My Corner of the Web

Spinning the Decks and Startup Success: A Lesson from My DJ Days


Hey there, folks!

Did you know that once upon a time, I was a DJ? Yeah, you read that right. Not a Spotify playlist wizard, but an actual DJ. My brother and I formed this dynamic duo called Mischief and Mayhem. Here’s a little blast from the past if you don’t believe me: Mischief and Mayhem.

We had Technics 1200. We used this innovative software from M-Audio that let us stream mp3s through vinyl. It was like Serrato but in its early days. My beat was Indie house music, and we got to play at various clubs and parties in Toronto. This DJing stint spanned around two years, from 2006 to 2008.

Juggling life as a software developer by day and a DJ by night was no easy task. It meant late nights, followed by early mornings and the struggle to be punctual for work. The high-demand days were Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Was it exhausting? Yes. Was it worth it? You bet.

Music is a passion of mine. The thrill of being creative, the people I met, and the fun times made the sleepless nights worthwhile. And it gave me valuable lessons that still resonate with me today. The experience taught me the importance of being in sync with your target audience.

The most memorable DJ sets were those where I could feel the room’s pulse. I instinctively knew the next best track to play. I was predicting the audience’s mood, like a musical clairvoyant. I would tease the audience by mixing a new bassline with the high notes from the previous song. If they responded with an energy that matched my prediction, I knew I was on to something. The rush I felt at that moment - placing my bet on a track, dropping it, and seeing it pay off - was incomparable. It would give me goosebumps.

But it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. There were times when my chosen track would clear the dance floor. I realized it didn’t matter what I wanted; it was about what the crowd needed. I had to learn this lesson the hard way, in real-time, over and over again, until I honed my skill.

This experience was so transformative that, for a time, it almost spoiled music for me. My brother and I would be at a restaurant, hear a song, and start analyzing the next best song instead of enjoying it.

Fast forward to today, I’m no longer a DJ, but the lessons I learned from that time still shape my professional life. Building digital products is all about solving a problem for someone else. It doesn’t matter if a new feature is cool or a new technology seems enticing. It will fall flat if it’s not in sync with my target audience’s needs - like the wrong track would clear the dance floor.

Instead, I need to get into the minds of my users. Understand their needs, wants, and desires, and use what I learn to steer my roadmap.

This insight doesn’t mean I build whatever the customer wants. My brother and I often cringed as a DJ when we got song requests. We had honed our skill of picking the right track. Sometimes the demands were indicative that our set wasn’t hitting the mark. They were a signal to pivot or adjust our set, as user feedback can serve as an indicator to re-evaluate our product.

As founders, we get excited about new features, ideas, and possibilities. But we can become so focused on our beliefs that we fail to ask the crucial question: “Is this what our users need?”

Like in my DJ days, you need to read the room. We must understand what your users want. At best, we uncover their needs even before they realize them. And if your users are suggesting features, take a step back. You should analyze their requests and decipher what’s underneath. Users might not know the best solution, but they understand their pain better than anyone.

So next time you feel hyped about a new feature you HAVE to build, take a moment. Picture this: you launch it, and no one uses it. It fails because you misread the audience. Figure out why that might happen and how to mitigate those risks before building.

If you’re interested in how I manage risks, I’ve written a detailed post about it, which you can check out here.

As a DJ, I learned to read my audience and adapt my set to their needs. As a founder, I use those same skills to ensure I’m meeting the needs of my users. And trust me, when you get it right, it feels good. When your product meets your users’ needs, they can’t help but rave about it; you get the same rush I used to get when I dropped the perfect track.

So, whether you’re spinning tracks or building startups, remember this - it’s all about your audience.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy your weekend, folks!