MP spoke with Steven Gerein, founder of SongShop, which provides a place for indie music creators to promote their catalog in the form of a simple marketplace to license songs. Over the last five years, the industry has changed dramatically for to the launch and prominence of digital music platforms. Gerein has been in the thick of this change and continues innovating to make a difference for music creators worldwide.
The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?
I have learned how hard I can be on myself.
The amount of pressure I have put on myself to perform and to get results, all in a sometimes unrealistic time frame, is enough to cripple anyone.
That’s hard for me to say, but it was my truth.
Hell, some days, it still is my truth.
I have had to look at the stories I was conditioned with growing up and learn how to reframe some of the most fundamental thoughts and beliefs I had based my life upon until starting a business. I knew I was resilient and could push through in some pretty extreme situations from my past career and experience, but I didn’t know how much more resilient I would be to play this game.
When you’re working for someone else and need to overcome challenges, there isn’t as much weight and emotion attached to the decisions that need to be made and the work that needs to be done.
When it’s your business and your livelihood on the line, it’s a completely different experience.
I’ve had to find the balance between emotion, logic, and following my intuition in these situations.
And I will be the first to admit I don’t get it right all the time. But I do learn, recalibrate, and carry on.
I’ve learned how powerful my mind is and how important the thoughts I tell myself daily are.
I’ve learned how committed and dedicated I am to learning new things.
I’ve also learned where I need to stop pushing and ask for help.
The journey has honestly been incredible. It’s been the most enlightening experience of my life, and I’ve had to look at parts of myself I would have never even known existed if it wasn’t for becoming an entrepreneur.
The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur?
Loneliness shows up in different ways for me. I have made most of the business decisions alone without a team for most of my entrepreneurial journey.
I did not come from a business background, so the amount of overwhelm I have felt at times has made me feel extremely lonely.
Not having anyone to talk to or ask for help or guidance has been difficult.
I have overcome these times by learning what I needed to know to move forward.
I think this has been a catalyst in helping me learn things quickly and grasp concepts efficiently. I also think this has been the cause of some poor decisions!
But every experience is an opportunity to grow.
I am incredibly blessed to be on this journey with my wife, Kendra. She also runs her own business called Champagne Life. We have learned a lot together and helped each other out countless times. I don’t think I would still be doing this if it wasn’t for her love and support.
Growing two different businesses at the same time has been a really fun and challenging experience together!
The Psychological Warfare
Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?
I’ve had to overcome some dark places when it comes to self-worth.
If you are reading this, let me tell you that you don’t need to do anything else to be worthy. You are worthy exactly as you are and deserve everything you want.
It took me a long time to get there.
I had to look at where these thoughts came from and why they were there. When I realized that most of these thoughts or beliefs came from other people, past experiences, and expectations, it helped me understand what I needed to do to change them and feel good about myself.
It sounds easy, but the answer was just to release them.
Once I got to the place where the opinions of others were just a reflection of how they saw things and not how I was as a person, it made feeling better much easier.
I decided I was worthy.
Another thing that has helped me tremendously is finding a routine to keep my physical and mental health in check. I was fortunate enough to know how important this was early on, so my health has always been my top priority.
Journaling, going to the gym, eating healthy, meditation, and making sure I take time for myself have all been crucial to feeling good.
I am also very selective with the media and influence I allow into my life.
Newer entrepreneurs often equate their success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality?
What a perfect time for me to be asked this question!
We are currently pivoting our business model at the time of writing this. There was a time that I would have attributed this to something negative about myself.
I wasn’t successful or a failure because everything didn’t work out as planned. Early on, I took it hard when things didn’t work out the way I wanted them to.
It was almost like a sense of shame. It wasn’t something that happened to me. It was what I took on as an identity.
I was a failure.
The initial experience of this is probably the most difficult thing I’ve worked through. When taking on that kind of identity, it was difficult for me to see any light at the end of the tunnel.
After all, if I truly was a failure, how could I ever move forward in life?
Let alone grow a business.
I’ll credit Brene Brown for helping me reframe my general mindset and thoughts around this topic and self-worth. Essentially I learned to detach myself from the results of my business. It is no reflection of who I am as a human being.
