Don't Get Ahead Of Your Skies

The Inventive Journey
Episode #344
Don't Get Ahead Of Your Skies
w/ Dave Combs

What This Episode Talks About:

How To Manage Business & Self


"Don't get ahead of your skis. Don't think your idea is so great that you're going to bet the farm on it. First of all, you need to make sure that your business model is solid and the best way to do that is to try it out in a small scale. You find a small venue like a restaurant or any kind of a franchise, you build one and make sure that it works, and I don't mean just hope it works. Run the numbers like I did with that first gift shop. I knew how much my CD's cost, I knew how many I sold and how much I sold them for and I knew what my net profit was. Bingo it's hard numbers you can't argue with them. So make your model, make sure it works, and once you've got a working model then you can go as hard as you can run with it."


 

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What Is The Inventive Journey?

Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.


ai generated transcription

don't get ahead of your skis don't think your idea is so great that you're going to bank bet the farm on it first of all you need to make sure that your business model is solid and the best way to do that is to try it out in a small scale you find a small venue you know like a like a restaurant or any kind of a franchise you build one and make sure that it works and i don't mean just hope it works run the numbers like i did with that first gift shop i knew how much my cds cost i knew how many she sold and how much i sold them two or four and i knew what my net profit was bingo it's hard numbers you can't argue with them so make your model make sure it works and once you've got a working model then you can go as hard as you can run with it and [Music] this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devon miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups in the seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller ip law we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks do you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat we're always here to help now today we've got another great guest on the podcast uh dave combs and uh dave comes or came from a small town in east tennessee and grew up in a musical family and did some things with his uh church with music uh hung out with a with a lot of other people that liked music as well became a director of the church choir-wise in college got a college or a degree in college for math and physics i think math and the math major and a physics minor wrote a song in 1981 called rachel's song that uh hit uh or caught a few people's attention wrote a ton more songs music books and other music or music related things i'm in 92 did music full time took a break for from about 2001 to 2007 and i was a i think chief information officer in washington dc uh went after 2007 went back to music and semi retired and then uh 2013 or 14 worked with his wife uh doing uh his wife worked with some comptroller jobs um in north carolina and uh he's continued to pursue a lot of the musical uh or aspects alongside of that so with that much is introduction welcome on the podcast dave thank you thank you devin it's glad i'm glad to be here that was uh i think you covered all the bases there it took me way back awesome well i always uh condense a much longer journey into the 30-second version of it so let's unpack that a bit so tell us a little bit about uh growing up in east tennessee with a musical family and growing up doing church music well i was fortunately to be born into a family where my mother and my father and my grandmother and a lot of aunts and uncles and cousins all played music down here in east tennessee i think as being a tennessean one of the requirements to be a tennessean is that you have to play a musical instrument of some kind i believe so anyway i grew up around music i loved music my father he played the piano by ear he he just would sit down to piano and just start playing now my mother she could read music she took lessons when she was a little girl and but my grandma combs she was only four foot eight but she could really sing and play she played an old instrument called the auto harp which some of your listeners may be familiar with it's just a stringed instrument that plays beautiful cords and she played an old organ back before they even had electricity they had a pump organ that you pumped by your feet you pump the bellows that run push the air through the organ so she would play the old pump organ and sing solos in her little country church and so i grew up grew up around music and i guess it's kind of in my bones in my dna and when i went to college i kept up my music i was working my way partly through college as a part-time minister of music at my home church and and i also worked in the computer center at college so when i graduated i went to work for a company called western electric back then which became later on at t and that my job was i was i'm a i guess a computer geek i i'm a computer programmer by trade and so i t has been my background and but all that time though i never gave up my music so it's like a hobby of yours when you have something you enjoy whether it's playing golf or whatever it is out of out of work hours you like to do your hobby so i i did my music all through my early working years and as you said i wrote a song in 1981 that changed my life it was a tune that didn't even have a name to start with called rachel's song and two years later it got its name rachel's song from naming it after our god child rachel and then it got recorded in 1986 and got on radio stations all over the country and even in australia and it just took off and it became popular and then i created a whole started writing more songs of course and one question just isn't taking off and you start to do more songs is that did you mention at this time you were also you got the math degree in the physics minor and you were working full time and this was almost the second time full-time job or side hustle whatever you want to call it so as things started to take off did you decide that you were going to leave the other career and pursue this full-time are you going to continue to juggle both of them or kind of as you're trying to decide what to do how did you how did you make that balance well let me back up even way before i even wrote rachel's song i was very uh had a desire to work for myself to work uh have i'm an entrepreneur kind of at heart and so i'd always been looking for i sure wish there was a way i could make a living working for myself well this song and my music kind of opened that door and it but it wasn't until i saw the business potential for this for my music that it really really