“The best business leaders are the ones who have built teams that can do a lot of the work for them.” Matt Fiedler, co-founder and chairman at Vinyl Me, Please, speaks to Robbie about operationalizing a subscription business to scale. He also talks about the importance of building teams, systems, and processes that will eventually allow you to step back as a founder.
So you launched your subscription model. You proved that there were people who wanted what you were offering, and that those people would continue subscribing after joining. You’re holding everything together with paper clips and duct tape, maybe with your kitchen table as global headquarters. Now it’s time to operationalize your business. You need a real team, systems to support your processes, and metrics to let you know how the business is doing.
Today’s guest, Matt Fiedler, is the co-founder and chairman at Vinyl Me, Please, a record of the month club and online record store. After launching in 2013, Matt successfully scaled VMP to more than $15M in revenue, while establishing the brand as one of the largest DTC vinyl retailers and one of the most admired and respected brands in music.
Today, we’re talking about how Matt scaled Vinyl Me, Please from a labor of love for a few fellow music fans to a $15M business, how he operationalized the business without losing the personal touch, and how he recognized when the time was right to step back as founder.
Listen to the podcast here:
When & How to Scale Your eCommerce Subscription Operations with Matt Fiedler of Vinyl Me, Please
You launched your subscription model, you prove that there are people who wanted what you were offering and that those people would continue to subscribe after joining. You’re holding everything together with paper clips and duct tape, maybe with your kitchen table as global headquarters now it’s time to operationalize your business. You need a real team, systems to support your processes, and metrics to let you know how the business is doing.
Our guest, Matt Fiedler, is the Cofounder and Chairman at Vinyl Me, Please, a record of the month club and online record store. After launching in 2013, Matt successfully scaled Vinyl Me, Please to more than $15 million in revenue while establishing the brand as one of the largest direct-to-consumer vinyl retailers and one of the most admired and respected brands in music. In this episode, we’re talking about how Matt scaled Vinyl Me, Please from a labor of love for a few fellow music fans to a $15 million business, how we operationalize that business without losing the personal touch, and how he decided when the time was to step back as a founder.
Welcome to the show, Matt.
Robbie, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Take me back to the day when you sent out your first shipment. Can you tell me what that day was like and who you were sending those early boxes to?
When we first had the idea for what became Vinyl Me, Please, it wasn’t we were looking at some charts and saw a tremendous business opportunity in vinyl. This was mid-2012 that we were thinking about the idea. It was the beginning of the resurgence of vinyl. For us, it was born out of this curiosity. Spotify had entered the US, and the whole model from a consumers’ perspective was changing from paying for ownership to paying for access, and that was great. Spotify has totally transformed the way that we listen to music, the way that we share and discover. There was a piece of that experience that felt it was missing.
When I was a kid, I had a ton of CDs. My dad had a big record collection, and that tangibility, that tactile experience with music was something that I appreciated. When we had the idea for Vinyl Me, Please, it was a series of what-if questions, “What if there are people like us? What if there are people that want to discover new music, build a record collection and maybe don’t know where to start? Most importantly, what if there are people that want to connect and be with other music lovers around the world?” That became the seeds that initially grew into what is now Vinyl Me, Please. In December of 2012, we basically put up a landing page and had an email capture. We shared it on our first personal Facebook pages or LinkedIn pages or whatever it might be and said, “We’re going to try this thing, put your email, address it in if you’re interested. We had 50 people sign up and it was funny because we had a lot of people that were like, “Why would I pay people to pick music for me when they don’t know what I like?”
We weren’t preaching personalization. We weren’t preaching a lot of the algorithmic things that were starting to become popular at the time. It was more of this is a journey to discover new music and build the record collection. From that 50 or so people that put their email in, about 12 of them signed up in their first month, which is funny if you look at where the business is now. It started with twelve people. Strangely enough, I don’t think we had that close connection with those twelve people.
It was people that had put in their email but I don’t know how they found out about us. There were maybe 1 or 2 people that were close friends at the time, but it wasn’t all friends and family. In terms of what they said they were like, “This is interesting. This is exciting. I don’t know quite what to expect, but it seems like a journey that I’m willing to go on. I’m interested enough in building a record collection and in discovering new music that this feels a pretty low cost way to try and do that.”
