For years, I traveled the world with bands as a tour manager.
Although it may sound worlds away from my current gig as a Chief Revenue Officer at a blockchain logistics platform, managing a tour is surprisingly similar to running a startup.
Think of a tour manager (TM) as a CEO, COO and project manager all wrapped up into one. On the road, I was responsible for every aspect of the band’s life and business: equipment, venues, soundcheck, guest lists, hotels, drivers, everything. I worked closely with band managers, booking agents, and the talent themselves.
While the roles aren’t exactly the same, there are many skills I learned on tour that continue to help me in my current role.
Here’s what anyone managing a startup, or a band, can expect:
Both tour managers and startup founders are ultimately responsible for the team’s success.
In either position, you have to work hard, make tough decisions, and communicate with your team members to ensure everyone does their job.
But you also must adapt to different situations, tackling whatever is needed at the moment.
While I’ve toured with completely professional bands, I’ve also worked with a few who made me feel like a kindergarten teacher. I had to constantly monitor these groups to make sure they were on time, see that the guitar player hasn’t strolled off with a groupie, and ensure no one was slinking away to drink backstage.
Similarly, running a startup requires you to do whatever is needed to get the job done. You’re checking if projects are on track, rallying your team when morale is low, or even ordering catering for meetings—no task is beneath you.
When problems arise, it’s your job to put out fires and take care of business. But realistically, you can’t do it all alone.
A huge part of your success or failure comes down to your ability to lead people.
Many things can go wrong if you don’t have the right people.
In a startup, you’re looking for employees who understand company values and are passionate about helping the organization thrive. They work closely with their teammates to ensure every department—marketing, sales, development, research—is firing on all cylinders.
For big tours, the TM coordinates with the band’s management to hire assistants, drivers, sound designers, engineers, and caterers. Putting on concerts in different cities night after night takes a huge amount of coordination between many different people.
Just like with a startup, tour managers need to be aware of rules and regulations. They must cover all the bases by making sure there are contracts in place, getting agreements with the venues, and hiring an accountant to keep track of expenses.
So you need to find people who are professional, reliable, and trustworthy—but you also have to make sure they fit with the rest of your team. A tour or startup will only thrive if the individuals who run it—and the people they hire—are all working together to accomplish a shared goal.
A tour or startup will only thrive if the individuals who run it—and the people they hire—are all working together to accomplish a shared goal.
If anyone steps out of line, it could mean the end of the show. So you have to be proactive about keeping everyone on track.
To lead, you have to understand human psychology.
Knowing how people think is essential for managing a tour and a company.
Say the van breaks down on the way to a show, instruments get stolen, or a band member goes missing (I’ve seen it all). You have to know how to approach the band because you’re ultimately responsible for finding a solution.
Every time I went on the road, I told the bands they needed to listen to me or I was out. Although I was the band’s employee—they hired me to tell them what to do—I wasn’t afraid to be blunt. As the tour manager, I had to deal with any problems. They were my responsibility on the road.
Knowing about human behavior will help you determine how to tackle these challenges in the most efficient way.
You may need to have a harsh talk with a band member who’s causing trouble, or you may have to involve the band’s manager.
Likewise, startup leaders benefit greatly from understanding what makes their employees and clients tick. You need to know how to motivate your sales team to keep them hungry. You need to comprehend an employee’s compulsions to decide whether or not to involve HR. And on the client side, you need to understand what really drives a prospect to purchase a product or service, and what’s making an existing client stay on board.
Having a solid grasp of psychology will help you deal with a variety of people, and it’ll make it easier to solve the problems that inevitably arise when things go wrong.
Although startup leaders are ultimately responsible for the bottom line in a way tour managers are not, both roles require an ability to think creatively and bring an innovative approach to problem-solving. And you’re going to have to really strain to find creative solutions to the problems at hand—because it’s impossible to start a company or manage a tour where nothing goes wrong.
As they say, “The show must go on,” and it’s up to the manager and leader to make that happen.