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When COVID-19 swept the live events industry, Andy Sharpe decided it was time to start using the Scaling Up platform in his 18-year-old company, SongDivision, which provides live entertainment at corporate events.
He’d met me at an Entrepreneurs’ Organization event in Las Vegas four years early and been interested in applying the system for a few years. Now, with the meetings and events industry hit by the sudden shockwaves of the pandemic, Sharpe decided there was no time like the present. “Everything got canceled in March 2020,” recalls Sharpe. “I was running around making sure we had access to cash.”
Embracing the Scaling Up platform helped the 20-person company, founded in 2003, turn the situation around and grow. SongDivision performed at 1,200 events last year, increased in size from 16 people, and grew revenue 258% to more than USD 3 million from fiscal 2019 to 2020, according to Sharpe. Profits are up 579%, Sharpe says. He now plans to 10x the company’s revenue in 10 years.
Here is how Sharpe, who is based in Maui, Hawaii, and his far-flung team at the virtual company turned the situation around and positioned the company to scale up.
Turning leaders into readers
Song Division, which Sharpe founded in Sydney, Australia, now has outposts in Singapore, the U.S. and the U.K.
To get his team aligned, Sharpe asked his country managers to read Scaling Up: Mastering the Rockefeller Habits 2.0 at the outset. “It was instantly embedded into the company,” says Sharpe.
Embracing the Daily Huddle
He soon implemented the Daily Huddle—a step that, he says, scared him at first. He wondered how his very spread out team would pull it off but then realized it was best for the team in each country to hold its own huddle, given the multiple time zones involved across the organization. Each team set a time limit of 12 minutes or less.
To make sure the company got the most out of the huddles, he watched videos Scaling Up has posted online about how to structure them. “We are trying to follow the script,” says Sharpe. “We try to make sure the agenda is tight and there are no generalizations. I’m seeing the impact immediately.”
Giving it away for free
With business falling off a cliff at the beginning of the pandemic, Sharpe and his team knew they needed to fully embrace online events as part of their strategy. “Before COVID, virtual was like a poor cousin,” he says.
To spark sales, they experimented with holding free virtual happy hours—with better results than they expected. “The energy we get from in-person events happened on virtual, which we didn’t expect,” he says. “It’s the music. Music translates across Zoom. Our guys and gals are very good at it. People said that’s the most fun and engagement I had on Zoom since the pandemic started.”
It doesn’t hurt that Song Division has a unique specialty that’s high on entertainment value: team anthems. A musician on Sharpe’s team will attend a virtual corporate event and then sum it up in an amusing song at the end, followed by a virtual happy hour—bringing business content to life in a memorable way. “We’ll write songs about clients’ Core Values,” he says.
The free events–very popular with Song Division’s base of Fortune 500 clients–led to many paid engagements. In the past year, the company has done more than 40 events for Google.
“Rather than doing one-off team building events, we’re doing longer training programs that get measured,” Sharpe says. “The idea is to change behavior to increase results.”
Scaling a great culture
Song Division has always prided itself on the positive culture among its team members, many of whom are top session musicians from around the world. “Everyone has a genuine caring for each other,” says Sharpe. “There is a lot of love. We’re really good friends. There is a lot of teamwork.”
As the company has scaled, Sharpe wants to preserve this. He and his leadership team have completed the Function Accountability Chart (FACe) and Process Accountability Chart (PACe) from the Scaling Up platform, to make sure his team is deployed the way it should be, and someone was accountable for each function, so every team member can thrive. “We started there to make sure we had the functions right,” he says.
As a result of completing these charts, the company hired a part-time chief technology officer. “Our heads of marketing and head of finance were sort of looking after our systems,” says Sharpe.
Sharpe has also paid attention to the wellness of his team. As a company benefit, Sharpe introduced a personal development program where he brought in a life coach—a former television executive—to assist team members in achieving their goals. “She’s working with the whole team—not on business stuff but on what they want to do in their personal lives, he says.
Staying ready to pivot
With the Delta variant surging, Sharpe and his team plan to stay flexible in the coming months. They are planning both virtual and small in-person events at the moment. “I think it will end up being an even split,” says Sharpe.
But even if the virus forces the company to make other plans, Song Division will be ready. Its team is just getting started with the Scaling Up system, but Sharpe’s crew has already started finding ways to bring an element of fun to it, writing songs about things like its Core Values and quarterly themes. That included a theme on the seemingly dry but essential topic of accounts receivable. “We had a party at the end of it,” says Sharpe.