You talk a lot about credibility. And even in that story that you shared, there are two kinds of credibility. There’s credibility within the music industry so you send off an email to someone’s manager and say, “Send us some records and we’ll pay you later.” On the other side, you have these subscribers who are trusting you with their music collection. I talk a lot about how trust is critical especially in subscription businesses because you’re asking for long-term commitments. I’m curious about how you thought about credibility especially when you’re getting started.
Trust and credibility and all that stuff are things that are built out over time. For us, credibility came from the fact that we were continuing to show up every month. We were continuing to deliver. In the early days, we didn’t have any money to spend on marketing so we tried to make our product as exciting and as remarkable as we could. When somebody received it, they would take a picture and put it on Instagram, Facebook, or tell their friend or what have you and generate that word of mouth marketing.
As we started to expose people to things that they wouldn’t have otherwise discovered, the value prop became clear for Vinyl Me, Please, and that it was an experience. It was much of a journey. The value in the curation was there. That allowed us to build credibility and that has grown over time, now you can go to our website, you can see effectively a resume of titles that we featured, of artists that we’ve worked with in the past.
You could quickly say, “This is interesting for me. I haven’t heard of this. I’ve heard of this. It’s familiar but this is totally new and undiscovered.” That’s unique and people find a lot of value. In the first couple of months, we had nothing to stand on. By the time, we had twelve months under our belt, we had twelve things that we could go back and say, “This is who we are, this is the type of music that we feature. If it’s for you, great. If it’s not, that’s fine, too.” We weren’t trying to force anybody into it.
Why would established musical acts give you their inventory? Was it hard to get that inventory? Why did they trust you early on? How did you build relationships with them? As an outsider, I’m not a vinyl expert. I would think you go and you buy some inventory, and they give it to you if they have it because that’s business. It sounds like it’s not that easy in the world of music. I’d love for you to share some of those challenges on the acquisition side, on the music side that maybe people might not understand. It’s different than let’s say buying a certain product at a store and sticking it in your box.
In the early days, we were working with unestablished artists. Buying 10 or 15 copies of a record was a huge deal for them. They weren’t selling that many in a day or a week or whatever. Getting the opportunity to sell that many records at once and be a part of this story on this platform was something that was unique to them. It was a high dollar value and high margin. Streaming in general, for a long time, has been criticized for artists earning pennies on the dollar for one play music. To be able to go to an artist and say, “We want to buy 15 or 20 copies,” they were like, “That’s amazing. You’re going to celebrate me. You’re going to talk about me for an entire month. You’re going to introduce me to people that have never heard of me before, that’s great and exciting.”
The bigger artists at the time did not care. They could sell that many records by sending out a single tweet, in seconds, or whatever. It took time for us to prove who we were and the fact that we were willing to take chances on some things and some artists that were unknown, undiscovered and unestablished and grow from that. To be able to bring that to a bigger artist as our inventory demand grew and as we were buying more copies, it then became a key piece of their business model.
To summarize, especially early on, you were going with lesser-known acts so they were grateful to you for the opportunity. From that, you were able to build credibility with the more well-known acts, and when the well-known act saw who you had picked that also added to your credibility. They said, “These guys have an interesting taste of point of view. We’d be comfortable and happy to support them, even though we don’t have to because our business is going well.” If you are going to describe your promises to members, what is that promise that you make to a member, “Subscribe to VMP and we promise,” what?
That’s something that we’ve always struggled with in terms of articulating. The basis behind the company and our mission is this idea of exploring music together, which is about bringing people together through music. What we’re trying to do on a monthly basis is create transcendent and tangible journeys through music. Vinyl Me, Please is not necessarily for the people who know exactly what they want. It’s for the people that are willing to go on a journey and that are willing to take a chance on something that they may or may not know.
We always say that a huge piece of discovery of listening to new music is a process of self-discovery as well. When people start to look at Vinyl Me, Please, they start to consider Vinyl Me, Please and they’re looking at all the things that we’ve done in the past and all the artists that we’ve worked with in the past. It’s a mixture of things that they’re familiar with and things that they’ve seen before, maybe heard of before, and maybe albums that they love. There’s also a healthy mix of things that they’ve never heard of before. Things that they’re like, “What is this?” They listened to it and they’re like, “This is amazing. I never would have discovered this otherwise.” That’s the peak experience that we’re trying to offer with VMP. It’s a mixture of that familiar music, those names that are the homestyle cooking along with the things that are totally undiscovered and unique, and being able to craft those journeys for people through music.