opened the door now i have an mba from wake forest university so i'm a business oriented person and i know how to do analytics and analyze business models and i just didn't up until then have a business model that would eventually allow me to have my freedom as an entrepreneur and it was only until i got my my my music played in gift shops which is an another interesting story that i was able to make that model work any product that you have that is going to be sold needs to be first of all seen by the buyer hopefully experienced by the buyer so they know what you're talking about or at least vicariously through some other person that's you know saying this is really a good product and so you have to have a consumer and then you have to have the availability of the product well i had the product my music the problem was getting it out to all the people that i just knew would love it i knew they loved it because they i heard from them from the radio airplay people would write me letters about my music so i got it into me gift shops and eventually i got it into over a thousand gift shops all over the country and it was at that point where my income from my music finally i could see that the business model worked and it was my income far exceeded what i was making it my other career that i could say to my boss it's been nice working with you but i think i'll go do my own thing from now on so it was a long it's a long journey and you learn along the way of the do's and don'ts and the trials and errors and whatever but once you get your your focus on what you want to do and it you know that it works on a small scale you just multiply it like crazy and go for it now one question because you know definitely i've been in gift shops and you know you see the music but it's not the but i'll put quote-unquote the typical avenue that people usually take to get their music out there you know at least from my very narrower understanding is you know you go to record labels or you would go to at that time your cds your tapes you sell them in music stores or you know in those type of areas and gift shops you know didn't doesn't it readily come to mind as the area that where people would go to buy music so what made you kind of choose that path as the initial entrance and uh hey we'll go to a lot of gift shops and this will be a good avenue to get my music out there well you know to start with i was thinking exactly the way you were you know the way you you kind of go where normal normal things are sold back then we used to have something called record stores and some of those are actually coming back a little bit certainly with the resurgence of some vinyl records but still back then when you wanted music you went to a record store you wanted clothes you went to the department store you know is you had your places to go well i went to the music stores and approached them about carrying my music and i was really naive i thought they would just welcome me in open arms and say oh we're so glad to see we've been waiting for you to come in the door well it doesn't did not work that way they didn't know me they had never heard of dave combs and my instrumental music was so foreign to most of their ears they all all they wanted was rock music or country music or something that's the popular whatever is being played popularly on the radio well they wouldn't give me the time of day and so i was really that when i was really disappointed i didn't know where i was going to go and it was only through the the generosity and foresight of a lady that i worked with she had a friend who owned a gift shop who she gave one of my cds of rachel's song to and this lady played my music on the system in her gift shop now the name of the gift shop was america so she was playing john phillips who's a patriotic kind of music and then in her cd changer here comes my rachel song which is instrumental soft soothing music quite a contrast from the other and she said later on she told me that every time rachel's song came on in her shop all the customers in the store would stop and they'd go over to the counter and say jane do you have any of that music that you're playing for sale i want to take that home with me well she didn't and so she ended up calling me and saying dave you got to sell me at wholesale some of this cds so i can sell them to my customers so i did i took i said okay well i'll bring you some i boxed up a box of cds drove down to old town alexandria where her shop was took her a box of cds well i thought well this is great about less than a week later jane calls me and says dave all those are gone you got to bring me some more okay so i box up some more and go down to old town and take them to jane i made that trip every week for over a year she sold thousands of cds of rachel's song through that one little gift shop just by playing it in there to for her customers well that was the business model that went the light bulb went off in my mba mind i said okay that's what i got to replicate and so then is when i got busy finding other gift shops around the country that would play and sell my music and eventually getting over a thousand of them no i think that that is an interesting aspect of the journey and certainly kind of fun to see how you know there are always a traditional models and you know sometimes the traditional models working are great but oftentimes people are just trying to stick by the traditional model because that's what makes sense and that's what they others have told them and yet they they close their mind and they don't explore other avenues and yet if you're willing to when you look for those opportunities oftentimes it can present you know different avenues within which to make or to make your business or your ideas successful so i love hearing that so now with that so you say okay we start to sell the gift shops you know they play the music people like them they want to you know buy the music or be able to hear that or take that home type of a thing and so it provides a great avenue and a great context so i think then you took the next almost 20 years and then after the break it continued on but you took 20 years to continue to be in the music industry continue to put out songs and content books and musical books and other things and so what made you decide to in you know 2001 or so to take that or take a break for about five or six years from the music industry and go do something else well it had to do with my wife my wife we've been married coming up on 52 years and i've been very supportive of her career and she has mine and she is a very much a a smart lady and a very hard-working and a very much of a leader and she got a call from the white house saying we want you to come to washington to work in the back then it was the reagan administration