If my business makes a million dollars next month, I am still head over heels for my wife, love my dog, and am grateful for the food I have on the table.
If my business claims a million-dollar loss at year-end, I am still head over heels for my wife, love my dog, and am grateful for the food I have on the table.
Of course, I am still human, and when things don’t go as planned, there is an emotional attachment to it.
The key is not to let it define me.
I am still the person I want to be every day, which is a success.
What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears?
1. I’ll Call It Comparison, but It’s the Fear That Someone Will Take My Success and Opportunity Away From Me
To manage this, I just focus on the reality of it and check myself.
There is more than enough room at the table for me and every other business in this sector. I will usually journal things like this out when they come up.
Getting to the bottom of where the fear is coming from and reframing my thoughts around it helps me make sure it doesn’t cloud my mind for any length of time.
2. Not Being Able To Grow Fast Enough
Things have been very bootstrapped for me.
It has made me learn many things myself, which has been a blessing, but it has also terrified me that we won’t be able to get things to where we want them to be on our own. To manage this, I just remind myself that longevity in business doesn’t happen overnight.
I can see we are growing, and I feel I’m growing.
The thing that helps with this the most is getting grounded and living in the present. This fear often creeps up when I live too much in the future, so just doing my best with where I’m at helps relieve it.
This is probably every entrepreneur's fear, especially in the beginning.
To manage this, I keep reminding myself that I’m still here.
I’ve gone through some tough times with business and have come out the other side every time. I decide to keep going every day, regardless of what might happen.
For me, when it comes to overcoming the fear of failing, it’s all about mindset. Being very intentional about what thoughts I tell myself and being grateful for all the times that I’ve made it through and been alright.
As long as I keep moving forward and learn something from the experience, it’s impossible to fail.
What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid these mistakes?
1. Automating Processes Too Soon
I tried to automate my sales process before I was ready.
This taught me I need to have a deeper understanding of my customer. An understanding that only comes from building a connection with people.
I rushed through this process and tried to force growth. Forcing things is not a good business practice. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, don’t take the human out of your business. Sending people through funnels is great when you already have a reputation, but you need to build that reputation first.
Get in the trenches and build a relationship with your customer when selling for the first little while. This will give you a much greater understanding of how to set up your sales systems down the road
2. Doing Too Many Things at Once
I am blessed with the ability to learn and excel at things quickly, but this quality works against me at times. Just because I might be able to do everything doesn’t mean I should. I need to focus on the few driving factors that will grow the business, cut out the fluff and busy work, and outsource the rest.
Time is your most valuable resource.
Don’t waste it on $5 tasks.
Cut out distractions and do focused work.
That text message and email can wait.
3. Not Asking for Help or Hiring People Soon Enough
I was trying to be and do all the things at first, and some days I still get stuck in that trap.
I didn’t have the money to hire everything out.
First, I also didn’t have the courage to ask for help.
I learned how willing people are to lend a helping hand.
All you need to do is ask.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people.
If you are worried about paying them, offer something back in return.
It doesn’t need to be money.
Maybe you are great at email marketing!
Offer to build them a sales sequence or something for their audience.
What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?
1. You Are Your Biggest Asset
Work on yourself first.
Your health, your mindset, your soul.
You need to be in a great place energetically and emotionally to get the results you want. It took me a few years to learn this because I didn’t give it merit. If you work on being the best version of yourself, business growth will automatically follow
2. Mindset Is Everything
I have worked with and still work with people who are ridiculed with doubt and fear around everything they do.
It always gets them the same results… and it’s not the result they want.
If you aren’t all in on what you are doing, take a step back and reevaluate why you are doing it. If you can get behind it 110%, go for it!
You need to have faith and believe your actions will get you the results you are after.
3. Over Creating
I work in the music industry, so many entrepreneurs I talk to are creatives. I am one of those people too! It’s fantastic because I can usually develop ten of them when I need a new idea. Knowing when to just run with your existing ones is also important.
Do I need to create another offer?
Or can I just use the ten offers I already have, repurpose some things, and grow my customer base?
Don’t get caught up in creating something new and shiny if you don’t need to!
What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?
1. The Cost of the Initial Build of SongShop
If you have built a SAAS platform before, you probably know how high development costs can be!