In terms of the promise you’d make, if you were sitting on an airplane back when we traveled, next to somebody, how would you know that they were the person who would get great value from Vinyl Me, Please? How would you describe it to them in an elevator pitch way or in 1 or 2 sentences? “You should join Vinyl Me, Please because?” Why?
The way that I would often say the first thing I’d say is, “It’s a Record of the Month Club and online record store.” They’d be like, “That’s crazy. They’re still make records? They’re still selling records?” I’d be like, “Yeah, it’s great. It’s this cool way to listen to music because it’s a tangible and tactile experience.” You have the opportunity to go deep and get a much deeper connection with the artists and with the music. We have a bunch of different ways you can interact with the company.
We’ve got three different subscription tracks that all have a different flavor of curation. There are essentials, which is a mixture of everything. There are classics, which are centered around soul blues and jazz music. There are rap and hip hop, centered around rap and hip hop. When you sign up for a subscription, we send you a new record, something that we’ve selected based on what we think is essential to the modern vinyl collection.Building a business is a steady process of letting go of the things that you once did and giving them up to other people. Click To Tweet
It’s pressed exclusively for our members so it’s something that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s bound to be something that’s interesting and unique in some capacity. Maybe it’s something that you heard of before, maybe it’s not. It’s not necessarily a question as to whether or not you like it, it’s an opportunity to listen to something new. It’s an opportunity to get a deeper sense of who the artist is and the frame of mind that they were in when they were making the music. Hopefully, through that process, you’re able to discover something new about yourself for the world or whatever it might be.
Can you describe Vinyl Me, Please, as it is now? Who is your ideal member? How did they interact with you each week?
The basis with which we started the company remains true now. We’ve done a lot of work over the last few years to get a better sense of what was that initial DNA and how we articulate it. Tactically speaking, there’s a subscription model, so now we have three tracks. We’re launching a fourth one for VMP country, but then there’s also traditional eCommerce and we have another product called Anthology as well.
You can come in and interact with VMP in any of those contexts. If you’re a member, you sign up for a subscription, you get special perks inside of eCommerce. You get discounted pricing, free shipping and first access. If you don’t want to subscribe, if you’re not ready to subscribe, you can still buy things from us through eCommerce, those things are going to be priced at a premium and you’re going to have to pay for shipping. You can follow us on Instagram. We have a weekly email that we send out as well that is a bunch of new content, playlists and music to listen to.
Our cadence is on a monthly basis, so every month we’re sending out a new record for the subscribers, but every week we’re releasing new titles in our store. Those are things that are also exclusively pressed for VMP members, things that you can’t get anywhere else. As a member, you can log in and buy them. They’ll be shipped with your next monthly shipment. If you’re not a member, you log in and buy them and they ship whenever they come in stock. When we ship out a new record or when we announced a new record, that’s when our cycle begins.
We’re trying to celebrate and tell the story behind what this piece of music is. Give people a deeper sense of what is going to be forthcoming for them in their box and why should they care? Why should they listen to it? Who is this artist? What is this piece of music? What does the package look like? Why is it something that is worth having in a collection? There’s a lot of storytelling that happens in those 7 to 10 days before things start shipping.
Once they start shipping, it’s trying to build anticipation, excitement, showing things behind the scenes and showing how those records were manufactured, some of this stuff inside of the warehouse. It’s getting more bits of content to make people excited about what is coming up. When people start receiving it, it’s a celebration of everybody’s now listening to it together. It’s like, “I’ve got my box, did you get yours yet? I got this and I got that.”
That celebration, do you do that as a community?
We try to in the past. We’ve had a forum that worked to some extent, but we do a lot of that through social media. Instagram is a huge opportunity. We’re always sharing what people are saying and posting. Facebook and Twitter as well, those are the platforms where we centralize a lot of that conversation. Our team is interactive with people that are commenting, posting, tagging, or whatever it might be. We try to foster that dialogue there.
I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about your operations. You said that when you were starting out, you bought inventory directly, but when you got to that 500-member threshold or 500-unit threshold, you were able to start creating your own product. Can you talk to me about what your operations are like now and how you’ve changed over time, the way that you get your inventory, the way you distribute it and the way you manage it?
