The Show Must Go On – Obsession through the Recession

If you think you can’t start your business in these tough times, think again. I met an entrepreneur who confirmed that with a good dose of passion, you can start up.

I had listed some office furniture on Craigslist. A friendly guy named Jason Gittinger responded moments later. He was on the prowl for a good deal. Gittinger, self-described as “just a drummer,” stopped by the next day, and I found myself completely taken with him. Of course, it helped that he said he’d used StartupNation.com as a key resource to write his business plan, but what interested me most was his incredible, contagious passion.

Come to find out, Gittinger played gigs in high school and then in college and used the money he made to pay his way through school. More recently, he’s played gigs in the outrageous, themed rock band, Mega 80’s.

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Gittinger explained at the time that he was on the cusp of opening The Detroit School of Rock and Pop Music. His dream business come true, the newfangled music school recently launched to replace the boring process of learning to play an instrument. Instead of traditional music lessons, Gittinger’s for-profit school immerses students in an actual 5-member band of similarly skilled wannabe’s that jam together regularly (supplemented by practice sessions with a “music mentor”). Yes, the music usually sounds a little off, but the rising rock stars have a blast, which is critical to staying enthusiastic and engaged.

While the secret ingredient to Gittinger’s business plan is this fun factor, the secret to getting the business off the ground—even in spite of the tough economic times—has been his passion.

Unlike so many business plans that are written but never put into action, Gittinger successfully scrounged up all the key ingredients he needed to hang the OPEN sign.

At every turn, his passion—verging on obsession—was pivotal.

For example, Gittinger needed to finance the build-out of the space. The drummer-turned entrepreneur prevailed in getting an SBA-backed loan from a bank. How’d he do it? He says he not only wrote a business plan, but created a 500-page training manual for teachers he planned to hire. He threw that on the banker’s desk and immediately made clear that he wasn’t your average drummer.

When he found his dream location, he got the owner excited about his concept for the school and put that “warm fuzzy” to work. He was able to negotiate the monthly rent down from $3,800 to $2,900. And because the owner took a shine to his vision, Gittinger was able to arrange for a portion of those monthly payments to be allocated to a future purchase of the property. Smart.

Next, how to furnish the place? It would have to have the “cool factor” musicians crave and the insulated spaces where they could jam. Jason heard that the dilapidated Michigan State Fairgrounds was being demoed. He got in contact with a foreman and offered to remove the wooden basketball court floor before the building was demoed. Another sweet deal. Now his school would have gorgeous wooden floors with local nostalgia to boot. Of course, on the way back to the school, he found two brand new warehouse windows at a garbage dump, and threw those in the truck as well.

Mega 80sBut now, how to pay for the labor to get all that work done? The laying of the floor. The hanging of windows. Building walls and painting everything. Wiring, plumbing, meeting all the codes.

Again, Gittinger’s passion played an unexpected but instrumental role. One day while screwing in the emergency exit lights, a 20-something guy walked through the front door.

“Dude, got any extra paint brushes? I’d be happy to help.” He was an aspiring young guitarist and said he’d heard about Gittinger’s school.

The passion was collecting followers. And there were many others Gittinger says volunteered along the way. This wasn’t just a business, people sensed. The launching of the school had become a “cause” and Gittinger was the evangelist.

All in all, Jason estimates he added about $1,000,000 worth of improvements to the facility, but spent only a tenth of that to get it finished. More promising than that, though, prior to even opening he had already received 90 applications from students wanting to come play at the Detroit School of Rock and Pop Music. Not bad considering that’s the single most difficult thing to land out of the gates – your first customers.

Gittinger is now in the process of leaping from the dollar-poor life of a drummer to the six-figure life of a drummer entrepreneur. Yeah, there’s doom and gloom in all the major economic indicators. But does that really matter to Gittinger? Frankly, I’m not even sure he knows there’s an economy out there. He’s far too focused on his exciting new school.

(This article is provided courtesy of CNNMoney.com)

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rich Sloan

Rich Sloan is chief startupologist and co-founder of StartupNation and host of StartupNation podcasts. He is also co-author of the acclaimed how-to book, StartupNation: America's Leading Entrepreneurial Experts Reveal the Secrets to Building a Blockbuster Business. Rich encourages you to [...]

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