Some quotes I initially got to build what I wanted were so high that I almost shelved the idea entirely. I overcame this problem by shopping around, finding someone willing to work with me, and creating an MVP to start with.
To cover development costs, I put everything on my line of credit.
2. Finding a Well-Connected Business Partner
Finding a partner connected to the music scene in Nashville was one of my main goals.
One that I knew would be crucial to finding success with my business.
I don’t know how else to answer this question. I manifested it. One day my developers contacted me, letting them know someone in Nashville reached out to them, asking if they would build a copy of SongShop for them.
Thankfully my developers declined and put me in touch with the interested folks. We are now business partners, and I have my Nashville connection!
3. Hiring a Team
I knew I would need a team to help with ongoing development, marketing, finance, etc., but I didn’t know how to find or afford these roles.
At the time, I didn’t know about all the amazing freelancer websites you could find and hire great talent on! Fast forward a few years, and I now have an amazing small team from around the world helping me build my business.
What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout?
- Taking care of myself.
- Taking time to relax.
- Putting systems in place to organize my thoughts, projects, and to-dos.
What do you think the biggest difference is how an entrepreneur sees their career path versus how an employee at a company sees their career path, and why?
An employee sees their career path as exchanging time for money.
The higher I climb up the ladder, the more money I will get for my time.
An entrepreneur thinks of ways of exchanging value for money.
The more value I can offer to more customers/clients, the more money I can make.
Value is essentially measured by the problems you can solve. It doesn’t matter if you're selling a product, a course, or a service. They are all somehow solving a problem and adding value to other people's lives.
The more value you can give to more people, the more money you make as an entrepreneur.
How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems like an impossible task?
It comes down to making a decision. You MUST find a balance between working and your personal life. Learn to enjoy your life at all stages instead of the “when I achieve this, then I will make more time” mentality.
Life is happening now.
Live it to the fullest, and your goals will come to you quicker than you think.
Set personal boundaries around work hours and time spent on your phone, and stick to them. Schedule your fun time on your calendar just like a business meeting.
Make having fun a habit.
Golf every Tuesday at 4:30.
Whatever it is for you!
Just make sure you do it and hold yourself accountable.
What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey easier, and why?
1. Keep Mindset + Passion Your Top Priority
Knowing this early on would have saved me from a losing direction.
Towards the middle of my journey, I found myself obsessed with the physical act of getting things done. I became completely detached from my passion and reason for wanting to start my own business in the first place.
This put me into a “grind it” phase of my life, and I completely dropped all the healthy habits I had created to keep myself in a good headspace.
I began working in my business instead of on my business.
I sort of put my head down and started pushing.
When I came up for air, I realized that I had lost myself to an extent and hadn’t gotten any further ahead.
I learned that keeping my mindset and reason for doing what I was doing is the most important to my progress and well-being.
2. Give Yourself Grace
I thought I could bootstrap a business into a seven-figure company overnight.
I have been hard on myself at times. Giving myself grace and allowing myself to just go with the flow of my journey instead of expecting something different would have made my life a lot more enjoyable at times.
I am really glad that I have gotten there now.
Understanding this early on would have helped me with confidence in keeping a more consistent mindset.
3. Test. Test. Test.
Products, advertisements, website features, everything!
I have made the mistake on multiple occasions of just doing something quickly and running with it.
A few times, this has come back to haunt me throughout my journey. Once you do test things, be honest with yourself and the data.
Sometimes you aren’t going to get the answer you want, and it humbles you.
Knowing this would have saved me from chasing ideas that weren’t working out and may have drastically sped up my growth.
It took a few hard lessons, but I have finally learned it!
Is there anything else you would like to share?
What would it be if there was one thing you could say was the most important thing to finding success as an entrepreneur?
Surround yourself with the people you want to be like.
This has been something incredibly prominent in my life lately.
As you progress, you will need friends and mentors who are on this journey with you and cheering you on.
People you can grow with and learn from.
Hire a coach, join a mastermind, reach out to people to talk, and build your network.
That being said, if anyone is interested in chatting, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
- Alicia Nagel, Founder at Alicia Nagel Creative
Responses provided by Steven Gerein, Founder at Songshop Ltd.