Sustainability is everything. Leaders often forget to ask an important question: is this a sustainable business? It is easy to dream up an idea and begin to implement, but some ideas are not always viable. Money is already uncomfortable to talk about, causing many companies to hold off on discussing this important aspect. It is essential for businesses to conduct market research and analyze their target audience so they can understand what is feasible and practical for the users. From there, the company needs to continually make decisions and revisit those choices, evaluating whether the company has the ability to generate and maintain profitability. However, this can be acknowledged both ways. Without monetization and profit, businesses can no longer provide for those who also may rely heavily on them, like employees, customers, and partners.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Goren. Andrew is the founder and CEO of Harmony Helper. As a passionate musical theatre actor, Andrew has been on a quest to develop the perfect way to learn and sharpen singing and harmonizing abilities. With over 10 years of singing and performance experience, his unique insights and vision have led to the creation of the amazing and elegant Harmony Helper app. Under his leadership, Harmony Helper is helping singers of all kinds effectively practice and improve singing performance anytime, anywhere, removing traditional rehearsal barriers so singers can deliver their best performances.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for musical theatre. When I was three years old, I went to my first touring show at Sesame Street Live. In elementary school, I played Baloo in the musical, The Jungle Book. After my first musical performance in elementary school, I learned how much I loved to sing and entertain people. I had a hunch that this experience would impact the rest of my life, but I at that time, I didn’t know how. After I saw Mary Poppins, my first Broadway show, I was completely blown away. I grew up watching the movie so it was magical seeing it come to life on stage. It struck a chord with me because the production had children my age playing prominent roles. It inspired me and left me dreaming about how to find a path to Broadway. From that point on, I was singing, rehearsing, and taking pitch lessons whenever I had the opportunity.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
The first professional show I booked was a role in a Christmas musical at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. I was only 13 and had the privilege to open the show with a duet. I had successfully practiced my part at home but as soon as the microphones and speakers were added, I was off pitch. I could hear the other person trying to sing in harmony with me for the first time and I could not focus on my part. I was devastated and embarrassed to say the least. After this experience, I was determined to create a solution that would not only help me but also help others learn how to harmonize. I founded Harmony Helper to give people access to the tools and technology to practice singing anytime, anywhere.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I overcame this challenge with the help of those I surround myself with: mentors, friends, and family. I was also lucky to work with people in my network who were inspired to help me bring this vision to life. Rob McClure, Broadway actor and Tony nominee, has been our artistic advisor from the beginning. Rob has offered valuable feedback, based on his industry perspective, and has been a friend to me through the ups and downs along the way.
My team has also been a huge asset to me. Their diversification of talent, creativity, and capabilities drive Harmony Helper’s approach to innovation and growth. Without those individuals who have dedicated their all to the success of this app, Harmony Helper would not be what it is today.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
It’s important for those who are considering this transition to not view it as a “backup” option. Instead, think about the happiness it provides you and use that to fuel your passion towards running a full blown operation. Even though this career pulled me away from being a full-time performer, I still feel as fulfilled off the stage as I do in my role at Harmony Helper. Not only do I get to be apart of the theatre and entertainment industry, but I also work with technology and lead an exciting company.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I take it upon myself to learn something new every day. Whether I am researching the choral market or collaborating directly with the development team, I keep myself fulfilled by learning new skills and techniques.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
Running your own business comes with obvious independence and flexibility. I wouldn’t exactly consider it a downside but a challenge that comes with operating your own business is the responsibility you carry in terms of ensuring employee and customer satisfaction. Balancing these responsibilities can get tricky. However, these challenges are diminished knowing I have the ability to bring my vision to life and help people all over the world. When I attend conferences and industry trade shows and see the excitement on people’s faces, I am quickly reminded of how our solution is poised to transform an entire industry. These types of reactions are what picks me up one the busy, overwhelming days.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
It goes without saying that starting a business is difficult. I think in the excitement of this new beginning you can easily forget just how hard it may be. You can have an idea and rally the team towards an ambitious goal. However, if you are creating something that is truly unique and differentiated from the market, it will take time. Over the past few years, we have been working tirelessly to bring a product to market that will completely transform the way people sing and practice harmonies.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
My position has more than its fair share of stresses, but I have never felt like it was time to throw in the towel. I feel that people use the term “real job” when discussing those who work in the entertainment industry — individuals who are performing without having some sort of viral breakthrough — but I have never seen it that way. If you are fulfilling your dreams, what makes that not “real?” That being said, I’ve had the privilege of bringing all of my favorite hobbies together into a product that has the ability to better the lives of performers everywhere. I want to see this one out.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I learned that on stage and in business, the adage is true: “the show must go on!” In one of my first shows, I woke up the day of the final dress rehearsal (and opening night!) with a 103 degree fever. Not wanting to jeopardize my role on opening night, I didn’t tell a soul and went through the entire day feeling absolutely terrible! I made it through, had a great show, and everyone was shocked to find out I had been sick the entire time. I mean, at the time it wasn’t too funny, but looking back it all seems a bit ridiculous.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
As cliche as it may sound, my parents have continually been my largest source of inspiration. My mother is my rock and is the driving reminder of a necessary work-life balance. She forces me to come up for air when I may feel buried with our projects and is always a listening ear.
