Norm Brodsky is a veteran
entrepreneur. He is the co-author
of Street Smarts: An All-Purpose
Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs. Follow
him on Twitter: @normbrodsky.
If at First You Do Succeed …
You don’t need to try,
try again. Just finish
what you started
Growth is driven mainly by word of mouth,
although many people learn about the school when
they pass its storefront location on Bedford Avenue,
one of the busiest streets in Brooklyn. It also has
Groupon and LivingSocial deals that bring in prospects, about 70 percent of whom later buy packages
of lessons. In addition, Craig has organized workshops in local elementary schools and met with
parent groups to encourage more sign-ups.
Once clients sign up, they stick around—many
have been students at the school since it opened,
and children often stay in music school until they go
to college. Adults, too, tend to remain enrolled for
years, although some quit, for a variety of reasons.
“So what’s the problem?” I asked.
Craig said he was bothered by the amount of
time that his premises weren’t being used. He pays
a rent of several thousand dollars per month—retail
space in the neighborhood is among the priciest
in the country. Because the children come after
school and the adults after work, music lessons
happen only from 2 to 10 p.m. “Knowing how
much I pay in rent,” he said, “it just kills me that
nobody uses the place in the morning.”
He had an idea to open up a preschool nursery
in the space. He knew I’d helped a couple of women
with a children’s play space in Brooklyn. He wanted
to know if I would help him.
“How much do you know about starting and
running a nursery?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Well, I’ll be glad to tell you what I know,” I
said, “but it’s the last thing I’d encourage you to do. I mean, here you have a business where
you know what you’re doing. It’s your passion, and it’s growing, and you really haven’t had
to go out looking for customers. They’ve come to you. Now you’re thinking about starting
a new business you know nothing about? A business, by the way, in which it’s very hard to
make money. And with a nursery, you have to get all new customers every two years or so.
There’s also a ton of paperwork and licenses you’ll need. Then, even if it’s viable, you won’t
be creating long-term value.” I impressed on him that value in a business depends on things
like recurring income from customers who come back year after year—in other words,
exactly what he has at the music school, and what nurseries almost never have.
He obviously heard me. He left vowing to forget about the nursery and to focus instead on
having the best music school in the city. I promised to help him. And who knows? Maybe we’ll
figure out what to do with the unused space along the way.
THERE’S A COMMON MISTAKE many entrepreneurs make once they’ve had their initial taste of success. Long before they’ve exhausted the growth possibilities of their first company, they decide to start another one in a totally unrelated business they know nothing about, and they end up spending time and money on it that should be put into building their origi- nal business instead. The risk is that they’ll end up failing at both. Let me tell you about Craig Howe, a young
musician I know who started the Williamsburg School of Music
in New York City’s borough of Brooklyn about four years ago. He put
together a faculty of professional musicians who give instrument
and voice lessons to children and adults.
The school has had a promising start. Craig told me he has about
400 regular clients, fairly evenly split between adults and children. A
single half-hour session costs $60, but almost everyone buys a package of lessons—five at $45 per session or 15 at $40 per session. The
teachers, who work part time and have outside musical careers, earn
about $30 an hour.