Startup Spotlight: Sound LeadershipDecember 13, 2015
Startup Spotlight: Madonna was right! Music makes the people come together… Just ask Johannes Flecker, CEO and Founder of Sound Leadership, a startup that helps organizations grow with music related programs.
GH: What is Sound Leadership?
Johannes (CEO & Founder): We help organizations innovate and grow their skills with music driven leadership programs. We’re specialized in team songwriting programs, leadership seminars with music tools, music creation and performance for corporate events. Everything we do is driven by our aim to advance engagement, creativity and leadership skills in organizations and teams. We take the best tools from music and musical storytelling to achieve this.
GH: How did Sound Leadership get started?
Johannes: I was working in management consulting before I studied music production and songwriting at Berklee College of Music. While I was at Berklee, I gave a management seminar in Europe and included music tools in the program – and my business clients loved it. This was the defining moment where I knew I had to transform this into a company.
GH: How did you build your team?
Johannes: I surround myself with driven people. I’m looking for people who excel not only as musicians – as songwriters, producers or performers – but who also have a track record in working in a business environment and understand the value our solutions brings to companies. I’m very happy to work with amazingly talented and accomplished team members in the U.S., Switzerland and Asia.
GH: What is the company philosophy driving your culture?
Johannes: We are creating a new market with our services and have the aim to set a gold standard through what we’re doing. We share the constructive potential of music with business clients who often have not seen a music note in years. But music is not necessarily the end result. We’re using it as a tool in order to help our clients get better, more engaged and more innovative in their daily work.
GH: Startup life is full of failures and ‘make it work’ moments – can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?
Johannes: I had to learn to take enthusiastic interest with a grain of salt. Especially if someone appears to be enthusiastic about our services and then remains radio silent when you’re ready to talk more about it. Also, when we had promising prospects I had to understands who decided against us in the end and why. While this hurt, it showed me where I had to work harder to be ready next time, in delivering a more convincing proposal or better understanding the customer needs. Also I realized it’s not one big client that counts but a lot of small steps in building relationships and creating opportunities – it just takes time.
GH: What did you learn from your first users?
Johannes:To put more emphasis into things which the customers love, and to forget about details that were of little perceived value – even when I was personally proud of them. Some of our modules helped especially well to tell our client’s story – I thought they were mainly a small piece of the puzzle, but clients reminded me that they were crucial – so I give them a much more prominent role. Basically applying the 80/20 rule. The most uplifting thing I took from my first paying customer was that someone was actually paying for this idea. This was the best proof of concept. If these guys are happy with us there must be thousands of other organizations who would like to work with us.
GH: What has the Boston/New England ecosystem provided you?
Johannes: A lot! I was lucky that from day 1 of incorporation I got selected to participate in a startup incubator program by Berklee Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship with Panos Panay. Without their support, I wouldn’t have started this entrepreneurial journey. I can’t over-emphasize what this means for a foreigner in this country to have support and mentorship in a great startup community in Cambridge. I continue to receive a lot of support through so many business people and entities, from Boston SCORE members like Jim Crisci and Laura Colcord to Holland & Knight Law Firm and advisors like Sarah von Helfenstein. Also startup events all over the city are a great way to get to know many talented and passionate people.
GH: What is the Boston/New England ecosystem lacking from your perspective?
Johannes:I feel the Boston startup scene is very tech-heavy, with a lot of opportunities and programs specifically for tech companies. Running a service-oriented business I sometimes feel like an exotic specie but this also has its upside as we stand out more in a crowd.
GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
Johannes: I became tired of the perpetual advice about challenges in scaling my business. Yes I know that and I can live with it. Not every business exists for the sole purpose of a multi-million-dollar exit after three years. We actually share the power of musical storytelling with companies and actually humanize businesses. I care about scalability later when it’s time to worry about it.The best advice was to move on from an early stage single-product-all-purpose company and create several services for various customer pain points. Now we are able to address a broad range of leadership challenges and therefore more clients.
GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?
Johannes: The day I received my U.S. investor visa was one of the best days of my life, after many sleepless nights and doubts during the process. I never expected something like this to happen. I came to Boston three years ago to study at Berklee College of Music for max. two semesters. But then I was able to graduate, start this endeavor and can now move on with this exciting entrepreneurial journey in the U.S. I’m really thankful for everything that happened since I arrived in the United States and all the people who came into my life.
GH: What does the future hold for Sound Leadership?
Johannes: In the long term, we aim to be the world’s leading company for leadership solutions based on music. One step at a time, we have to get established in the United States and are working on expanding to India right now. So, there’s a lot of work waiting for us!