There are some people you meet in this life that you admire without restraint. They are not flawless or claim to be, but they even inspire the most burnt out person to whom hope is a just a four letter word. Ian is one of those people. @iancr makes you think, makes you want to do your best and pushes you past that even when you think you are done. He will hear his employees out even if he doesn’t agree with them and find solutions. I beat him at Wii bowling and he even lost gracefully. (Sorry Ian, I have to make people see you are human.) These days he moves music digitally forward at TOPSPIN.
Location: Santa Monica, CA
1) How has your perspective of launching an artist using digital tools changed since you added the role of co-manager of Get Busy Committee?
There have been a lot of lessons in this; it’s been invaluable. The two major lessons which come to mind now are:
1) Content is more valuable than promotion. Not to say money spent on PR and promotion isn’t worth it, but the most important thing is to keep creating. New sound and imagery is paramount.
2) Know and target an audience before you start. Attention is moving from mass media to niches, but building your own niche from scratch takes a lot of time and energy. If possible/appropriate, target an existing niche and see if you can get the folks within that niche to lift you up higher, faster.
2) You are one of the busiest people on the planet, aside from being the CEO of Topspin, Husband, Father of two and co-managing GBC –yet you always return emails within a day. What are your time management secrets?
Well, considering my inbox has 3890 *unread* messages (forget about un-replied-to) in it that’s unfortunately not true. I’m pretty underwater from a time perspective and the unfortunate fact is I can’t actually do everything I need to. My entire team is in the same boat. Plus, we’re a startup so I don’t have the luxury of hiring an assistant or all the staff it would take to support acting on every opportunity that comes our way.
I think this is the case for everyone today. There’s no shortage of input. You could spend all day replying to emails, reading Twitter and Facebook, and at the end of the day not have anything to show for your time. For all of us, prioritization and filtering is important. Some people choose not to participate in things like Twitter and Facebook to cut down on these distractions. I’m convinced in the future an ability to prioritize and focus, an ability to use these tools for what they’re good for and not be distracted by them, will be characteristics which lead to success.
I have LOTS of room for improvement but here are a few of the things I do to try to remain productive:
– I make lists. In the spirit of GTD (Getting Things Done, the book, the technique) I put what needs doing onto a list when it comes into my head so I can process serially. If I’m at my computer I record them in a program called Things, and I assign them to projects or tasks and put deadlines on them. If I’m not, I just write them in my notebook and process them later.
– I try to keep my blackberry and computer out of meetings, and not look at my computer when I’m on the phone. I know my limitations, and if I’m talking to you while I’m staring at my computer, I’m only half listening, if that. If I’m going to take the time for a meeting I want to focus, know what I am really getting of value out of the meeting, get it, and move on. If I’m not getting or giving anything of value, the meeting just shouldn’t be happening.
– I try to process email only twice a day, instead of looking at it all day long. Unfortunately that isn’t enough time to get through every message, which is why so many go unread. But I think it’s more important to spend a couple hours a day going through “the list” than it is to reply to every email. I’d rather have unread messages than an overflowing to-do list. Unfortunately at the moment I have both! But I’ll burn the to-do list down faster than the inbox.
– I try to use all the tools available to do what they’re good at. Skype and Google Voice have changed the way I communicate. I route all calls to my cell and if not answered there they bounce to Skype. If I don’t answer there they go to Google Voice which transcribes the text and emails the message to me. Whenever possible I do meetings via Skype video instead of driving across town, flying across the country, or just having a phone meeting where you can’t get any body language as input to the conversation. I’ll use Twitter to get answers to hard questions, Facebook to keep in touch with business colleagues who have changing email address and to schedule events, WordPress to communicate with large groups of people, LinkedIn to post jobs. And I’ve used all of the above to schedule meetups so you can get some scale out of your own time and meet lots of people who you don’t have time to meet with during the course of the work week.
Anyway, I’m no expert here. I don’t sleep enough, don’t see my kids enough, haven’t been skateboarding nearly enough, etc. But on balance I do alright, maybe the above will be useful for someone. I’m also open to suggestions!
Grrlgenius note: I feel even more lucky that Ian made time to answer these questions – and, only hours after I sent them.
3) Did appearing on the cover of Billboard so early on in your TOPSPIN career add an extra layer of pressure to succeed?
Yes, it did. To be honest, it was too early for that much exposure, but how could we say no to something like that? It was great coverage, and I’m very thankful for it. It’s been a lot to live up to but we’ve been working our asses off to do it every day over the two years since!
4) The female numbers continue to decline for women pursuing careers in technology while your daughter Zoe is earning a degree at M.I.T. What advice do you have for women on why they should pursue a career in such a male-dominated field?
Two daughters and a wife — I’m surrounded by smart, analytical women so sometimes I forget the field *isn’t* dominated by women. But we’ve struggled to hire women at Topspin, we’re a male-dominated shop with only two women on our engineering team (Maria and Ana, but we have women in the company in business development, legal, finance, QA, and pro services) but not for lack of trying to hire female engineers, there are simply far less female resumes when you post a programming position.
Zoe attended a great UC program called COSMOS , which was established to take kids with an aptitude for math and science and nurture it before they decided it was “uncool”. They mentioned they see this in girls particularly, that often they show skills in math and science early but by the end of high school they’ve lost interest. I highly recommend anyone (female, male, or in-between) who has a glimmer of skills here early stick with it and just keep going. I didn’t know anything about Computer Science when I enrolled in the degree program in 1991. I think some people think “Oh I don’t know anything about algebra, I’m not going to take that class” so they take an English class because, well, I already know how to read. You have to remember that LEARNING is what those classes are about. Go in humble and ready to learn and you’ll do just fine. Ask questions when you don’t know. You’ll be surprised what you learn.
5) Why is information transparency a good thing and where do you draw the line at what to reveal?
Sharing is caring! 😉 Seriously, I’m convinced The Beatles were right — you get what you give. There have been so many times I’ve wondered if I should share what I was feeling, only to find there were other people out there who feel the way I feel, or who have feedback which could change the way I feel.
I generally only try to share things I think will be of value to at least *someone*. Not that it needs to be high value, but at least mildly entertaining or informative, etc.
People talk about “all the noise” out there online but those folks are really missing the point in my humble opinion. TV, radio, and billboards are noise because they intrude where you have no choice. If I’m reading a blog or a tweet it’s because I *want* to. I control who is on my list. Betray my trust and it’s one click for me to cut you out of my attention entirely.
Remember, the most awesome value of the Internet age have been people-powered, from Ebay to Amazon reviews to Yelp — even Google’s search results beat the competition because they were able to derive human intention through the links of the Web. Information sharing + filtering and attention management is legitimate value creation.