The words “failure” and “the Beatles” seldom appear in the same sentence. But the Beatles’ early career was actually a series of failures–a record that culminated in their unsuccessful audition with the leading record company of their era, Decca Records. This particular failure nearly caused the band to break up.
At the time of Decca’s rebuff, the Beatles had been performing under various monikers for nearly five years. Faced with that kind of rejection, most bands would have returned to Liverpool, gone back to their run-of-the-mill day jobs, and continued to play occasional gigs. But the Beatles were not like most bands.
And you should not be like most companies. Setbacks on the path to success are inevitable. What matters is whether you allow them to build you up or tear you down. Be like the Beatles. They ignored the alleged musical experts, internalized their failures, and improved their value proposition by working their asses off.
Here are start-up lessons you can take from the Beatles’ biggest setback.
Lesson #1: Know your product. The material for the Decca audition was selected by the group’s manager, Brian Epstein. Brian’s musical qualifications? He curated the record section in his father’s furniture store. Of the 13 songs the band played, 10 were covers of American tunes, which the Beatles sang with exaggerated American accents.
Brian’s intent was to showcase the group’s multi-generational appeal by drawing upon mainstream songs, including Broadway show tunes. Brian only selected three Lennon and McCartney songs for inclusion in the audition. Notably, the Beatles never released these original compositions; they didn’t make the cut.
What can you take from this? Adviser input should not be unequivocally treated with reverence. You must know when to listen to your advisers and when to reject their well-meaning advice. Sure, advisers are helpful–and necessary–but they don’t know everything. Do your homework.
Lesson #2: Know your audience. When band members looked back on the audition in later years, they realized they were ahead of their time. Per George Harrison, “It was unusual at that time to have a group where everybody did the singing. In those days, it was… one guy out front who sang.” John’s recollection was similar: “When they listened to these audition tapes, they were listening for The Shadows. So they were not listening at all.”
Understand the potential investor’s point of view, and don’t try to change it. You’ll be spinning your wheels. Instead, focus on wooing investors whose POV is aligned with your venture’s value proposition. Ignore the rest. You’re not going to change their minds.
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