An Interview with Garrett Dodge

Garrett Dodge Interview

Garrett Dodge is the Co-Founder & CEO of Rockbot. He has a B.A. in English from Middlebury College and an M.B.A. from MIT Sloan we’re he published research on IT innovation. Garrett was a founding member of the Innovation Team at Caesars Entertainment and later ran marketing for a speech analytics firm.

In 2010, he founded Rockbot and has grown the company into a leading digital technology provider for brick and mortar businesses, powering music, entertainment, and customer engagement for many of the world’s largest brands. Garrett’s first concert was INXS.

In this interview, Garrett shares how Rockbot came about and what makes it unique from other existing music platforms available on the market. He also talks about what makes starting a business so hard and what you should do to overcome startup challenges.

Here’s his advice for entrepreneurs starting a business:

If you believe and you’re committed, there’s no better place to make dreams a reality than in the Unities States and Silicon Valley, specifically. You can startup a successful company anywhere but the great thing about the Bay Area is the sheer number of other people who have done it before and are happy to help you. Good luck!

What motivated you to start Rockbot? How did the idea come about?

My co-founder, Ketu Patel, and I had been working on mobile apps. He was in a bowling alley and loved using the jukebox but saw the opportunity for a mobile app to improve that experience.

As we began talking to our initial customers, we saw that the jukebox was just one example of how businesses use music and we evolved Rockbot into a platform for using music to create a customer experience across all types of businesses from bars to gyms to retail stores.

When you started Rockbot, how did you plan everything out? Any resources you used to write a solid business plan?

We didn’t write a formal business plan but did study many of the writings of leading VCs and startup authors including Brad Feld, Mark Suster, Open View Partners and others. Today, there are even more great resources.

I curate some of my favorites on Flipboard. From a more academic point of view my book list can be found on GoodReads. “Understanding Michael Porter” is a great one for thinking through business models.

What makes Rockbot unique from others (e.g. Spotify, Spinnr, Apple Music, etc.)? How did you find your competitive advantage?

Rockbot competes in a different market than companies like Spotify. We provide streaming media to brick and mortar businesses and focus on their specific needs. Those needs include things like managing thousands of locations, providing the licensing businesses need, and engaging their customers.

Have you ever gotten a disappointed client or customer? If so, how did you handle the situation?

Sure. As a startup, we’re always working hard to provide a world-class experience. Sometimes we fall short because expectations weren’t well understood or because individuals in our organization didn’t provide the best service they could.

We handle that by creating systems and processes to assess how we’re doing (for example looking at customer churn or support ticket response time). In terms of the response to an individual customer, we work hard to fix the problem as quickly as possible, communicate the shortcoming and fix with empathy.

Did you have a hard time starting your business? How did you handle time and resource constraints?

Yes, starting a business is one of the hardest things you can do. Before starting Rockbot, I thought my time at MIT or the marathons I ran were hard. Those experiences were great preparation but being an entrepreneur is much harder.

There are a few key ways to face the challenge: 1) Surround yourself with really smart people. People who have done it or parts of it before; 2) Study and learn every day. Look for both academic information as well as study other companies; 3) Don’t give up.

Overnight success is likely to take the next 5–10 years. Be honest with yourself if you’re ready to make that commitment. If not, go find a great startup to join early. There are many ways to go on the exciting journey of a startup.

What’s the biggest mistake that taught you a powerful lesson? Would you mind sharing how it changed your business?

One of the early ones was around fundraising. After winning the best music tech company at SXSW with only the beta version of our product, we spent most of the next six months talking to wrong stage investors and giving the wrong pitch. I wasn’t getting help from other people who had been through one or more rounds of fundraising and consequently took much longer to learn.

In the startup world, time is your enemy. The faster and more effectively you and your organization can learn the more successful you will be.

What do you attribute your success to? Is there a trait you have or a person who helped you along the way?

You have to have a vision for where you want to go and be able to break that down into individual pieces. Something like the space race is a good example. Getting a man to the moon is an overwhelming task when we hadn’t even been to space but it’s a solvable challenge when broken down into the pieces that make it up. Practice doing that everyday in all parts of your life.

When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.

Problem solving keeps me motivated. Tough times are just new problems to be solved. I go through an exercise to assess the problem and look for existing models for solving the pieces.

I take those models, assess them and adapt them to my challenge. If you think the process of solving problems is fun than tough times are just opportunities to learn and get stronger.

Is there a type of marketing that has worked amazingly for Rockbot? If so, how did you stumble upon it?

We’ve tried nearly every kind of sales and marketing you can think of often without first thinking about what types of marketing work for what product type, price point, or company stage. Today, we primarily do a mix of enterprise marketing and inbound marketing.

What are the three best pieces of advice that you would give to anyone starting a business in California? What do they need to know from the very beginning?

If you believe and you’re committed, there’s no better place to make dreams a reality than in the Unities States and Silicon Valley, specifically. You can startup a successful company anywhere but the great thing about the Bay Area is the sheer number of other people who have done it before and are happy to help you. Good luck!