The single thing that has helped us grow our business more than anything else is building something people care about.
Matt Fiedler is the co-founder and CEO of Vinyl Me, Please. Hailing from Chicago, IL, Matt went to Belmont University where he got a dual degree in music business & entrepreneurship. He currently lives in Boulder, CO with his wife, Ester and his 6 month old daughter, Kinzie.
Where did the idea for Vinyl Me, Please come from?
My co-founder, Tyler, and I were working together in Chicago. We were both very passionate about music and often found ourselves talking about the artists, songs, records we loved. Around that same time, I had gotten my dad’s turntable for Christmas. Both Tyler and I wanted to get into vinyl but we didn’t really know where to start. There were tons of albums we loved and knew we wanted on vinyl but couldn’t justify buying them all at once. We were familiar with record clubs of old and thought it would be cool to combine our passion for music and music discovery with a service that would help us build out vinyl collection. We figured there were some people just like us so we decided to launch it. That was in the summer of 2012, we officially launched in Jan 2013.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A typical day for me starts with a morning routine. I usually get out of bed sometime between 6:30 – and 7am and will work out for about an hour. I’ll shower, eat breakfast, hang with my daughter and then start to settle into the work day by about 8:30 / 9am. I try to answer emails for the first 30 min or so and then jump into my bigger tasks for the day.
We’re all in the office Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays which is when we get a lot of our team work done. We’ll typically spend a lot of this time to meeting, collaborating and/or brainstorming. It’s nice because it’s time in which we’ve designated to get everyone together in the same room. There’s a lot of good that comes out of that, whether it’s talking through new ideas, solving problems, or just building a relationship with one another.
We use Wednesdays & Fridays as work from home days. This let’s people catch up on email, meet outside the office, take calls, run personal errands, etc. These days are when a lot of the real work gets done. The other days are great to get feedback and share ideas, but it’s often difficult to get a ton of work done.
We’re a small team and we all wear a lot of hats. I’d say our biggest struggle is focusing on the deep work that really advances things. Like anybody, we’ll get distracted with something we need to address immediately which will pull us away from bigger objectives. It’s something we’re working on though.
How do you bring ideas to life?
This is kind of a hard question to answer because we don’t really have a process. Traditionally, when someone has had an idea in the past, they would throw it out to the team. That usually sparked a series of questions and then we either kept the conversation going or it died out naturally. It hasn’t been terrible — many of the immediately possible ideas have ended up being implemented — but it has certainly stunted our ability to think about big, lofty ideas that might not come to fruition in a matter of days.
We’ve recently started to take a more intentional approach to those kinds of ideas and opportunities which consists of a few things. The first is a time in which we can brainstorm freely. It’s a time where there are no bad ideas and we’ll follow the rabbit hole wherever it takes us. We use this time to think without constraint which opens our eyes up to the world of “what if.” A few really solid ideas have come out of this time.
The second is a process by which we vet new opportunities. The first step in this is gathering information. The person leading it will put together some basic info and present it to the team where we’re all able to ask questions. The answers to those questions are rarely known at the moment so it prepares us for any follow meetings or conversations. From there, we’ll let the conversations progress naturally while continuing to vet whether or not it makes sense for us and is in line with any of our larger objectives.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Something that is particularly exciting to me is the return to analog. Technology is omnipresent in today’s world. We’re all connected all of the time: you’re either online or you aren’t. This has bred a culture of connectedness which is good in some ways and bad in others.
For me, technology frequently becomes a distraction to the rest of the world. I’m usually always on my phone or computer and if I’m not I’m searching for something else to occupy my brain. It’s led me to be disengaged in real life. I forget about the people around me, I forget to appreciate the beauty of the world, and it’s terrible for my posture.
What excites me about the return to analog is that it forces people back into the real world. Anything that gets people (read: me) off their phones or computers is something that I can appreciate. It’s one of the things I love most about having a record collection… I can put a record on without having to pick up my phone which will ultimately lead me down a rabbit hole of distraction.
It’s not a new trend per se, but it’s certainly growing as we become more reliant on technology.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
The two that come to mind are 1. working out and 2. having a standing desk (and standing vs. sitting).
There is a stark difference in the quality of day when I get a workout in. I’m more productive, I’m less stressed and I’m much happier overall. Working out is a release… it’s a meditative activity that clears my mind and helps me focus on the day to come.
We have standing desks in our office and I keep mine up all the time. I guess I work better on my feet. It keeps my brain engaged and focused and prevents me from getting tired as the days goes on.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I’ve had so many bad jobs, probably more bad jobs than good ones. The single common denominator between any one of them has been poor management. The lesson learned from these experiences has been to care for the people you work with. I’ve been in jobs where I felt totally undervalued, where I didn’t feel motivated by anything to do good work, where I felt like the work I was doing was all for naught. It’s a terrible place to be, especially as an eager 20-something.
I am by no means the best manager but I’m really trying to get better everyday. I know what it feels like to be shoved under someone who doesn’t care about you. I don’t want that for anyone on our team. I’ve found that a simple thank you, or a reminder of why they’re here, or a good job goes a long way for making that person feel valued, and improves the sentiment of the whole team.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Seriously so many things. I’m a first-time entrepreneur so there’s just a lot I don’t or didn’t know when getting into this business.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned, however, is to not be afraid. A lot of what we (as in everyone in the world) do on a daily basis is driven by fear. Fear of being left out, fear of being perceived in a certain way, fear of messing up and so on. It’s not a healthy mode of operation and can ultimately prevent you from doing anything.
