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Tyler Barstow of Vinyl Me Please on how to not be a jerk manager when growing a business [Podcast]

For this episode, we spoke with Tyler Bastow, co-founder of Vinyl Me Please - a monthly record subscription club. Founded in an apartment as a side project in 2012, VMP has been through textbook growing pains. They’ve learned big lessons in focus, communication, and product development along the way.

Tyler shares how their customers have grown up with them, how they align their team around the vision, set and track goals, and how they’ve learned to lead and manage founder stress without bumming their team out. Hear the whole story here:

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Episode Highlights

Your early adopters won’t always be the biggest part of your target market. Your first customers won’t always be your most valuable. Your product will evolve as you learn more about the market and automate tasks to scale. Some of them will stand by your side, others will go. It’s just one of those things you have to accept.

Honest and transparent communication is essential for customer retention and loyalty. When issues arise regarding delivery or bugs, it’s best to communicate what happened, why, and what actions you’re taking to make it right. Be open and honest with your customers. In Vinyl Me Please’s case, they couldn’t get a record out by Christmas and would’ve gone bankrupt trying to get another out. They had to tell their customers this directly and empathetically. As a result, they lost a few customers but are still here and growing today.

You can’t repeat your goals enough. At Vinyl Me Please, different teams own areas of the business with each member owning their own tasks. The entire team then gets together every two weeks to report progress, give ideas, and share how they can help each other. The leadership team re-shares their vision, goals, and progress against those goals. They encourage areas of the business that aren’t moving as fast as they’d like and celebrate those that are.

To set goals, break your vision up into practical action items. For team alignment, Vinyl Me Please outlined what they want to be as a company in practical terms. The leadership team asked themselves and the team: “what does the best damn record club ever look like?” Then asked, what does support, content, marketing, etc. look like for the best record club?” Those answers end up being their goals for the year or quarter. They then arrange those goals in a way that makes people accountable to accomplish them and feel free to shift direction as they’re learning along the way.

Try to get from the abstract to the tangible as quickly as possible. That’s what Vinyl Me Please has done. They create timelines and structure around the practical goals mentioned above so they can answer the questions, “was this a good idea or no?” and “what returns is this idea getting us?”

It’s easy to feel like progress is being made when it’s not. Tyler reflected, “If you can’t put actionable steps to what you’re trying to accomplish, then what you’re trying to accomplish as a business isn’t going to happen or isn’t possible. At that point, it’s not a business, it’s a thought experiment you’re doing on someone else’s dime.” This is similar to SpaceX’s “mission to metrics” concept that Mark Chung of Verdigris shared in his interview!

Set expectations that will push your team but aren’t unreasonable. Tyler says it’s good to set big goals but to make the tasks around them simple and digestible for your team. That way, they’ll know how they’re making an impact. With a defined scope of work, they’ll be focused and motivated. (At Geckoboard, we use the OKR framework to apply this concept.)

Being a “jackass” isn’t an effective managing tactic. Tyler says that effective managers listen to their team’s thoughts without saying a lot. He suggests being careful not to critique too much or to shut down ideas before trying them.

Accept that you don’t know as much as your team - don’t bum your employees out. Tyler said, “I tend to assume now that I don’t know nearly as much about something as the person doing it every day, which is so obvious. But sometimes when people start companies, part of their need to control something, to have input and drive direction on everything, is really just micromanaging and bums people out.” He added, “I think in general, good entrepreneurs don’t bum their employees out.”

Know that your stress is not caused by your team. It’s easy to take your stress out on your team because you work with them every day. But your stress most often isn’t caused by them - it stems from the pressure you put on yourself.

Business is a human enterprise, after all. Tyler reflected, “One thing to keep in mind is that business is fundamentally a human enterprise. I think one of the annoying things about the quest for perfectionism is that perfection is not a human quality and it’s not ever going to be. Adjust to the fact that you’re going to make mistakes, your team is going to make mistakes, your customers are going to make mistakes.”

To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to work on yourself. He added, “Getting to a place where you stop projecting your problems on the people you work with, your product, and your customers is as close to perfection as you’re going to get. A lot of the work you do as an entrepreneur ends up being work you do on yourself.”

Tyler suggests trying therapy, prioritizing your personal health, and finding resources that help you confront yourself in a mature and constructive way, whether that’s mentors, books, etc. Having a company is stressful, but it’s important to remember that other people have stress too. In Tyler’s experience, the antidote to feeling alone is to get rid of your ego and open up to people.

Books and podcasts mentioned:

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