Why Prince Is a Beacon to Us Entrepreneurs
by Kerem Durdag
I loved Prince; went to college near Minneapolis in the late 80’s and always wanted to get into the dance clubs where he played. His live shows were legendary. The music… man… the music. The energy. The sweep of raw emotion. The funk. The audacity of originality. The sexiness. The pure joy of musicality. The honesty… the dripping honesty. Listen to Purple Rain in all its glory. He was the man who made doves cry.
Never was able to get tickets, or bust my way in. So started the journey to see him. Which I did in 2004 with my wife in Boston. And the man rocked the roof off… there was no roof left. And when he danced and sang, you went with him.
So… what does this have to do with being a start-up entrepreneur? For me… a lot. You know how it is… days are long, there is always the sense of being alone, the pressures come from all directions… for me, in those quiet times of every day (every day) I listen to music (my plethora of playlists is yours, if you want it…). It helps.
The other thing is that if you want something bad enough, you chase it and never forget it. Took me almost two decades to get to see him, but I did in the end. Stick with the dream as long as you can.
But I digress a bit… this ephemeral pontification is about Prince and how he guides you and me. Below is what he said and its context to me, you, us.
We work because we create. Incessantly: "I can't wait four years between records. What am I going to do for four years? I'd just fill up the vault with more songs."
The team is the family: “When Jon Bon Jovi asked me if he could do a song with my band, I went, 'What? No!' It was like he wanted to make love to my woman." Our team is our family. Inviolate.
Entrepreneurs ride the rapids after we succeed (or fail): "Making hits is the easiest thing I could do. But it's like taking a ribbon for a race someone else won. I can't do that. I can't repeat myself." There is this river in us with Class 5 rapids. We ride it.
We do what we do because we have to: “(Graffiti Bridge) one of the purest, most spiritual, uplifting things I've ever done. It was non-violent, positive and had no blatant sex scenes. Maybe it will take people 30 years to get it. They trashed The Wizard of Oz at first, too." We have a vision, we stick with it as long as it makes sense.
Self-confidence and support for the entire community can co-exist: "I always see myself described as arrogant or pretentious. I just do what I want. I don't consider that arrogance. We should stop arguing and stop attacking each other. The first time I heard Yoko Ono sing, I went, 'Hey, you got to quit that — today!' But I had to stop myself. How can I say she shouldn't sing? Maybe she feels a strong need to express herself."
We are original and we have to do something valuable with it: "Nobody's learning how to make music, how to read and write it, and how to play. I worry that we're raising a whole generation that's going to turn out nothing but samples and rehashes." There are some massive human problems that need solutions from us… we need to get off the social media app “I am going flip this company over to make a couple of bucks” train and do something that has merit for the next generation that is going to inherit this earth from us.
There is a craft and business depth to what we do: "You can't bring a prerecorded event to the stage. You have to be able to vibe off the audience and let a song marinate. Keep it alive! Where can you see a real band anymore? You can't get a machine to play like my drummer."
You have to monetize your value…no matter what: "YouTube is the hippest network, and they abuse copyright right and left. You see a song like Purple Rain turned into Pure Cocaine; what should my response be? I chase the money to find out who's behind it. It's a matter of principle. I don't want my music bastardized."
Know how to assert: On being asked to hear his new album in his entirety by an interviewer in 1999, he said, "Did you bring money?"
Know your market: "I don't really take a stance on piracy. If I was only getting a few pennies off every album, I'd be worried. But I get $7 a pop for every album that sells for $10. That's enough."
It is OK to evolve as a person, a professional, a leader: "I have an older, more sophisticated audience now. And the 13-year-olds hear enough depraved culture. They don't need to hear me do Sexy M.F. or Erotic City. I choose not to do those songs. That's not where my head is now."
The world is big enough for all to play in: "Jay Z didn't want to get the same wages (as everyone else). God's not broke, why should we be? I'm not mad at anybody for being successful." Prince, except for Tidal, does not have his music on any online platform… it is instructive to see how his value system aligns with his business decisions.
We have to have reason to stick around: "Not to sound cosmic, but I've made plans for the next 3,000 years. Before, it was only three days at a time.” This is strategy. What we do, has to last. Mic drop!
And you see… I think Bruce Springsteen is a messenger of God. So when the Boss sings Purple Rain, you know it is all true. It is all true. You can do what you want. Be honest. Surround yourself with love and smartness. Listen to your heart and to your mentors. Monetize every drip of value you are bringing forth to the world. Be pure. Be hungry. Don’t be incremental. Go for it.
Kerem Durdag, as executive leader of people and companies bringing out the best of their talents and aspirations, has over 22 years of experience directing world-class teams in the manufacturing and technology sectors. Currently he is serving as the Entrepreneur-In-Residence for the Maine Technology Institute. He was the CEO of a start-up (in the sensors market) leading it to growth and eventual acquisition by a public company. His second one (medical device and advanced materials) is up for sale and currently under due diligence. He has also been the CTO of a large US subsidiary of a public German semiconductor and optical media company and prior was the leader of the engineering department of an electronics company which went public (twice). With an inherent strong bias towards action, Kerem also serves on several Boards and is a member of the Maine angel investing community.