Houston voices

Here's what startups can learn from the Rolling Stones, according to University of Houston researchers

Hey startups, are you ready to rock and roll? Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Editor's note: If you think you can't learn some business tips from a rock band, think again. The University of Houston's Big Idea has rounded up a few lessons to be learned from the Rolling Stones — along with advice from UH researchers.

"Start Me Up"

In 1970, the Rolling Stones' long-standing deal with Decca Records expired. This opened a giant door for the band, which I assume they painted black.

Because the band had achieved such success, they were able to form their own record label, dubbed Rolling Stones Records. This was done in an effort to exert more control over their music, not just creatively, but financially. The Stones could now retain the rights over their own music.

Much akin to this move, many startups are launched because entrepreneurs wish to have more control over certain aspects of their technology or product. When asked why he launched his own startup, James Briggs, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry at the University of Houston and president and CFO of Metabocentric Biotechnologies, explained, "Primarily, it was because we felt that development of the technology stood a much better chance if we prosecuted it rather than trying to find a licensing partner."

"Under Your Thumb"

It's no secret that one of the biggest perks of developing your own startup is that you get to be the one to take care of your baby; to oversee the development of your tech through all its stages. You and your co-founders make the decisions on the long road to achieving your vision. Similarly, Professor Briggs and his business partner John Weihua, Ph.D., chairman and CEO of Metabocentric, could now control their company and develop it according to their vision. Had Professor Briggs and Chairman Weihua gone with a licensing partner at such an early stage of their startup, it could have stymied their financial growth.

A licensing entity is not just costly, it handcuffs your startup to dealing with only one licensing partner: them. As a result, you can't generate revenue elsewhere, which you can do if you control your own company.

Much like the Stones' newfound ability to control their own music by not having the tentacles of Decca Records around it, Professor Briggs and Chairman Weihua now had that same ability with their tech; all because they chose to venture out on their own in the infancy of their startup. They were able launch their startup without licensing partners by acquiring non-dilutive funding, which grants startups money without seeking equity in return. So, again, you keep more control of your tech.

"Beast of Burden"

Big record companies have always made it a point to primarily sign acts that are already well established and have a strong fan base locally. Artists in the '60s had to really work hard to gain a big enough name for themselves in their region. Flyers, radio ads, playing weddings, bar mitzvahs, and birthday parties for free just to get your name out there, all the while having to create new material; musicians looking to get signed really had to put in the work.

Before they became household names, the Rolling Stones had garnered a big following in London in 1963. Big enough that the then-gigantic Decca Records noticed and decided to sign them. Record companies sign bands with big local followings because they are more likely to succeed on a grand scale, as opposed to artists who never ventured beyond their garage. In a sense, this was a way for big record companies to reduce the risk of signing an artist that turns out to be a dud.

"Beast of Burden (Remix)"

"Pharmaceutical companies, now, look to small biotech startups to de-risk the lead and approach before they consider partnerships or acquisitions," proclaimed Professor Briggs during his presentation at UH's Startup Pains event. "Pharmaceutical companies don't want to buy failure, they want to buy the success. So they make sure to look for small biotech companies who bring their tech to a point where it is de-risked enough that a partnership suddenly becomes less of a risk to undertake."

Biotech entrepreneurs have to also put in a lot of work to position their startups for potential deals and partnerships with giant pharmaceutical companies. Laying the groundwork for a startup includes searching for investors, virtually begging for money, entering competitions, updating your tech, growing your team, commercializing your product, and staying relevant. "It's a lot of hard work. There will be successes and there will be failures. But in the end, if you stay true to yourselves and your company, there's a greater chance it will pay off."

"Let's Spend the Night Together"

Chemistry, the non-science-y kind, is one of the most overlooked aspects of startups for entrepreneurs. The chemistry a team of individuals have with each other makes for a positive company culture that maintains high morale.

In music, nothing is more important than chemistry. You are whole rather than the sum of a band's parts. Mick Jagger met Keith Richards when they were 16 and became friends because they owned the same Muddy Waters record. Since that time, they have remained best friends. In the studio and on stage, few duos have portrayed the same level of camaraderie and chemistry as Mick and Keith. They met their drummer Charlie Watts at 17, just a year later, and bassist Ronnie Wood in 1975, and lo and behold, they're still all together today.

