Know your limits - Buskers and business ideas

I've been spending a few days in San Francisco with the family on a short vacation. We've been doing all the tourist stuff with the kids. Today the culmination of the day was a cable car ride from fisherman's wharf back to union square. I was stood in line holding our places when the busker started playing a Rolling Stones song. He was seriously struggling to hit the notes, it just wasn't his vocal range.

It really got me thinking about knowing your limits. Heck I was stuck in a 45 minute line and I didn't have anything else to do (with the exception of an amusing twitter interlude about the correct terminology for busker/street musician).

When Opportunities arise, take them

I was seventeen when I took off on a trip around Greece and Italy with a backpack and enough money for a month or so of frugal living. Just before leaving a friend gave me a harmonica "for something to do". I played it every day and after a few days could hold a tune of sorts.

After a few days island hopping I found myself in Spetses. Before I looked for a place to eat and sleep I threw my backpack and hat on the  floor by the beach to  gauge  my surroundings. I was playing a tune on the harmonica when a tourist threw some change in the general direction of my crumpled up hat. This donation was a new opportunity to earn some cash and maybe extend my trip. I moved my hat into a more visible position and kept playing. By the end of the evening I earned enough for some food and and a cold beer. If you've ever backpacked you'll know that's pure gold right there!

Building an idea

The following night I was prepared, it wasn't quite a business plan but I had a sign. I can't remember what it said, but I'm sure that it heavily promoted my need for cash and that I was "working" for it.

Spetses was a a little too quiet so I moved on to Corfu. It's a much busier island, popular with the tourists and had more earning potential. I spent an hour or so a night playing the harmonica and consistently earned enough for something to eat and a couple of beers. During the day I would practice on songs that people would recognize as I found that I got more "donations" this way -  A side perk was that I was considered a "worker" and got into the clubs for free.

Building the team

After a few weeks of island hopping I had started to tire of Greece and decided to head to Italy. On the train across the greek mainland I got talking to two Spanish guys who were also travelling through Europe. By the time we arrived in Athens I had shared my busking story and we had a plan to take the city by storm as one of them had a guitar.  We found a good spot and started playing, just jamming along making up stuff as we go. We thought our strength was the combination of guitar and harmonica. A much more robust sound, surely this would bring us a greater attraction from the crowd. It worked reasonably well but not as well as we'd thought.

Be flexible and willing to change direction

Athens was a different environment than the sleepy islands or tourist traps I had been working. We quickly discovered a secret weapon, the distinctly un-musical second Spanish guy.

We noticed our revenue increased rapidly when we employed him to manage the hat. In particular when he approached females. We quickly spotted the potential here and encouraged him to use his Antonio Banderas style good looks to earn us more money. In a matter of minutes we were raking in large sums of cash. On occasion he would  disappear  for minutes at a time, generally following a woman who had given him a particularly firm head shake only to return carrying wads of cash. For a few days we earned a lot of money and ate very, very well until we parted ways as I headed to Rome.

Know your limits, know your team

It's clear that I had neither the talent or smouldering good looks to pull off the revenue stream we achieved in Athens but it's a clear indication of how effective a small team can be if they rely on each other's strengths and know their own limits.

Every day we are challenged to create solutions and faster, better, stronger products. Without a strong team that knows how to balance each other out we'll struggle. The team can be physical and virtual, your social graph is as much a part of your team as your co-workers. Use their strengths and let them use yours.