and they wanted her to be a really high level official in the in the government in washington and so it was the uh that the trek when she went to washington this was her third appointment in washington third trip she was in there in the early 80s she was in there in the early 90s and then come 2001 she got the phone call again saying linda we we know your reputation you've been here twice already uh come on back we we need a chief emperor chief financial officer a cfo for the epa well she got interviewed and then took that job well we had already been commuting back and forth many years before and i didn't want to do that this time so i said okay i'll put my music business uh not on hold but i'm going to transfer it to a business partner so that i can free up my time and i'm coming to washington with you this time so that's why for five years linda and i both left winston-salem where we lived kept our house but we moved to washington to work she went to work as the chief financial officer and while she was there my i.t background i became the chief information officer for the united states department of agriculture so at least we could live together be in the same town and she'd go to the her over to the white house to work she ended up being the controller of the united states in the white house so she'd go over to the white house to work and i went to usda to work and then we'd come home in the evening so that was our look not a hiatus from the business it was just a kind of a little side track while we continued our our public service both of us feel very strongly about public service and and doing the right thing for our wonderful country and so forth so we did that from and we both came home in 2007 to pick back up and do the music from here which obviously by then as you know had changed dramatically from physical product to streaming and downloads everything's digital so now we're in the digital world of music and fortunately i jumped on every opportunity i could to put my music in the digital world i got it on pandora spotify you know all i heart radio amazon music itunes everywhere i could could find and it's it's there now and so i'm really fortunate that you can find my music rachel's song and all my other music in all of those venues no and i think that you know it's interesting that you know hey if my wife has got this opportunity it presents an opportunity for me uh we're going to do that for a few years we get to the end of that and you say okay i'm coming back now to the music industry kind of picking up a bit where i left off but hey the industry has changed and so i can either keep trying to do what i was doing before but that's less likely to work because the industry or i say what's the new opportunity so i think now you come back around 2007 you now have you know online streaming downloading you know all those things that it popped back up and so with that you know how did yes if i remember our conversation a bit he started to become an early adopter of online music and streaming and downloading and those type of things as an avenue to further reach your audience is that right that is exactly right and i'm still working hard at that and in that world as you know even with podcasts there used to be just a few handful of podcasts well there i don't know how many there are now you can probably tell me but there are thousands and and thousands of podcasts there's thousands of downloads anybody with a computer and garage band on an apple they can record an album just as good as we used to record in a million dollar studio so it's the world has changed it's much more competitive so there's a lot of additional out there but there's also devon a lot of noise that you have to break through how do you distinguish yourself i know you run into this all the time is how do you distinguish your podcast from all the others and my mind how do i get my music distinguished from all the other music that's out there it is a daily continuous challenge and right now i am really focused on trying to promote my my new book as you see here on my to my left touched by the music so i'm trying to get the word out because my book is full of these stories that i've told some about here today those stories are in my book and people that read it say wow i didn't know that about you well i said okay i'm glad you read it but getting the word out about my book and about my music through the podcasts and appearances on radio i was on a radio show this morning and talking with people it's just you just have to work at it daily and keep at it with uh publicity uh i'm not so much into advertising as i am into trying to go through getting the publicity out there and letting people know oh and i think that there's i like the a lot of the approaches and you've taken even from one of you know no matter what stage of life you're in where you've gone taking a break coming back you're always saying where's the opportunity how can i reach them and how can i pivot and adjust and you know some people are going to say well i've been doing it for 20 years or 30 years or whatever and it's worked so far and yet i agree that there's a lot of noise out there and it continues to get noisier rather than quieter so you're definitely having to look and see what are the avenues that you can stand out so i think that's a great approach um well as now as we kind of uh you know taking your journey got to the present day and kind of where you're at today always have two questions i'd love to ask at the end of each journey so we'll jump to those now so the first question i always ask is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made what'd you learn from it well one of the craziest in business decisions i made was when i thought i was going to sell my music on television in these scrolling ads like you see for time life or whatever selling the very so-and-so's music and the title scroll down the screen and the name of the popular artist is there and i thought wow this this and back then it was a brand new tv network called hgtv home and garden television brand new network they didn't have that many subscribers at the time but i invested i called them and i said i think i want to produce one of those ads for my music i can just say your audience is my is my audience these people love my music so i said how much would it cost me well i said let's see about i think we can do about uh maybe i think it was 20 ads for like 13 000 it was a and to me that was a lot of money i didn't have thirteen thousand just throw away so i called hgtv i drove over to knoxville tennessee where their headquarters were visited with them met the vice president they were a really small company at that time i met everybody and saw their facilities and they said oh yeah we'll do this so long story