I cringe every time I see a job listing with the words “Rockstar PHP Developer Wanted (or insert virtually any other job here)”. Unless that position was of course to join a band, why would you want to hire a “rockstar”? Someone who wakes up in the afternoon, drinks heavily, womanizes, shows up late to “work” and typically has a huge ego.
I realize that recruiters don’t intend the term “rockstar” to be taken literally. But that doesn’t preclude me from loathing when it’s used, particularly when it’s to describe a trait for a potential employee. With that said, these “creative” recruiters may have unintendedly provided an insight that is closer to the literal truth than you may think. Allow me to elaborate.
The genesis; Not the band or the bible, but the beginning.
I grew up in a small town of 3000 people called Myrtleford. It’s biggest export for many years was tobacco, and is most well known as “the town you drive through to get to somewhere better”. Like many small towns, it also promoted athletics more than academics. I, on the other hand, was more interested in computers than football, a choice which meant I was often ostracized. Solace came in the form of Green Day; Angsty punk rock that spoke to me and the situation I was in. However, this situation for better or worse, was the catalyst for not only my career in music, but also my eventual entrepreneurial aspirations.
How cliche` right? The loner kid, listening to punk rock and practicing guitar in his room, wanting to prove everybody wrong! Nonetheless, it’s an experience that galvanised my personality and led me to perceive normality as my arch nemesis.
Fast forward to 2004 — While studying Telecommunication Engineering & Multimedia at Swinburne University, I met some guys that shared a similar passion for punk music, and we formed a band called Behind Crimson Eyes (commonly referred to as BCE). It wasn’t my first attempt at creating a band, but BCE had something special. Something inexpiable. Something that just worked. We recorded a cheap 3 track demo — an MVP if you will — and began burning copies and giving it away for free to whoever would listen. We didn’t try to make money from the recording — a premise that the music industry has grappled with ever since the birth of Napster in ’99. Instead we took a “freemium” approach; giving away a cd for free, in the hope that a small number of people would then buy a t-shirt or a concert ticket. Obviously it’s a tried and true business model now, especially for tech startups, but back then many of our contemporaries were hesitant about giving anything away. Needless to say, this approach was instrumental (no pun intended) in our early success.
Queue the montage
Within a year and a half of recording our first demo, we had played 150 shows all around Australia, including an arena show in front of 10,000 people for the Taste Of Chaos tour. We also released a second free demo and our first ever EP on an independent label.
Over the next couple of years we signed to Roadrunner Records and released our debut LP; A Revelation For Despair, peaking at 43 on the Australian charts. We played the Big Day Out, Homebake, Pyramid Rock Festival and the Triple J One Night Stand, and also filmed several music videos. We even supported metal Gods Iron Maiden in front of 16,000 hostile “metal heads”!
As Eric Ries would say, “everything was up and to the right”! Well, that was until we recorded our second, self titled, LP.
Vanity metrics; You probably think this graph is about you
There was mounting tension within the band, and no clear leadership in the songwriting process. I’m not sure if it was due to a lack of clear vision, or a conscious decision by some members, but we “pivoted” to a more mainstream sound. This was ultimately the straw that broke the camels back and everything we created over the last 4 years came crashing down in a mountain of rock n` roll cliches; members quit, management was fired, we were dropped by Roadrunner Records and eventually the band went on an “indefinite hiatus”.
We were the Zynga of the music industry; meteoric rise to seemingly unrecoverable catastrophe. For a time though, I lived a childhood dream and proved that anything was possible — a small town boy who became relatively successful in the highly competitive, oligarchical music industry — how unlikely!
A Perfect Circle of prose
By now you should be able to draw the parallels between starting a band and starting a company. They both have a very high rate of failure, well established incumbents and require a certain fortitude to become successful. They are both highly unstable and uncertain life choices which are typically met with a condescending “Good luck” from parents and peers. They are both a rollercoaster ride with unbelievable highs, and soul destroying lows.
This brings us full circle — Maybe my criticism of the edgy recruiter using the term “rockstar” in advertising copy is misplaced. At least in my experience, a “rockstar”, despite all their shortcomings, is an entrepreneur. They remain confident and steadfast in the face of adversity. They have an unshakable belief that they have what it takes to be the best in the world at something. They practice and hone their craft for thousands of hours in solitude. And despite all of these admirable traits, in all likelihood they will fail at reaching a level of success that is sustainable.
So, to all the aspiring rockstars and entrepreneurs out there; It’s a tough road ahead, but it’s not impossible!
But to all you recruiters out there; Please reconsider using the words “Rockstar”, “Ninja” or “Guru”, unless of course you need someone for a band, a 15th century Japanese army or a yoga teacher.