From day one, I’ve been scared about things like not being smart enough or not knowing how to do certain things. As a result, it’s caused us to move much slower than maybe we should (or could) have.
Fear is a tough thing to overcome especially when it’s driven by lack of confidence. The best advice I can give is find little ways to build yourself (or your team) up. Find reasons to say, “Good job” or to give high fives. Confidence is the kryptonite to fear and it’s really the only way you can overcome it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
You’ve got to find ways to avoid (or limit) distractions. It’s easy to feel like you’re busy because you’re responding to emails or answering phone calls but what are you really accomplishing? Those things are necessary but rarely help you take your company to the next level.
I like to put my phone & computer on Do Not Disturb throughout the day. It’s a simple Mac feature that removes the normal pop-ups, buzzes or alerts. I’m always amazed at how much real work I can get done in a short amount of time when I’m not monitoring incoming emails.
The second, and something I struggle with, is to find the high leverage tasks and do those things first. High leverage tasks are the things that are going to return the biggest impact on your business. They’re different for everyone and every company but finding and working on those things is immensely important. It’s the only way you’ll move your business forward.
Pro tip: ‘High Output Management’ by Andrew Grove is a great read that talks a lot about this.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
The single thing that has helped us grow our business more than anything else is building something people care about. We’re a luxury product that will be the first thing people cut if they’re struggling financially. We had to find a way to become more than just a box people get in the mail every month so we focus heavily on telling our story (our “why”) and building a product & experience that is high quality. It has made our relationships with our members less about the transaction and more about the connection we have with one another over a shared passion for music.
This has fueled tons of growth via word of mouth and has ultimately given ownership of the community to that of the community.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Hmmm good question. Our failure to build systems that could scale early on is probably the biggest one. For almost 2 full years we packed and shipped records by ourselves in our own homes / apartments. We were able to get through about 5,000 monthly packages before we outsourced it to a 3rd party. While it was a great experience and we saved a lot money by doing that, we were slow to build that system so that it could scale with continued growth. We maxed out our internal infrastructure before seeking something additional.
We’ve overcome it over the last year by focusing a lot on making the fulfillment process better and more efficient and thinking about the long-term scalability of it. It’s been a game of catch-up in many ways but better late than never.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’ve recently been shopping for roof and ski racks for our car and I’m amazed at how expensive they are. It honestly feels ridiculous that it would cost me more than $600 to outfit my car with crossbars and ski racks. Admittedly, I have no idea what it costs to make those components but it doesn’t seem like it could cost enough to justify that kind of retail value, especially when they’re selling on places like Craigslist for half that amount.
I would think there’s an opportunity for some engineer or someone with a 3D Printer to offer similar products at a greatly reduced price point. I don’t know anything about the market but there’s plenty of similar / related products I’m sure you could offer as well.
I don’t know… is that a good idea?
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Global Entry. It includes TSA Pre but also expedites your re-entry to the US after traveling abroad. I think it’s $100 for 5 years (?) and so worth it. TSA Pre alone has saved us hours while traveling, especially with a 5-month old.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Everything Google — Google drive, Gmail, analytics, etc. They make it super simple to use their tools to meet all of the most basic business needs and they’re all connected to one another. I’m not sure where we’d be if we didn’t have Google in our business.
Mailbox — I want Mailbox to work so bad but it often is the bane of my existence. It’s such an amazing concept in theory but the execution is lackluster at times (particularly the desktop app which seems to be in perpetual beta). That said, it serves my needs in the best possible way so I’m willing to work through the troubles of using it.
ChargeBee — ChargeBee is our subscription management software and they’re great to work with. They’ve built an incredible product and are always accepting feedback on how to improve it. It makes using SaaS software fun and has helped us scale our business so much more than anything else.
Spotify — I’m obviously a music dork and Spotify is my digital service of choice. I’ve tried all the others (Rdio, Apple Music, etc.) and haven’t found any of them better than Spotify.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Great question… The book I recommended earlier, ‘High Output Management’ by Andrew Grove, is a ‘must read’ for any entrepreneur and/or manager. It’s a fantastic read on the art of management. It’s a typical business book, but it’s packed with so much good content that it’s hard to put down.
An unexpected recommendation would be ‘Don’t Shoot the Dog’ by Karen Pryor. I say it’s unexpected because it’s largely focused on animal training but there are so many good tips you can implement into your relationships with people as well. It’s about reinforcement and how to use it to motivate and foster ongoing growth & development. It serves a dual purpose for me… training my dogs and giving me tools to reinforce team members.
Here’s a list of a couple other books I would recommend for first-time entrepreneurs as well.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Hmmm I’m a huge fan of Steve Jobs. Not necessarily his management style but his relentless focus on making beautiful products that are easy to use. He’s a huge role model of mine… both the good and the bad. The Steve Jobs biography is a great read for anyone who hasn’t read it.
Casey Neistat is another person I would put into this category. His philosophy on work and on life are so different than most other people’s. It’s really refreshing. He’s insanely talented so it’s fun to watch his work in what feels like real-time. His ‘Make it Count’ video is a good place to start.
Jack Dorsey is someone I know little about but I admire from a business perspective. A lot of people compare him to Steve Jobs. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but he seems to have a similar diligence to making great (and beautiful) products.
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