Who should I surround myself with at the start?

Shows, theater companies, technology companies, etc. are all the same.

They tend to start with one person’s idea.  Maybe that idea is birthed in a dressing room or a dorm room, and then hopefully it grows beyond those walls, and turns into a billion dollar business.

I was talking to an associate recently who was about to birth a new theatrical concept here in the city. It was in its embryonic stage and he was looking for people to hire to help blow up this start-up.

Should he hire the best PR firm?  The best lawyer?  The best designers in the world?

While surrounding yourself with the best of the best is usually a great concept at any point in a company’s life, there is a price tag attached.  And yes, I’m talking about a literal price tag that most emerging companies and artists can’t afford.  But there’s also a price in whether or not the best of the best, who have a zillion other clients (probably bigger than you), have the time to devote to your new idea.  Will they have the passion to work through the night?  How important is it to them?  Will they work harder than you?

Maybe they will, and you’ll get the best of both worlds.

But in my experience, at the genesis of an idea, it’s better to surround yourself with people like you, whether or not they have the fanciest stationery or the longest resume.

Zuckerberg, Gates, etc. started their companies with the people that were in spitting distance of them, who they knew would work harder than anyone to learn what it takes to create a great company.

They chose sweat over style.

And when things started to get real, yo, they brought on the best later, when they could afford it, and when they could demand the attention they deserved.

A Question from a reader: “What happens if I flop?”

I was speaking to a class at Columbia today, and right after we solved all of the problems of producing on Broadway, I got this question:  “What happens if my first show right out of the box is a flop?”

I’ve gotten this question a few times before, and frankly I remember asking it to myself.

The first “anything” always seems to have more pressure, higher stakes and oodles of anxiety (shoot, I made a show about one of those firsts).

So what happens if your first producing venture doesn’t work?  Does that mean you’re dead in the H20?  Does that mean you hang your head and go back to WhereverYou’reFrom, USA to work at the local bank (if it hasn’t gone under)?

You can, I guess.  Or you can do what I do.

Whenever I feel nervous about failing with a show, I play a game called “FIND THE FLOP!”.

Wanna play?  You can’t win an iPhone with this game, but you can win some confidence and perspective.

Here’s how to play:

  • Go to ibdb.com.
  • Search for any producer that you admire and respect.
  • Scroll down and look at the beginning of their career . . . and FIND THE FLOP!
  • Then scroll UP and look at what they’ve done since then.
  • And then ask yourself your same question that got you to this game and you have your answer!  By the way, this game works great for every industry – look at the flops of Lincoln, Gates, Truman and Disney in this article )

One of the hardest things about being a theater producer ain’t union deals or authors agreements, or even the New York Times.  The hardest part about being a producer, or any business owner, is that we hire ourselves.  So if we fail, we’ve got to get up and do it again, because no one is going to do it for us.  If we don’t hire ourselves, then we don’t work.  And we have to find something else to do.  Or we don’t eat.  Period.

How do I stay motivated to hire myself?  (Can you smell a sports story coming?  Here goes . . .)

Baseball players strike out all the time.  And even if they “backwards K” three times in a row, if the team cycles through the lineup, they have no choice but to step back up to the plate again.  It’s how the game is played.

So teach yourself that you have no choice.  You’re a producer. It’s what you do.  If you had a choice you’d be doing something else.  You don’t.  So call me “Coach” if you want, but I’m not pulling you from the game.  You’re staying in, flops or not.

And have confidence that if you take enough swings, sooner or later you’re gonna hit one out of the park.

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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