short they made me a beautiful ad that ran on tv and i said okay here's my 13 000 i have no idea how it's going to do but it and he said the the advertising guy said here's what i'll do he said we haven't done this before either he said but if you'll share the data from your sales with me so i'll have some feedback data on who who bought it where then i will i will run your ad until you are whole until you get your 13 000 back now you try that today nobody's going to make that kind of deal but it was a handshake and back then maybe today still with some people a handshake was as good as a signed contract well he ran my ads and i was prepared for the phones to ring off the hook and and the day it started i had already made up order forms you know big stack order forms and got an 800 number land like call center lined up everything well they ran the ad well i found out well maybe six or eight people called they'll run it again well maybe an eight or ten people call and they kept running the ad and finally they ran out of all my 20 ads and i hadn't probably sold you know three or four hundred dollars worth of music and i thought oh man i don't know what's going to happen i talked to the guy that shook my hand and he said don't worry about it dave said what we'll do is we'll run your ad in all of the unsold ad slots which they had late at night and so i became the king of late night tv ads you couldn't turn on hgtv now after midnight and not see a dave combs ad and you know they they had to run that ad for six years before i got all my money back now but he did it he ran it and and finally it was all over but they were good for their word but that's probably the i don't know that it was the dumbest decision i ever made because i probably i learned more from that than i than i spent i'm sure but that was one of the funnier quote dumb decisions that i made in my life i like it no i i on the other hand you got six years of advertising probably everybody that's listening and they wouldn't kill for that oh you wouldn't definitely do that so that is but it is funny that it took six years and it was on a handshake and it all worked out but that's an interesting and interesting uh you know dumbest idea sort of speaking quotes because you had a bit of stuff as you say but that's great second question i always ask is if you're talking now to someone that's just getting into a startup or a small business what'd be the one piece of advice you'd give them the one piece of advice is i get them is don't get in in the olympic jargon don't get ahead of your skis don't think your idea is so great that you're going to bank bet the farm on it first of all you need to make sure that your business model is solid and the best way to do that is to try it out in a small scale you find a small venue you know like a like a restaurant or any kind of a franchise you build one and make sure that it works and i don't mean just hope it works run the numbers like i did with that first gift shop i knew how much my cds cost i knew how many she sold and how much i sold them two or four and i knew what my net profit was bingo it's hard numbers you can't argue with them so make your model make sure it works and once you've got a working model then you can go as hard as you can run with it and it sometimes it will develop into a multi-million dollar business uh but they all start with a small germ of an idea and a business model that works so that's my advice is don't get ahead of your skis but stay with your program that works and then duplicate the heck out of it oh and i think that there's a lot of uh or good that's a great uh piece of advice a lot of times you know you watch the whether it's online you know late night shows you watch the online or you see youtube videos or whatever and it's always a get which get rich quick schemes hey if you just do some facebook ads and you just do this marketing do this thing or do this tip sometimes it works and sometimes you get lucky and it just takes off but more times than not if you would start out small kind of figure out the approach that works and what that looks like and then start to ramp it up you're going to have a much higher likelihood of success and this is trying one thing dumping it all in without even knowing though if it's going to work or not and i think that that's a great takeaway it's starting small so i think that there's a lot of wisdom to that well as people want if we wrap up the podcast that people want to first of all get your music they want to be a customer they want to be a client they want to be an employee with this are going and selling your music if you do that if they want to be an investor in all of your upcoming things they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out to you contact you or find out more well they can they can find all of my music and of course my book by the simplest way is just to go straight to my website which is combs music c-o-m-b-s music dot com and on on the first page you'll see my book over on the left and my cd of of rachel's song you'll see this whoops that's the back of it this is the front you'll see this on the right of of my website and you can click the links there and you can find my music my go to amazon.com to get my book or my book is actually available anywhere books are sold whether it's uh you know any bookstore so you can go to simplest thing go to combsmusic.com and check me out and also my email address if you want to communicate directly with me is dave combsmusic.com very simple just my name dave at combsmusic.com i read them all and i answer them all and i love to hear from people and you know my book is full of stories and many of those stories came from people just like the people who are listening to this today awesome well i think that's definitely a great ways to connect definitely plenty of information on things that people can check out and certainly invite everybody to do so well as we wrap up this episode thank you again dave for coming on the podcast it's been a fun it's been a pleasure now for all of you that are listeners if you have your own journey to tell and you'd like to be a guest on the podcast we'd love to have you just go to inventiveguest.com fly to be on the show um a couple more things as a listener make sure to click subscribe share leave us a review because we want to make sure that everyone finds out about all these awesome episodes and last but not least you ever need help with your patents your trademarks or anything else with your startup or small business just go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat thank you again dave for coming on and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last well thank you devin it's been my pleasure







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