• Mark

SerenadeMe article at the StartupVoice

From 2013

Turning Your Passion Into Your Business

Note – This article was originally published at the StartupVoice in 2013, which has since shut down.

I, like countless others, at some point made the mistake of blindly accepting that work is merely something you do to make money. Having worked around Chicago at several high profile internet companies/start-ups, over time I slowly segmented my world between work and passion, and never the twain did meet. I simply had lost any ability to see how the things I spent my free time doing could translate into a business. Actually, I never even considered it.

My whole life though, I had spent all my free time in much more creative pursuits. Writing music, especially, was my primary passion, and a talent I knew I had that was fairly unique. Programming and software design I enjoyed because, like music, they allowed me to create.

Back in the working world however, often times creativity is replaced by pragmatism, or worse, the pursuit of soley profit. As much as we try to find meaning in our work, sometimes it is truly hard when the only real direction you have to take is laid out for you by others.

After a few major life events, it slowly occurred to me that I had more to offer. I, like many of us, had never even given thought to how I could use my side interest to make money. In the world today, so often the path we travel is so laid out we forget to question. I was a Computer Science major: What business do I have trying to sell custom music?

The best thing I can say is, don’t be bound by that line of thinking. Take the leap. But, wisely.

As I began the road to creating my business, I quickly realized I needed first to focus. It’s easy to imagine everything instantly. I needed baby steps. And the immediate issue to me, outside of the usual common startup concerns, was how was I going to translate something I only did as a hobby to a product – What did I need to change? What did I do well? Where did we need help?

For this article, I will discuss the way I approached making custom songs into a product.

1. Design is universal

I knew I could program well. I could design systems and think about things as discrete units and re-arrange them into objects. I realized this married perfectly to creating songs quickly. I applied the same techniques of breaking down logic into units as to the components of popular music, and well as song structure itself.

Programming teaches always refactoring your code. Meaning, don’t let software gather moss. Re-write it frequently, using modern tools and practices to always gain a higher ideal as you work in new features. We could apply this same mindset to custom music – Find simple, unobtrusive tools that are modern, easy to work with, and can be replaced quickly and painlessly. So, keep our recording process and song writing efficient. Don’t obsess and get bogged down by your tools. They are there as a means to an end. Don’t become dependent on them, or spend forever choosing them.

2. Take Notes and Tag

When you are dealing with your passions, often times you don’t apply the rigor of process that you would in other areas since it is often for your pleasure. When I used to write songs before, I would take time, throw aways sections, start over: No more. In the corporate world, I used the concept of code “snippets”. This “snippets” idea works perfectly as well for custom music. I never throw anything away now – any lick, melody, clever line – It all gets captured and tagged copiously using a searchable database. So, when we need a pop ballad, we have hundreds of little discrete chunks that can be searched and used as inspiration for someone’s perfect song.

3. Keep Focus

However, one hard lesson I did learn, was to always keep focus on what makes the business work. This is hard with your “dream job”. For example. With our initial release of the SerenadeMe site, I decided to build the website using Ruby on Rails and I approached scale, estimates, and architecture as if I was designing an airline reservation system. Meaning, we totally over-architected the whole thing and it cost us time to launch. Since I had been a programmer professionally for large applications, I applied that mindset to our initial launch, which was unnecessary. It quickly became apparent we built things we wouldn’t need for months. I learned that to be successful at fulfilling your business and passion, you need to be even more vigilant about your decisions, since it is easy to romanticize the simple fact that you are even doing it. It still needs to work.

Turning your passion into business is insanely rewarding. It really makes you think about how and why you enjoy what you do, and it truly tests, validates, and fulfills. It provides a level of satisfaction far beyond anything I have felt working in a large business. Finally, it lets you learn other aspects of business that you may not have had interest or opportunity to explore previously. The only thing to do is to always be mindful of the road you are on, especially since you are the one paving it.

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