One of my favorite entrepreneurs of all time is Jimi Hendrix. That might be a surprising statement at first glance, but studying this rock legend’s career is instructive for any aspiring entrepreneur.
Hendrix was a master of branding — everything from his flamboyant wardrobe to dramatic stage antics like setting his guitar on fire reinforced his wild, sexual, rock rebel image. These marketing ploys drew attention to his real competitive advantage, which was his genius guitar playing. His name became synonymous with musical excellence, and he is widely viewed as one of the greatest artists of all time.
Hendrix also created a state-of-the-art recording studio, Electric Lady Studios, that is still a popular choice today for top music stars like John Mayer and Patti Smith.
Hendrix’s two-hour performance in the rain at the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969 is a must watch for anyone trying to understand values and music of the ‘60s. It’s also a great example of Hendrix’s entrepreneurial instincts for grabbing and branding a moment.
Hendrix’s management had already negotiated him more money than any other performer from the festival organizers ($18,000 to perform plus $12,000 for the rights to film him). As the night went on, Hendrix decided not to go on at his scheduled midnight slot. Instead, he insisted on closing the show.
By the time he went on at 8:30 AM the following morning, the pouring rain had driven away many festival goers — but Hendrix took advantage of the moment to launch a new band name — Band of Gypsies. It resonated strongly with festival attendees who had been camping for days and waiting all night to see him take the stage. For his feedback-drenched rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Hendrix wore a white leather jacket decorated with blue beading, and a red head scarf.
I was reminded of how much I admired Hendrix on my walk to work today. I was hungry and a sign, Insomnia Cookies, caught my eye. The minute I walked into the little store on on 8th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, I knew what I wanted.
“The chocolate chip, please,” I said.
“You can have them for free,” a nice young woman replied, “Since it’s your first time here!”
Happily devouring my treat, I told her, “This is an incredible place. You should market it more.” We stood outside and discussed the store’s drab signage. As we walked back in, she said, “You’re right, we should market it more. The tour bus stops here for Electric Lady and the Jimi Hendrix Museum next store — we should really take advantage of that.”
“What?” I said in disbelief. “I give tours of the West Village, how could I not know that?”
My heart beating fast, I walked outside. Sure enough on the next door — almost hidden — were the words Electric Lady Studio. I rang the doorbell and a deep voice said, “Who’s there?”
“It’s a Jimi Hendrix fan — is this is studio?” I inquired.
“Sure is, he was a great artist,” said the voice.
Delighted and smiling, I responded, “Yes, and a great entrepreneur! Can I come in for a tour?”
“Not now. Go on the website and send us an email and we will arrange for a private tour.”
I ran home and spent the rest of the day reading about this legend. And then late tonight over a bowl of 15 and fruit I cranked up some Hendrix full blast and bathed in his genius — feeling fifteen once again.
From now on 52 West 8th Street will be forever added to my own private tours of the West Village, as another example of a great legacy left behind by an artist and an entrepreneur.
Photo credit: Tyler Simpson
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