WISDOM: A PORTRAIT SERIES
A L E X W H I T E
HEAD OF NEXT BIG SOUND AT PANORA
NEXT BIG SOUND
NEW YORK CITY
I. An art class was divided randomly into two groups. The first was told they could make one clay sculpture, and that they’d be graded based on the beauty of that piece. The second group was told that they would be graded based on the weight of all the clay they used in their sculptures. At the end of the semester, the first group self-selected the best pieces, and all of the pieces from the second group were graded by independent judges. One might suspect that the group that had all semester to work on just one piece would win in a landslide, but the reverse was true. The group that had produced the most volume ended up having the best pieces. Creativity depends on constraints and on volume.
II. From second grade through fourth grade, I was pulled out of public school. My mom taught me on Mondays and Fridays, and I went to this program for three days a week with 25 other kids. The program was about self-directed learning. Say you need to learn about Native Americans. In the public school system, it’s 'here’s a worksheet, here’s a video, here’s a test' but with the homeschooling it was 'what are you most excited about?' So I would build these huge clay pueblo models of Indian homes. That experience of not just reading a book, but thinking about what is most interesting in this area and diving into it was huge because that’s all I’ve done for the last seven years: how do I raise a venture capital? How do I hire someone who’s 30 years older than me to run sales? We’ve had to figure all those things out. You basically have to find an area like corporate taxes, and dive in and learn everything about it so you can either hire someone to do it, or do it yourself.
III. Every year I would make these New Year’s Resolution list of 100 things that I was going to do. I’ve since simplified that a lot, and tried to just focus on a few big rules. Now I do more revisiting a few times a year: take a deep breath before I eat a meal, look people in the eye when I’m talking to them in a conversation. Before I go to sleep, I write down a few things that happened during the day that I liked, or that I’m grateful for.
IV. What was most fascinating with Next Big Sound was not the consumer app people would add things to. It was having millions of people all saying which artists they think are going to become popular. Then you can map the flow of data through that ecosystem. You can understand how music spreads, how artists break. Unlock the black box of how a band becomes famous.
V. When we launched in 2009, Spotify hadn’t entered the US, Facebook hadn’t launched pages you could like, Twitter had only 50 bands that were on it, and no one had heard of SoundCloud. It was wildly different. So what a great era to make sense of this data, and make it useful. That’s the mission, in the same way that data transformed finance and sports, we’re doing it for the music industry.
VI. Jason Mendelson is a mentor, investor, and friend of mine. There are countless examples of him relaying his thoughts, ideas and suggestions. One that stands out for me was a big change that we founders were going to announce to the company. He said he’s seen startups devolve into an “us vs them” mentality of founders and management vs. employees, and that one idea he’s seen work was to talk to a few well-respected team members before and bring them into the decision making and thought process. It’s a guiding idea that we’ve leaned on over the years and it’s really helped us avoid any kind of division in the company.
VII. We need to talk more about musical education in schools. The problems facing our world need creativity to solve them, and music is one of the best ways to build creative kids.
VII. I am for the truth.