June 04 2014

5 Things Bonnaroo Can Teach You About Workplace Culture

bonnaroo2This past weekend Sean Phipps of Nooga.com and I survived a weekend at Bonnaroo courtesy of the Lamp Post operations team. We were two of the lucky winners in a drawing for Bonnaroo passes– all we had to do was fill out a survey saying what we would like our work culture to be like, what benefits Lamp Post could offer its employees, and where we think LPG could be improved. Next thing you know we agreed to attend together and were off to a farm in Manchester to see some of the best live acts currently on tour.

When it comes to getting to know your coworkers, there are few more efficient ways than sharing a tent for the weekend in the sticky Tennessee summer time. Yet despite the heat and occasional challenges facing any first-time festival goers, we left knowing a lot more about one another, and a lot more about working in startups. Music festivals and entrepreneurship have a lot more in common than you might think. After all, they can be grueling, exhilarating, inspirational, challenging, and a whole lot of fun.

Here are our top five takeaways:

Never underestimate the value of your network

At Bonnaroo, you’re in close quarters camping with thousands of strangers, sharing sinks, showers, and (gulp!) a limited number of port-o-potties. Sean and I made friends with our immediate neighbors at the campsite, and not only did we have more fun, but they helped us out with the stuff we forgot, like an extra tarp for some much-needed shade. Startups are much the same. A new acquaintance might be able to send business your way, or know the perfect person to fill out your growing team. They might be a potential investor, or a journalist willing to cover your press releases. They could be a friend and mentor willing to offer advice and let you pick their brain fee-free. Never underestimate the value of making friends and helping one another out, whether you’re just getting started or you’re a pro serial entrepreneur.

Creative problem solving

It’s a fact of life that things are going to go wrong at some point, and it’ll be up to you to find a fix. Whether it’s patching some code or jerry-rigging a tarp, it’s important to stay positive and think on your feet.

Strategy and pacing are pretty important

Going in to Bonnaroo, Sean and I had a good idea of what bands we wanted to see. We didn’t make it to all the shows we wanted to see, but we saw most of them, because we went in with a plan. We got a strategy together that gave us a chance to see our top acts without getting burnt out or overtired. Having a plan from the start is just as important when you’re building a business. You might not stick to it, or you might need to change it, or you might throw it out altogether when you need to pivot or switch things up, but you still need a plan. You have to know where you’re headed so you can pace yourself. You don’t want to burn out, or miss a crucial opportunity because you didn’t see it coming. You need to budget your time, your money, and your energy carefully if you’re going to see your startup through from inception to IPO.

Culture is key

Being like Bonnaroo is like dropping onto another planet. Everything is designed to be fanciful and fun– even the water fountains and information booths are crazy works of art. Positivity is the rule, and people make friends quickly when they’re all thrown together in this strange, awesome weekend together. There’s no reason work can’t be like that, too. The key is to be intentional and focus on the details. When you spend at least eight hours a day together, often under stressful circumstances, you want your workplace to be supportive and inspiring, from the office design to the team-building to the fonts on your newsletter. If you commit to culture to the same degree as Bonnaroo, your employees will feel it, and it will help them feel they are a part of something special.

Practice self-care

It would have been easy at Bonnaroo to get burned, whether a sunburn or just plain burnt out from too many great bands in four days. The heat is punishing, the sun is way harsh for pasty pale writers like Sean and I, and the best acts go long into the night. It was important that we stayed hydrated, ate well, rested plenty, and let one another know when we needed some alone time or just peace and quiet. That’s good advice for pretty much every day of your life, whether or not you’re at a music festival. Drink plenty of water. Fuel your body with fresh, healthy food. Get enough sleep at night. Give yourself downtime to focus on something beyond work, whether it’s a hobby, a good book, friends and family, exercise, or a long walk. You aren’t going to make it to the next big thing if you’re still beat from whatever came before. You never know where you’ll get your next big idea or useful perspective even (and maybe especially) when you’re having fun. Part of being an entrepreneur is being a lifelong learner. Whether you’re at a lunch-n-learn or a summer music festival, there’s always a take away that can make your business stronger and help you work smarter.