Nate Shaw, co-founder of Brooklyn Music Factory, always knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. As luck would have it, he was able to pursue his passion as well as become a successful entrepreneur. But like many who are bold enough to set out on their own business journeys, his road to becoming an independent business owner was not easy. But he didn’t let that stop him. This is his story.
When Nate was six years old, he wrote in a Dr. Seuss book that he wanted to be a pianist when he grew up. Inspired by his family, as his mother was a painter and printmaker, his brother and cousin musicians, he was also surrounded by business people—his dad was an entrepreneur, his mother and her husband owned a movie theater–creativity and business were the foundation of his household.
A prodigy in the making
With both of his parents’ full support, Nate started taking piano lessons and guitar lessons and his mom bought him a drum set when he was 17, which is the very one he still uses in his studio today. He played music every day and it became a huge part of his life. His dad offered him their garage for practice. He was an artist. While his family validated his passion, he never thought it would turn into something he could do for a living.
“I always practiced drums and played drums, but I never thought of it as a path of any kind,” Nate said. “I'd come home from high school and it'd be great therapy. I would sit and play for an hour along with my favorite Police records. And if you remember high school, it's brutal. You need an outlet.”
When Nate was in 11th grade, he took a music theory class. His world opened up, and he realized that music could stimulate his thinking. From then on, he was hooked, but he still didn’t see it as a career path.
“For me, it was a brain game. It was puzzle-solving—music theory to me was just cool—which, by the way, is exactly one of the reasons why I love being a business person,” said Nate. “It's a nonstop puzzle; you're always trying to find solutions and you're always going back to books to study it and see what other people did.”
He went on to attend a liberal arts college to pursue hotel management and took piano lessons from a teacher there named Don, who was considered a ringer, also known as a professional musician who comes in and helps train the college band.
“He was a total romantic; he liked to put his feet up on the piano while I was playing,” said Nate. “I was getting more and more interested in the piano as a vehicle. The next few years of my life, it was basically trying to live up to his standard.”
At the same time, Nate was figuring out the process of learning his craft, which was the piano. It was understanding what it meant to develop technique.
“[I learned] to go from one hour of practice to three hours of practice in the day to five hours to eight hours,” Nate said. “That's a process actually, and it's very analogous to what I do now in business.”
The student becomes the master
After college, Nate began his career as a professional pianist. He formed a jazz band, made three records, bought a van, and traveled all over the United States for 15 years.
Then, he had kids, and life on the road was no longer a priority. He had to pivot and shifted his work to scoring for T.V. shows, but it wasn’t a good fit.
“I did that for a while and then I knew it wasn't for me,” said Nate. “Too much alone time in a studio plus crazy deadlines, which I didn't mind. I always need a deadline.”
However, by this point, Nate’s children were in elementary school and their friends were interested in taking piano lessons, so he started teaching his kids’ friends the piano.
“I had always taught and always had students along the way because that's very normal in the arts,” said Nate. “You're either doing it to fund your passion as a musician or you're doing it because it's a way to give back. For me, it was always the combination of both those things.”
Nate realized how much he absolutely loved what it meant to be able to launch a child’s musical journey. His entire roster of students came via the “playground network,” which was his marketing plan at the time. One year later, the Brooklyn Music Factory was born.
“The Brooklyn Music Factory provides an alternative to the standard method of music lessons, where musicians are inspired and community is built,” said Nate. “Every lesson is designed to bring maximum joy, through game-based learning and gig-style recitals where kids play with other kids and are backed by professional musicians.”
The identity crisis
During the first few years of his business, Nate felt like he could continue to say “I’m a jazz pianist; I’m an artist.” But as the business grew, he saw his life as a creative artist and playing gigs getting further and further away in the rearview mirror.
In front of him, he saw sales and marketing conferences, which he very much enjoyed. It was at his very first Infusionsoft conference in 2014 that he realized he was in total conflict: what was his identity? Could he be both a business person and a musician? When he asked Seth Godin this question at a Keap conference, the answer was “yes.”
Seth went on to say, “Nate, you're limiting the scope of creativity. Most of the business owners I know are highly creative individuals, but they're creating and sculpting something different. You're using all of those same tools that you've been working on for your entire career. How do you learn how to be free with the information? How do you assess once you've created something: what's working and what isn't?”
This opened Nate up to the idea that he could be both of those things: an artist and a CEO, and he was able to validate that in himself and step into his position without limiting his creativity.
“At that moment I said, wait a minute, I can be all-in on trying to be the best sort of business person I can be and not checking my life as a musician at the door,” said Nate. “I'm just really, really interested in this other thing. [But] I'll continue to play songs with my family and I'll continue to play a few gigs every month with my friends.”
Nate believes that a never-ending part of the adventure is honoring your creativity and trying to open that creativity.
“As my piano teacher used to say, ‘When you're born, your faucet is fully turned on. You are just 100% open to creating whatever it is you feel like on that given day or hour,’” said Nate. “Then as we age, the spicket starts getting turned off and you don't identify yourself as a creative being anymore. How do you keep that turned on regardless of what your path is in the moment?”
Nate wanted to ensure that he didn’t just cater to the business side of his company–that he was balancing both of his passions, as being an entrepreneur and a musician.
The musician CEO
Nate finally resigned to the fact that he was a CEO, and with that, he could transform his business and control the way he ran it and how he could interact with his staff and his customers.
He realized he could make more basic choices such as deciding to wrap up his day at 3:30 and go out in the community room to play music with some of the students instead of looking at his cash flow spreadsheets.
Nate has been able to lead his business creatively with the faucet turned all the way on, as he empowers his employees and students alike to be curious about who they are supposed to be. He validates their paths, and in turn, helps them validate themselves.
“Sometimes people can be more open because they think, ‘Whoa, if this is true in this business [you can be both and validate your dreams], then I can definitely do my thing,’” said Nate. “They're just a little bit more open because they think, ‘Well, how is a musician ever going to put together a sustainable multimillion-dollar business?’ But then they hear stories [of those who have] and I think there's some value there.”
Nate has been an Infusionsoft by Keap customer since July 2016 and uses the software in a variety of ways to streamline his business including:
“We use it to organize all of our customers [and] all of our prospects,” said Nate. “[Then] we segment those lists. We serve those based on what their interests are with very specific email marketing campaigns.”
Nate said they track every single one of their contacts and how they arrived at Brooklyn Music Factory– whether they came through Facebook, Instagram, Google or organically–they track all of their historical data with families.
“For example, if you want to know exactly who enrolled in our summer camp in 2015, that's only a couple of clicks away,” said Nate. “If we want to know precisely what a family said on their NPS survey in 2017, that's captured in a test and field and if you didn't shop, I will literally pull those reports and look up what families were saying about us four years ago. And that takes me less than five minutes to start reading through all of people's responses.”
Nate also said he enjoys seeing his ROI report and how his return on the investment through different digital marketing channels is performing by looking at how his metrics are behaving on Google.
Nate also boasts about how automation specifically helps him be much more strategic with his resources. Someone mentioned to him once why most businesses fail and it’s due to a mismanagement of resources, time and money.
“Automation is all about managing our very precious few resources in the best possible way,” Nate said.