In the early days, we did all of our packing and fulfillment ourselves. We got to about 5,000 units per month before we outsourced it to a third-party logistics company (3PL). We rented a house in suburban Denver. We were packing and filling our records. There are tons of crazy stories in that. What was great about that is we had the opportunity to experiment with the packaging, and at the same time, the experience and the cadence for the business. We saw a lot of opportunities to refine it over time. The first 10 to 15 shipments that we did were hand-wrapping every record as if it was a present. We were writing Thank You notes. We were writing handwritten notes, drawing people pictures, thanking them for being a part of it, and encouraging them to share it with their friends. When you get to hundreds or thousands, you can’t do that. You can’t put that same personal touch, so we had to iterate our packaging so we can still provide that unique one-on-one hand-wrapped personal experience, which is an interesting challenge to go through.
What that did though, going through that process is when we moved to a third-party logistics company (3PL), we had a pretty set vision for what we wanted that experience to look like. We weren’t looking for somebody to put things in boxes and slap shipping labels on them. We were looking for people that would take the same amount of care that we put into the packaging and that process of putting something into a box and getting it to our customers because that was our lifeblood.
We knew that if we didn’t deliver on what we were selling, if we didn’t have that experience, if we couldn’t create something that was meaningful in somebody’s life, they weren’t going to stick around. Much of the part of that value proposition for a customer is the process of receiving it when it lands on their doorstep, opening it up and being able to pull the package out the first time. I can’t even begin to count the number of times where it would show up late or it showed up beat to hell or they would pull the record out and it was totally mangled. The amount of times that totally bummed the person out and made them not want to be a part of the VMP totally took away from the value.
Working with a 3PL and designing those systems in those processes that we can maintain that experience over time. We have a third-party logistics company outside Charlotte. It’s awesome to be able to work with them from an efficiency standpoint. They’ve created a lot of efficiencies in our business and streamline our fulfillment processes to where we can ship 30,000, 40,000 to 50,000 units inside of a 7 to 8-day period. They’ve been great partners for us. It’s allowed us to scale beyond where we ever could have if we did it ourselves.
That’s an interesting story and the importance of finding a partner who can represent your brand. You were talking about the operations and how in the early days, you treated every package like a present. I love that with the card and making it special. Unboxing is such a big deal in the world of subscription boxes. It’s great that you found a partner who fulfilled your expectations. I know that that was hard. What specific guidance did you give them that you think made the difference? You said you knew how you wanted it done. What were the specific guidelines you gave them?
We were there on the ground with them for probably 4 of the first 6 shipments that we did and showing them how we did it ourselves and that was exactly how we wanted it done. Granted, they brought a lot of expertise in terms of how to make those processes efficient. They would add in conveyor belts, but we were showing them exactly how we wanted things packed. It’s not rocket science. Our packaging was set up in such a way that it was relatively easy to do, but we required a hand signature on every package. We require that something be put in the box in a certain way, like wrapped with bubble wrap in a certain way. We showed them how we wanted that done and sat with them and watched them do it.
One of the key things that we did over time to hold them accountable is we would share pictures that we got back from our customers when that didn’t happen. We would say, “This is unacceptable.” We would show them when things showed up damaged and mangled. We’d send them the exact same pictures that the customer would send us. Many times, there were things that were picked and shipped that shouldn’t have been because they were ripped or they were not in pristine quality. That’s something that you can prevent at the warehouse. There were other times that the boxes were totally crushed, they had overstuffed something, used the box that was too big or whatever. It was this constant feedback loop where we’re like, “Here’s another example of something that’s gone wrong.”
It was pretty small in terms of the total numbers that we were shipping, in terms of what we heard about and sent them. It gave us an opportunity to reinforce time and time again. We have a specific standard of quality that we’re trying to maintain here. If you guys can’t do that, we’re going to go somewhere else. We’re going to find another way to get it done. There were several times where we considered leaving the 3PL that we had or doing our own fulfillment because we thought we could do it better. Every time we brought that up, there was another conversation of, “What more can we do? How can we continue to improve? What other information can you give us back in terms of how we can refine our processes so that the experience that you’re trying to give your customers is what you want it to be?”
