Startup as Art

On Embracing Unoriginality

Justin Wohlstadter
Aug 4, 2014 · 2 min read

Oh, it’s kind of like StumbleUpon, right?

By far the most frustrating thing for a founder to hear on a regular basis is someone trying to make comparisons between what they’re slaving away at and some other popular startup their friend has heard of. It’s painful not because it’s an intentional stab at the founder, but because it implies that they’re wasting their time — toiling away just to build something that already exists.

I had breakfast yesterday with my friend Chris McKenna, whose new band Kid Haney performed for the first time this weekend at Rockwood. The songs they played were based on 88 days of consecutive songwriting Chris had done over the past few months in Maine, writing a song a day beginning with the passing of a legendary figure in the town, Oma.

Over breakfast I asked Chris about his creative process — he always starts with a melody — and how he’s able to maintain originality of sound while writing so many songs. Chris pointed out that any sequence of chords he could possibly play has been played before by millions of musicians that had come before him.

Actively trying to be original is pointless.

Founders are easily affected by similarity comments because we’re very passionate about what we’re doing, and to many of us it does feel more like making art than building a business.

Though we easily forget that each of us has our own take on ideas and way of expressing and implementing them. Small variations on a concept, and even unintended differences like location and your personality, can have a profound effect on the end product you release and who uses it.

Instead of gritting our teeth and fighting comparisons of our work, we should embrace them. There’s no shame in using similar chords or remixing a known song into something better or different as long as there’s someone to admire the end result, connect to it, and derive their own inspiration from that creation.

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Justin Wohlstadter

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