Growing up, I knew I wanted to present myself like my father. He is a well-respected founder and entrepreneur who has grown a responsible and ethical business while staying accessible to his family, clients, and employees. He possesses an incredible drive and pure passion to serve his clients — something I do my best to emulate in my role at Harmony Helper each and every day. I cherish both of them immensely and continue to appreciate their unwavering support of my career.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
My dream is for Harmony Helper to be the great equalizer among the arts community. There are a number of studies that point to the academic success of those who have access to arts education. However, between the lack of budget in schools and the time of those teaching in the classroom, this access is extremely hard to come by. Even more so, students often feel left behind when preparing for an audition if they do not have access or cannot afford an educator to guide them. With Harmony Helper, I’d like for those without as much access to the arts to not feel left behind. I’d like to think that Harmony Helper will do just that.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Sustainability is everything. Leaders often forget to ask an important question: is this a sustainable business? It is easy to dream up an idea and begin to implement, but some ideas are not always viable. Money is already uncomfortable to talk about, causing many companies to hold off on discussing this important aspect. It is essential for businesses to conduct market research and analyze their target audience so they can understand what is feasible and practical for the users. From there, the company needs to continually make decisions and revisit those choices, evaluating whether the company has the ability to generate and maintain profitability. However, this can be acknowledged both ways. Without monetization and profit, businesses can no longer provide for those who also may rely heavily on them, like employees, customers, and partners.
- Having an idea is one thing, executing is another. Many founders strive to be a visionary in their fields, but their light quickly diminishes when they begin the development process without a well-organized plan of attack. In order to create a sustainable business, CEO’s must understand the importance of execution by holding themselves and their team to the deadlines that have been created. Without appropriate execution, businesses will not be able to thrive to their fullest potential, or perhaps even continue to be sustainable in their business model.
- Building a team is difficult. Putting a group of people together in a room can be easy, but creating cohesion and rhythm can be hard. At Harmony Helper, our team is composed of over 40 highly motivated technologists, designers and consultants with backgrounds in a variety of industries. With our team spread across the globe, we have had to overcome the challenges of communicating across different time zones, through the use of video chats and regular group syncs. We quickly learned the importance of transparency and over-communication as we are not all able to be in the same room at the same time. We have mastered the skill of over-communication, which has made a dramatic impact on our company’s culture and has helped support the bond we’ve worked so hard to create.
- The customer is always right It is extremely important for leaders to immerse themselves in the target market early on in the development of the product. Having walked in the same shoes as these performers, I understand the real challenges and pain points they face when preparing for a rehearsal, audition or performance. I also understand that our experiences are not identical and having that customer input uncovers blind-spots. For a product to reach its full potential, feedback must be heard from an abundance of users so the product can cross the finish line and be a successful resource for the communities it supports.
- Time is valuable. It is important for CEOs and other leaders in the role of business development to build out more than enough time for projects, calculating in the review and restart processes that are bound to occur. When creating a business or idea, it is rare to land on an idea the first try. Leaders are typically forced to backtrack and reassess how to launch their product, forging new timelines in the process. When thinking long term, buffering in this time will allow for a smoother and less stressful operation and execution items that need to be thoughtfully brainstormed. In order to make something great, leaders must allow ample time for the failures that will inevitably come before the successes.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d love to inspire theatre professionals to take their talents further than the stage. I would love for the skills of those who work in the theatre — their versatility, ability to improvise, and a deep commitment to their craft — to be noticed by those hiring at all levels and industries. I find it cliche that those in the performance industry are portrayed as serving tables at restaurants as their day job and are performing on stage at night. There are a number of actionable and needed skills possessed by those in the industry that can make a lasting impact on the success of a business. For example, members of the performing arts community are no strangers to commitment. Performers are committed to perfecting their parts — even when that means working beyond their scheduled rehearsal hours. Performers are also quick learners, able to skillfully learn new scripts and songs within days, or even hours before a rehearsal or show.
Can you please give us your favorite ”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Expect nothing, be grateful for everything, and you’ll never have a bad day in your life.” Every morning, I wake up and repeat this to myself to remind me to keep pushing forward on this journey. The quote speaks for itself, but it has helped me keep my footing in the rough waters and bring me back down to earth when I’m stuck in the clouds. I firmly believe if you remind yourself to be grateful for what you already have, you can feel dignified to seek more.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Walt Disney. He will always be an inspiration to me. His mantra is “all our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” This quote is something I’ve held close to my heart during the development stages of Harmony Helper. While he passed away in the 1960’s, to this day, I work to apply his vision, attention to detail, and ability to execute in my role as a leader and business owner. He is a great example of someone who successfully turned their passion into a career.
I’ll do my best but he HAS been dead for some time now, so it’s not looking good.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.