You bring up such an important point, and I hope people take this away from our conversation. When you scale and you bring in outside people, they’re inevitably going to do it not as well as you did it. They’re definitely going to do it differently than you did it and in some ways, it’s going to be not as well. There’s a temptation to say, “I should do it myself because they don’t get it.” There’s a big trade-off. If you don’t find partners who can help you scale, you’re going to grow a lot more slowly.Every time you double, everything breaks. Click To Tweet
What’s great about the example that you shared is that it wasn’t easy to move from doing it yourself and treating every package like it was your baby, to going to a third-party logistics company, but you found one that was in it with you for the long term. I love how you described how you were there on the floor with them and that you were sending them the pictures so you had this loop. It requires a lot of patience to scale. A lot of entrepreneurs are surprised and frustrated by that because the bigger you grow in some ways, the slower things move.
What you’re saying is relevant not only to the tangible parts of a business, whether it be hiring contractors to do fulfillment, or whatever. As a company grows, as a founder, I’ve had to let go of so much and I’ve had to entrust other people to do things that I used to do for a long time. I would think that I did them decently well. The whole process of building a company or building a business is the slow and steady process of letting go of the things that you once did and controlled, and giving them up to other people. It’s not because you don’t care anymore, but because things have changed and you need to be able to do that in order to continue to scale your business. Time is the only the most finite resource that anybody has. You can only scale as much time as you have available. If you’re a team of one person or few people, you have to find a way to create more productivity for the business without having to work 100 or 150-hour weeks. That’s not sustainable.
Oftentimes, that process of letting go is hard. It’s emotional. We were in Denver. We had a third-party logistics company (3PM) in Charlotte. We were freaked out about having a warehouse that was thousands of miles away and having a process that we couldn’t watch on a daily basis. Entrusting people that we’d never met before with the relationships of the customers that were basically paying our salaries. It’s a scary process. If you recognize it’s what needs to be done in order to scale and if you’re willing to go through the process of sitting down with somebody and teaching them how to see the world in a similar way that you do, then there’s a lot of benefits there.
The best relationships are the ones that you can go to somebody you can say, “This is how we do it. This is how we want it to be done or the values that we bring into this process.” You find a partner that can legitimately do it better than you ever could while still maintaining the certain intangibles that you might want from that experience. That’s what we found through our 3PL company. It wasn’t by accident. We had to force that and make it happen the way that it did. I look back and I’m like, “There’s no way that I would do anything differently.”
I talked to people all the time who have their own warehouses and own fulfillment teams. That sounds miserable. I would not want to do that. All you need to do is find a company, a partner that you can trust, sit with them, teach them how you want the business to be done and they’ll do it and hold them accountable. You’re right. It’s hard and it takes a lot more time, but the value that you get in return is totally worth it.
What are the metrics that you use to make sure that everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing as you’ve scaled? Can you talk a little bit about what you have on your dashboard to make sure that all the engines are running on time?
A couple of things that we would look at particularly as it related to the fulfillment side of things and some of the more operational side of things. We’d look at customer service tickets. We would see how many we are getting, what are some of the trends, how many do we have in our backlog, and what’s causing a peak that we might have now? From there, there’s a pretty small list of things that might be the root cause. It’s potentially a delay in the warehouse where things aren’t shipping as fast as they normally would.
There’s potentially a manufacturing defect in one of our products and a lot of people are having effectively the same issue, or there’s some other mass thing that’s come up that we need to jump in and resolve. Looking at that with something that we would use on a day-to-day basis to manage the ebbs and flows of the business and making sure if nothing else, at least we’re delivering the experience that we’ve promised to our people. Other things that we’d look at is we got into NPS score.
It’s Net Promoter System Score. For those of you who are reading, last season, we interviewed Stu Berman, who runs the Bain Net Promoter System Loyalty Form, the NPS Loyalty Forum for Bain. It’s a metric for measuring the likelihood of your members to refer somebody else to your service and it’s a good way to know how happy your customers are.
It’s how likely are you to recommend this to somebody else on a scale of 1 to 10? There’s a lot of commentary about the metric in and of itself, but the thing that we found most valuable is our NPS score had a direct relationship with our churn. We’d be able to forecast churn based on what we were seeing trending from an NPS score. When we dug into our NPS score and we would get it on a weekly basis, we would get an understanding of what’s affecting people’s experiences and what’s affecting their excitement about VMP.
That’s where we started to uncover this fact that delivery timelines impact somebody’s experience, the condition in which something shows up, the communication in between the process of an announcement and receiving something. Those types of things had an impact and almost an outsized impact on somebody’s experience and their willingness to want to stick around and ultimately recommend it to a friend. Once we had that level of insight, it became clear as to what we needed to fix and what we needed to pay attention to.