With a catalog of over 500 songs over 50 years, with the same four band members for the majority of that time, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better paragon of chemistry than the Rolling Stones.

For startups, a strong company culture composed of like-minded individuals working together with chemistry is a prime way to keep your employees motivated, especially when your company is so young, you cannot pay them very much. "You have to remember that most startups are extremely tiny, with 2 to 3 people even, so chemistry is vital. You want to have a culture where you can air your grievances with each other and be honest about your company," Professor Briggs said during the Q & A session of Startup Pains.

"Time Is On Your Side"

A good startup sees its employees working together, functioning as a well-oiled machine, spending long nights together figuring out problems, taking turns ordering Chinese for late meetings, checking each other's work, and learning each other's personalities to more effectively communicate. It takes time. But if the chemistry isn't there naturally, it'll be there once you put in the time to iron out each other's wrinkles.

Investors want to see that your startup has a positive culture before they invest. Similarly, funding entities view company culture as a component that impacts a startup's net profits. If your startup is in disarray, do you really think an intelligent investor is going to want to give you millions of their dollars?

"Even if your tech is great, investors need to see that the company behind the tech is worth the risk."


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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

These Houston-area entrepreneurs have something to celebrate this week. Photos courtesy of EY

Four entrepreneurs whose companies are in or near the Houston metro area have been named winners in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year regional competition and now will head to the national competition.

Local winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022 Central South Award are:

  • Elliott Bouillion, founder and executive chairman of Bellaire-based Resource Environmental Solutions. The company helps clients with environmental mitigation, stormwater management and water quality, and climate adaptation and flood resilience.
  • Blake Brannon, founder and president of Brenham-based Brannon Industrial Group. The company buys and recycles scrap metal, provides waste and recycling services, rents out portable toilets, and offers sustainable printing services.
  • Dr. Juliet Breeze, founder and CEO of Houston-based Next Level Medical, which operates membership-model urgent care clinics.
  • Jamie Welch, president, CEO, and chief financial officer of Houston-based Kinetic Holdings, a midstream oil and natural gas operator in the Delaware Basin of West Texas and northern New Mexico.

Among the criteria used to select the regional winners were purpose, growth, impact, and entrepreneurial spirit.

“Each of these entrepreneurs has exhibited curiosity, ingenuity, and courage, and we are proud to celebrate this outstanding group of leaders and welcome them as valuable members of our Entrepreneur Of The Year community,” says Anna Tallent, co-director of the awards’ Central South program.

As regional award winners, these entrepreneurs will be considered for the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022 national awards, which will be presented in November. The overall Entrepreneur Of The Year winner at the national level then will move on to the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year program, which will name its top winner in June 2023.

In a news release, Breeze says she’s honored to be given such a prestigious award.

“This award is further validation that at Next Level, we are really on to something. Healthcare needs to be available to patients when and where they need it,” Breeze says.

Aside from the Houston-area winners, here are the other recipients of this year’s Entrepreneur Of The Year Central South Award:

  • CEO Amanda Baldwin and founder and Chairwoman Holly Thaggard of San Antonio-based Supergoop! The company makes and sells sunscreen-based skincare products.
  • Cory Brymer, founder and CEO of Hutto-based BryComm, a provider of technology and security infrastructure services.
  • William Chan, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based Iodine Software, a provider of AI-powered software for the healthcare industry.
  • Todd Dipaola, founder and CEO of Austin-based InMarket, which operates a platform for localized advertising.
  • Dr. David Ferguson, co-founder, president, and CEO of San Antonio-based Celebrate Dental & Braces, which has offices in five states.
  • Mark Floreani, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based FloSports, a streaming service for sporting events.
  • James Garvey, founder and CEO of Austin-based Self Financial, which offers credit-building loans.
  • Tim Heyl, founder and CEO of Austin-based Homeward, whose loans help buyers make all-cash offers for homes.
  • Joel Kocher, co-founder and CEO of Austin- based HumanN, a provider of superfood products.
  • JeVon McCormick, president and CEO of Austin-based book publisher Scribe Media.
  • Thomas Thill, CEO of San Antonio-based AmeriVet Veterinary Partners, an owner and operator of veterinary practices.

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