which is why we’re turning to you, the groupmusers, the building blocks of this movement. You know Groupmuse; you love Groupmuse; you ARE Groupmuse. You understand the importance of what we’re doing in ways that can’t be expressed in a 60-second elevator pitch, and you are the ones who can ensure its success.

If Groupmuse is going to survive — if it’s going to continue (under)paying its preposterously dedicated staff and bring on new talent to share the burden of its ever growing workload — it needs to blow this Kickstarter out of the water.

The more we raise, the farther we can spread this dream-turned-reality. We’re launching the campaign on November 19th, and right now, the goal is $200k. Kickstarter is all or nothing, so that figure is somewhat subject to change, but we definitely need to raise at least that much to have a chance of surviving long enough to sustain ourselves and launch for real in D. C. and Seattle, strengthening the already-amazing work of our volunteers there. Conventional wisdom dictates that the first 72 hours of a crowd fund are its most important and so it’s imperative that we activate our community to the greatest extent possible BEFORE launch, so that day of, everyone who cares about Groupmuse can jump aboard and be part of it. As such, we’re actually handing out pledge cards at upcoming groupmuses to build support in preparation for launch day, and we’ll be releasing more information regarding the campaign (video, Kickstarter backer rewards, etc.) in the following weeks.

If you want be involved with getting the word out, visit groupmuse.com/kickstarter.

We all want to live in a world where something as wonderful as Groupmuse can survive, but we’ve got to create that world.

/rant

With devotion,

Sam Bodkin

CEO, Groupmuse

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Originally published at blog.groupmuse.com on October 26, 2015.

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