Simon Harriyott

Hey, check out my new band, er, startup!

When I was in my late teens, I drummed in a band. It wasn't very good, but we were all learning how to play our instruments, and related skills like song-writing, co-operation, how to get gigs, how to get people to come to gigs, how to run rehearsals (hint: don't nip out for chips halfway through).

Many of my friends were in bands, and so were their friends, and some were good, and some weren't, some didn't get as far as gigging, and one or two did pretty well, such as Top Loader and Blue States.

There were many shared traits between bands; everyone thought their band was better than it was (apart from those in really good bands), took themselves too seriously, got over-excited about a rumour of an A and R man maybe coming to a gig, and talked a lot about what it would be like to "make it", and how it was all about us and how great we would be. We'd hand out our rubbishy photocopied fliers to our mates hoping they'll come to the Shelley at 10pm on a Monday night so we'd get a big enough crowd so the landlord might book us again.

Since those days, I've been in many bands, playing various instruments. The best band I was in was called Octopus Jam, which was just great. We all played to a similar high standard, and we played mainly covers, because we all had grown up and realised that we were in it for the fun of it, and how great it was to play songs that people loved, and danced and sung along to. We had families and careers, and didn't want to tour round student dives in Hull, Sheffield and Plymouth in the mad pursuit of the chance of future fame and fortune. Taking away the "making it" turned it into "making it fun". It takes huge amounts of time and effort to even make a living from being in a band, but not a slightly profitable hobby.

When I joined, I set up a web site (of course), and we got random enquiries to play at weddings and parties, for which we could charge some proper money. We asked them what song they wanted for the bride and groom's first dance, and we learnt it, however obscure, and they loved it.

At one wedding, Dave started the first song with an acoustic guitar and sung the first verse. This was a big moment for the bride and groom - their first dance with their friends and family watching, at the start of the great adventure of marriage. At the start of the second verse, the bass and drums came in, and it sounded amazing, just really tight, and lifted the song beautifully. The bride then turned her gaze from her new husband to me, and mouthed "Thank you". This was, by far, the best moment of my amateur musical career; humbling, moving and proud to make the best day of someone's life just that little bit better.

I've noticed several parallels in start-up land. I'm starting a start-up in my spare time, and so are many people I know or who's blogs I've read. Many have said that they want to "make it", either by selling to Google, Yahoo! etc. or by getting VC money to work at it full time and hopefully IPO for huge sums. Some aim for making enough money to pay for the founders to live comfortably and cover the costs. Given enough time, vision, skill, determination and luck, occasionally a start-up will "make it". Most don't. Lots don't even make it online.

I've seen people who take themselves a little too seriously, think their app is better than it is, and do the online equivalent of photocopying flyers to get their friends to take a look at their app. I am one of these people.

I've seen some make it, due to putting in time, effort and money. I met the founders of Trusted Places before they even had a developer. Stack Overflow was always going to be a success, due to the fame and skill of the founders. In the same way, Dave Grohl is never going to struggle to launch a band.

Not everyone has that level of resources to put into an app. I don't. I have to earn a certain amount each month to pay the mortgage and keep my children in High School Musical yoghurts. I can't spend 3 solid months getting my app finished.

Some of the £5 apps I've seen are more like wedding bands - deliberately small and manageable, targeted at a small niche, and doing simple things well. The person writing it is doing it for fun, enjoying the craft of writing the app, and loving it when someone uses it and finds it useful.

I wish I had a neat and tidy conclusion to this, but I don't. Analogies break down, and only partly apply to situations. For me, I just need to find more time to rehearse, er, I mean code, and be a bit smarter with my fliers, and I might eventually be able to run the gig full time.

17 March 2009