Monday, March 24, 2008

Innovative Percussion

First thing off the bat: I added an RSS feed option to the top right side of this blog. If you're an RSS feed kind of person, knock yourself out. If not, no worries.

Second: I've started to get some feedback on this blog - some of which is positive, other that is more "constructive criticism" in nature. I appreciate both. As I've mentioned before, this blog is about the learning experience involved in taking an idea/concept/whatever and building it into something. Some people have expressed disappointed by my lack of details exposing my concept's details. As time passes and I get deeper into the development of my concept, I'll share some of those details. So hang in there.

And now for the meat and potatoes of this post: I've made it a point to speak to as many small business owners as I can to hear about their personal experience. This week, I had the great opportunity to spend time with Erik Johnson, President and Founder of Innovative Percussion. Innovative Percussion is a manufacturer of keyboard mallets and drumsticks based in Nashville, Tenn. This was by no means a formal "interview." Instead, I casually spoke with Erik about his company, how he got Innovative off the ground and how it became what it is today.

Erik's background is in music. He is, at his root, a musician. As the conversation progressed, I noticed how this background affected the way he operates his company. It didn't take long to tell Erik's mind and my mind think differently when it comes to business. This is why I was not always getting the answers I was hoping for/expecting. I was persistent on understanding what his "vision" was for Innovative Percussion from the start. I was expecting "global reach, large product offering, best in the business, largest, etc." He explains he never really had a vision for Innovative becoming this great, big, and grand successful thing. He doesn't want to be the 'Walmart' of drumsticks. Erik says he wanted to make the Rolls Royce of mallets; opposed to the [insert mid-priced unremarkable automobile manufacturer] of mallets. He was focused on making a great product.The kind of product he, as a musician, would choose and the kind he wants his ensembles (also some of the most distinguished in the world) to use. This was his focus.

Erik's company started like many small businesses do, in a room, in a house, and on a tiny/non-existent budget. It didn't start with a light bulb over his head. Rather, it began when a friend suggested taking his skills and knowledge making mallets and turn it into a business. He developed his product line, hired a few employees, and focused on what he had to offer to the percussion world. As the company grew and became more serious, he hired someone whom he knew personally with business and percussion market experience to take Innovative's CEO position and handle the business side of Innovative. Today, they have expanded their product offering to 40+ countries around the world and are used by some of the world's most elite percussion ensembles, solo performers, and educators.

Notable Notables:

Erik is quick to dismiss taking full credit for what his company has become. He repeatedly acknowledges how much a group effort his company's success has been. It was great to hear how much credit he passed along to everyone involved.

He warned me of the dangers of the "what's in it for me"/"when do I get rich" mentality. As a business owner, you have to make serious time and financial sacrifices. You could go years without making a dime while your company sits in debt. These are the times when believing in your product and your service to your customers is vital to surviving.

Be ethical about everything. Too many people believe you can cut corners, but you can't and you shouldn't.

What I learned:

From my time speaking with Erik, I learned how business owners are as diverse as the businesses they operate and the markets they serve. No one way is right and formal education can't take the place of your passion and belief in what you can achieve.

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