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What Startups Can Learn From The National

I went to see the band The National in Boston last Thursday night on the campus of Boston University with my wife, Katie. Leading up to the show I told dozens of people I was going to see them and not a single person had even heard of the band.

This is a band I’ve realized now that most people have never heard of, but they have a loyal and enthusiastic following that is obsessed with their unique sound and catalogue. I learned of them about 5 or 6 years ago when I was listening to SiriusXM and it was a live concert of ‘The National’ from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. I was so intrigued by a band that could a) be live on Sirius and b) sell out the Barclays without me ever hearing of them given I’m an indie music enthusiast. I ended up buying a few of their albums, watching an Austin City Limits concert and getting hooked. It’s one of my go to airplane music bands. Their almost haunted sound is part soothing, part inspirational, part reflective.

For those who’ve followed me over the years, they know that I’ve done a lot of integration of music into the brands I’ve built and made correlations between emerging artists and startups fighting and clawing for relevancy, customers and scale. The same grit and grind exists in both professions. And there is just something so motivational and poetic when a band or startup rises to success.

The National are a fascinating group of artists with two sets of brothers in the band and have been at it for nearly 20 years (formed in Cincinnati, OH) slowly winning over fans and keeping them. You know I love that. How can you not love a success story like this? Everyone in the crowd last night was singing every word of every song. It didn’t seem like there was a casual fan in the house.

But get this, as this is where the lesson lies: engage your fans. Connect with your customers. Have empathy. See the world the way they see you. They did something, consistently, that I’ve never seen a singer do with such comfort and ease without missing a word. The lead singer, Matt Berninger, would walk into the crowd, face his own band, and sing the songs that he had written. I’ve never seen an artist, outside of mosh pits and crowd surfing singers of hardcore bands, get that intimate with their fans, almost experiencing his own show the way we were all experiencing it. It wasn’t like he just did this on the floor seats, he literally climbed into the stands, went up a dozen or so rows and participated as if he was on both sides of the equation. He flipped the perspective and truly made you feel a part of their journey.

All startups and all bands can learn from The National as they get out of the Gates, stay the course, play the long game, embrace their fans, be loyal, and take their craft seriously. Every. Single. Day.

“I can’t explain it any other any other way.” – The National



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