A few weeks ago, Julia and I were having lunch. At one point she said to me, “you know what I realized recently? We’ve been doing this for five years.”
I looked at her, surprised. Of course, I believed her, but I had to think it through myself. We graduated from college in 2009 on the heels of winning second prize in Tufts University’s Social Entrepreneurship Business Plan Competition, with the intention of launching iCadenza. 2009 – 10 – 11 – 12 – 13 – 14. 2014, here we are. Five years.
We looked at each other, smiling with confusion and giggling a little. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t very much time, but in the life of a company, a lot can happen in the five years from birth to kindergarten age.
It was funny to stop and think for a second about how far we’ve come. Usually, we’re focused on how far we still have to go. But the truth is, we have come far in 5 years. Our ideas have grown into actual businesses with paying clients. Working on iCadenza for five years and Cadenza Artists for three has been the biggest educational opportunity either of us could have ever encountered.
One of the most exciting aspects of our growth has been the growth of our team – our family. Maria Elena and Greg joined us in 2011, Ben just celebrated his one year anniversary with us, and Anjin came on board in January. Each of them has contributed incredible dedication, brilliance, creativity, and compassion in serving clients, artists on our roster, presenters, and other stakeholders. Every day, Julia and I count our lucky stars that we get to work with them.
Five years means that we’ve had lots of wins and we’ve made loads of mistakes, or as we like to call them, “expensive learning experiences” – because that’s really what they are. We’ve been grateful to have each other, and our team, to celebrate the good times and band together during challenges.
Our business looks pretty different from what we were doing 5 years ago. More consulting, more artist management (through Cadenza Artists), less interviewing, more new projects on the horizon. We have some big announcements coming out soon for both companies. For iCadenza, we will soon be launching a career development initiative designed to support performing arts students at universities and conservatories. And, we have some upcoming events unlike any we’ve done before.
As we move into our 6th year – our most exciting year yet, here are the top 5 lessons we’ve learned from our first 5 years in business:
1. Finding our definition of success
We’re a business, so of course we have to think about the bottom line – especially when we have staff to pay and artists to book performances for. But we only ever wanted to be a business that provides real value to the people we serve – otherwise, why bother? So often, we talk to clients about the importance of defining success for themselves. Over time, we’ve thought a lot about this for ourselves. For us, it is simple – hearing from clients how their lives are better and the pursuit of their professional dreams clearer, because of their work with us. Working with purpose-driven artists with big and exciting dreams has been a total pleasure, and we can’t think of a better feeling than whenever they reflect back to us the results of our work together. We recently put together some profiles of a few of our clients to showcase their work and it was wonderful to be reminded of the breakthroughs and triumphs we witnessed over the course of our work together. You can read those here.
2. Everyone is human, everyone.
I’d never heard of “soft skills” before going to business school, but I can hardly think of any repertoire of abilities that has been more crucial. Everyone, regardless of age, rank, or experience-level, has emotions, wants and needs that might not be 100% rational, and a unique combination of motivations – especially in the performing arts. Learning how to listen to others deeply, and relate on a person to person level, has been invaluable.
3. Getting comfortable with uncertainty
In business, unlike in school, you have to create your own set of assessments and milestones in order to evaluate progress. But even so, it is a game of utter uncertainty. The sweet taste of success can easily fade once a new fire appears and needs tending. Success builds slowly over time but uncertainty and discomfort always remain. It tooks us a long time, but we’re getting used to being okay with that.
4. Change begins on the inside
Our natural inclination is to look for external markings of success. How many clients we have, how much money came in, how many bookings we secured. Julia and I had the great fortune early on of starting to look inward as the place to initiate change. For our business to grow, we had to grow – in our confidence, our sense of self, our sense of worth, and our clarity of our vision. We see each others’ personal growth better than anyone else since we observed the process side by side. At least for me, that is the growth I am most grateful for.
5. Friendship first
People often ask us, “what’s it like starting a business with your friend? good idea? bad idea?” From our perspective, it was a great idea – perhaps the best idea we ever had. Since our very first day, we had one rule – friendship first. Regardless of what happens with iCadenza, we put our friendship and our commitment to each other individually above that. Our friendship hasn’t just remained strong, it has deepened in countless ways, probably because we’ve seen each other in such a large range of circumstances that go beyond the norms of friendship. We’ve also worked consciously on learning how to give each other feedback, how to communicate, and how to deal with conflict – crucial skills that I’ve worked little on in other relationships.