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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

 
 

Check out these seven innovation events in Houston this month. Photo via Getty Images

It's a new year, and it's time to look at what's on the agenda this month for Houston innovators.

Here's a roundup of events not to miss this January — like workshops, summits, meetups, and more.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.


January 9 — How to Leverage Media

In this session at The Ion, attendees will learn how businesses should and can leverage media opportunities. Leveraging media opportunities, including podcasts, interviews, and articles, is an excellent way to highlight how your product or service can provide a solution. As an entrepreneur, founder, or small business owner, you should attend this workshop to learn how to use media and the platforms to your advantage.

The event is Monday, January 9, at 10 am, at The Ion. Click here to register.

January 10-12 — Ten Across Summit: The Future is Here

Today more than ever, society has access to the future in ways unparalleled in history. The question is, what will people do with this knowledge? Attend the Ten Across Summit: the Future is Here to hear from and engage with esteemed thought leaders and experts. They'll share insights and discuss solutions for the future in topics related to water, heat, energy, infrastructure, equity, risk, and affordable housing. Come and add your voice to the discussions, network, and discover new resources.

The event is Tuesday, January 10, to Thursday, January 11, at Hotel Zaza Museum District and Asia Society Texas Center. Click here to register.

January 20 — HOU Innovation Career Gigs & Tech Expo

The Ion is excited to bring back Startup Gigs in person and a new and expanded format. You don’t want to miss this opportunity to meet Houston’s most innovative companies. HOU Innovation Career Gigs & Tech Expo is a platform to connect you with the HOU tech ecosystem. Explore entry-level job and internship opportunities and discover the HOU tech opportunities.

The event is Friday, January 20, at 2 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

January 24 — Engage VC: Activate Capital

Join HX Venture Fund at the Ion on January 24 to hear Raj Atluru, Managing Partner of Activate Capital discuss his perspective on how to scale a startup successfully, how Houston can become the leader in the energy transition movement, how to build great companies, and what investors are looking for among other topics.

The event is Tuesday, January 24, at 8:30 am, at The Ion. Click here to register.

January 24 — 2022 Nobel Prize: From Einstein's Disbelief to Quantum Technology

The worldview presented by quantum physics contradicts seemingly self-evident truths, for example, that objects have a well-defined position. Such preposterous implications were directly demonstrated by the experiments that were awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in physics. This session will cover these experiments, the radically different picture they give of our world, and how physicists now use these quantum effects to create technology such as quantum computers.

The event is Tuesday, January 24, at 5 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

January 30 — Creating Space for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Join The Ion to hear from Tracie Jae, Founder of The Quiet Rebel, will share a paradigm shift designed to disrupt the current DEI model.

The event is Monday, January 30, at 10 am, at The Ion. Click here to register.

January 31 — Bots & Brews

This is the top winter meetup of the Energy Drone / Robotics / Data crowd, with over 100 industrial robotics and UAV leaders, investors and startups attending. Enjoy beer, bites and bots! Energy companies and tech/service providers will be sharing their 2023 plans, projects and solutions.


The event is on Tuesday, January 31, from 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm at The Ion. Click here to register.

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