We take a look at how our house fulfillment was trending. How many packages are we sending on a daily basis? How far are we from whittling down our monthly shipment allotment? We have an operations guy that will send, “Here’s how many things we’re sending per second now,” which is mind-blowing. It’s maybe a little bit too minute for what you need on a daily or monthly basis and we’re also looking at what’s our signup rate? What are our scheduled cancellations? What are those forecasts looking like? Are we on track? Are we off track? One of the complexities of our business is we’re having to place inventory orders 3 to 6 months in advance of when we’re going to ship the product. There are a lot of things that we need to know in the current month to be able to make decisions for future months as well. Those are all the types of things that we’re looking at.
I hadn’t thought about that. When you’re manufacturing the product for a subscription, you have to have a good idea who’s going to be subscribing three months from now. That takes into account your acquisition of new customers, as well as retention of the existing subscribers.
We could talk for hours on demand planning, inventory forecasting and the myriad of mistakes that we made in all of those processes.
It sounds like you’ve figured out a bunch of things as you’ve scaled, but I am wondering if you’re going to say what you would do differently? Are there any things that you would do differently if you had it to do over again, one or two big things that you might do differently if anything?
In many different contexts, we opted for growth, as opposed to looking at what are the pieces of the foundation that are cracking, might break or what have you. One of my mentors told me a long time ago, and I wish that I had listened to this a little bit more intimately. I think about it almost every day. He said, “Every time you double, everything breaks.” That’s so true. What we didn’t do is we didn’t think about, “If we go from 1,000 to 5,000 customers, what does that need to look like? What does that process need to look like? What’s the experience that we want to look like?” The question for us was always how do you maintain curation at scale? How do you maintain quality at scale?
We figured those things out. We’ve done a good job. We’re continuing to evolve our perspectives on them, but there was a 2 or 3-year period where we struggled. We were living to fight every single day because the sheer volume that we were pumping out was more than any small team could manage on a daily basis. If I would have done anything differently, I would have focused on those core processes inside of the business. I would take a look at inventory forecasting and demand planning.
We made a ton of mistakes and that burned up the cash that we had. When we raised money, we were using that money to fund the operations not invested in growth like we had wanted to. That’s because we had bad systems underneath the core processes of the business. Being aware of that stuff much sooner, much earlier on we probably would have mitigated a lot of mistakes, a lot of corners moved a lot faster, and wouldn’t have had to raise money at all or at least as much as we ended up raising.
Tell me about the money raising experience. At what point did you decide to take outside money and you mentioned that it ended up being more for operations than for growth as you’d originally planned. If you could take me back to when you decided to take outside money, and what that experience was like for you.The best business leaders are the ones who have built teams that can do a lot of the work for them. Click To Tweet
Maybe what we could have done before we raise money is we could have invested more. We could have taken a closer look at what was happening beneath the business that made us want to raise money because we probably didn’t need it. We needed money for reasons different than we thought. Once we saw how we were pouring money into marketing and all that, the systems that we had were breaking beneath us. We couldn’t manage it. We couldn’t operationalize it so we had to go back and invest in those things to be able to grow.
I know you’re stepping back from your day-to-day role running the business now after years of intense leadership. What advice do you have for other founders who think that the business will fall apart if they’re not at the wheel every second?
I get it, I was that person. In the early days, it was myself and my cofounder. We were making all the decisions and doing all the work. In a way that was super fun, because we could control every little piece of it. I started to realize as we brought more people on and as I was able to hand off responsibilities to people, they would take those things and do them better than I ever could have myself. I would realize too, that I didn’t like doing those types of things, but I’m more into the process of controlling it or whatever.
As our team grew over time, I had to get used to letting go of things. I had to learn how to trust and empower other people to take certain parts of the business that either I couldn’t manage or didn’t want to manage. It’s hard. It’s both an objective process, but also an emotional process. There are a lot of founders that I’ve met before that scares the crap out of them. They’re like, “There’s no way. There’s nobody that could do it better than me. What’s going to happen when I step away? I can’t take a vacation. I can’t take a day off or whatever because it’s all going to fall apart.” Maybe that’s true.
