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“Not letting work turn into a cloud over your head helps fight burnout. Not everything is an emergency.” with Tommy Stalknecht and Chaya Weiner

I don’t know if what works for me would work for everyone, but I’ve largely given up on weekends in favor of working piecemeal throughout the day. If I am just not feeling motivated or working my best I’ll get out of the office or take some time to do something else. I’ll get the […]

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I don’t know if what works for me would work for everyone, but I’ve largely given up on weekends in favor of working piecemeal throughout the day. If I am just not feeling motivated or working my best I’ll get out of the office or take some time to do something else. I’ll get the work done, but on my time. Not letting work turn into a cloud over your head or unnecessarily stressful helps fight burnout. Not everything is an emergency.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Tommy Stalknecht of SINGLE MUSIC.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I went to Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) for the Recording Industry program. Whenever someone asks how I wound up there being from the Washington D.C. area I always credit a high school teacher of mine. He knew I was interested in music and in a deep southern accent said “You should go to my alma mater!” — he wrote my recommendation that week. After finishing my degree I wanted to make sure I put it to use and always focused on staying in the field I studied for. I landed a job at an Apple Store and quickly transitioned into a digital creative agency here in Nashville. The idea for Single came from first-hand experience with the artists I was working with using Shopify. I trace it all back to a simple recommendation from a history teacher.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

When I left my previous (and last) 9–5 gig I assumed my previous work would translate into freelance clients very quickly. I also assumed launching a bootstrapped company would take far less time than it did. Overnight I cut my salary to a third and had to scrap my way back to where I was before while working full time on Single. For the 2 years in between leaving that company and launching the app I was able to grow my freelance work to a point where that could have been a viable alternative. Working with a myriad of other small businesses gave me a ton of insight into things I should have been doing myself and kept me focused on the main goal — launching my company.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I am a strong believer in a social contract. When I had the idea for Single the first person I contacted was a college roommate and now co-founder — Taylor O’Connor. There’s no chance I could have built this on my own (he’s the backend engineer), but additionally having a close friend involved meant I couldn’t let them down. Every chance I had I would tell friends that I was pursuing an idea — they held me accountable simply by asking how things were going.

So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?

Very well. Since our launch in January 2018 we’ve grown to over 1000 artists & labels using Single to help power their Shopify stores — including Kieth Urban, T-Pain, Bruce Springsteen, and many others. As of July 2019 we’ve reported 260k+ album sales to the charts — including 6 #1 records. The team is growing and our name is coming up more in industry conversation. We’ve simply kept to our vision for where we want the company to be and continue to create things our artists need.

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 hired someone without asking a simple question — “Do you like music?” When I found out they did not we mutually decided it was best for them to leave the company. That love is intrinsic — it can’t be taught. I now have a long conversation about what they’re listening to and their relationship with music.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Unlike many music startups we are honest about what we are building. We’re not trying to make some fancy new network or technology that won’t be used. Single’s purpose is to solve and simplify problems that our artists and partners are having. If you hear that more than one person is having a specific issue and it could easily be automated — that’s a business opportunity. To gain the trust of our users since the beginning we’ve constantly requested feedback and ideas. We simply try to listen.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I don’t know if what works for me would work for everyone, but I’ve largely given up on weekends in favor of working piecemeal throughout the day. If I am just not feeling motivated or working my best I’ll get out of the office or take some time to do something else. I’ll get the work done, but on my time. Not letting work turn into a cloud over your head or unnecessarily stressful helps fight burnout. Not everything is an emergency.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My father has always encouraged me to go after whatever dreams I’ve had — he ran a business so he gave me plenty of advice when starting my own. The closest I’ve had to a mentor is Scott Welch. He’s now a senior advisor to Single and has over 30 years of experience in the music industry and startups — including StubHub, mp3.com, and a list of management clients that I still don’t know the full roster over the years. Recently I took my first trip to LA and Scott accompanied. Having someone to show you around town and make introductions is invaluable.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As a new father my focus is on raising my son in a way that will continue the positive changes we see in the world. There’s a ton of focus on negativity and its easy to lose sight of the progress humanity is making as a whole. As long as I can help create another respectful and thoughtful human being I’d like to think I’m contributing to the future.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

1.) Take things day by day — obviously you want to keep track of the bigger picture, but to reach that goal is a million little steps. Stay focused on the little accomplishments that will build towards the goal.

2.) Don’t take yourself too seriously — starting a business can be very isolating and not always “fun” in the traditional sense. Have a sense of humor with failures and move on to the solution when they happen.

3.) Be open — not everything is a curated instagram feed. Sometimes it sucks and things aren’t going well. Don’t be afraid to tell people when you’re struggling. They may have the solution, but don’t offer it thinking you have everything sorted out.

4.) If your business doesn’t pan out, so what? — Your experience and the fact you tried gives you knowledge that any employer would kill to have on their team. You can always get a job — it’s not the end of the world.

5.) Keep going — when things seem like they are at their worst a new opportunity is just around the corner. Stay the course, continue the work and you will create your own luck.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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’ve always said that if Single grows to where I believe it can that I would be an outspoken advocate for mental health in business — esp. at the higher levels. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for more than a decade, but I don’t let that interfere with my work. Quite frankly it makes me stronger when things are going poorly since I’ve already cooked up worse scenarios in my mind. Theres an unnecessary stigma that needs to be addressed and I hope that I can be an example of that.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

To be quite honest I haven’t used social media (aside from Reddit) for 3 years. I don’t personally check the Single social media all that often anymore. Maybe I will get back on Instagram at some point, but for now I’m enjoying the break.

Thank you so much for these great insights!

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