If that’s true, I don’t think you’re doing your job that well. The best CEOs that I know or the best founders that I know are the ones that have built teams that can do a lot of the work for them. It’s not that they’re sitting there on their hands and doing nothing, but they’re putting themselves in a position where they can be their best self. They can do the work that’s going to have the highest impact on the business that only they can do. Holding on to things for the sake of holding on to things. It’s not doing the job of a CEO or a founder well.
Inevitably you come to a crossroad where you’ve got to take a look at yourself in the mirror and you’ve got to ask yourself, “Who am I? What do I want? What am I doing? Are these things in line with that?” If not, “What am I going to do about it?” You have to be willing to show up and make changes as a result and that was a process for me. I found myself still passionate about our business, our mission and everything, but tired, fatigued and burned out. I’m not putting the same energy that I had in the early days into the daily processing of the business. That became something that was like, “Maybe it’s time for a change and maybe it’s time for something new and to think about something different than what’s going on here.”
I don’t totally know yet. I have a lot of ideas for other things, companies or projects that I might want to start. I’m starting to put together some pieces for that stuff. In the meantime, I’m doing some consulting work. I’ve partnered with a guy who you know Dave Cobban from Nike. We’re working with companies on crafting remarkable customer experiences. Using our experience in the membership context to be able to bring to other businesses to provide growth strategies or opportunities for them as well. There are a couple of companies that I’ve started to work with and things that I’m starting to think about, but trying to take some time. It’s such a grind to start and scale a business. It asked so much of you that resting, recovering and being able to put myself back together is my top priority now.
Dave Cobban is featured in The Forever Transaction book, his story about Nike Adventure Club kids sneaker subscription, which is interesting for those of you who are interested in eCommerce businesses like Vinyl Me, Please. That’s another interesting story to take a look at. I understand you needing to take a break and wanting to take a break after building a company so fast and investing so much of yourself in the experience for your members. I want to wrap up with a quick speed round. These are fast questions. Say the first thing that comes into your mind and we’ll move on to the next one. The first subscription you ever had?
Spotify was the first one that I legitimately paid for.
Favorite subscription now besides VMP?
It’s definitely VMP. Spotify is still the thing that I use every single day, and I love it.
Do you collect anything besides albums?
I’ve gotten into books lately. I wouldn’t consider myself a collector, but I have a huge book library that only seems to grow. I’m buying more books.
What would your colleagues say is your superpower?
They would say my ability to relate and connect with people, bring people together, and make everybody feel good about what we’re working on.
The last time you remember feeling a member of something like you belonged?
There’s this company called Satisfy Running out of Paris, France and I love it. It’s excessively high-end running apparel, but their quality is super great. They have these t-shirts that they say Running Cult Member. It’s not a subscription, but when I wear that I’m like, “I’m a part of the Running Cult.” It means something to me by the way they have their brand and how they’ve designed everything and everything like that.
You don’t have to have a subscription to be a member, at least in my opinion.
The best brands make you feel you belong whether or not they tie that into their pricing decisions. I love that example. I have to look into that company. Thank you so much, Matt. That was a fantastic conversation. I’m sure that the audience got lots of great nuggets and tips. I appreciate you coming on to the show.
Thank you, Robbie. It was great to be here.
That was Matt Fiedler, Founder and Chair at Vinyl Me, Please. For more about Vinyl Me, Please, go to VinylMePlease.com and for more about Subscription Stories, go to RobbieKellmanBaxter.com/Podcast. If you liked what you’ve read, please take a moment to write a review and give us a star rating and mention Matt’s interview if you especially enjoyed it. Reviews matter so much in helping others find us. Thanks for your support and thanks for reading.
- Matt Fiedler, Chairman of the Board, Co–Founder at Vinyl Me, Please
- Vinyl Me, Please
- Net Promoter System Score
- Instagram – Vinyl Me, Please
- Facebook – Vinyl Me, Please
- Twitter – Vinyl Me, Please
- Subscription Stories Episode with Stu Berman
- The Forever Transaction
- Satisfy Running
- Nike Adventure Clubs
- Dave Cobban
About Matt Fiedler
Matt is the co-founder and chairman at Vinyl Me, Please, a record of the month club and online record store.
Launching in 2013, Matt successfully scaled VMP to more than $15mm in revenue, while establishing the brand as one of the largest DTC vinyl retailers, and one of the most admired and respected brands in music.
Having recently transitioned out of the day-to-day, Matt is working with other DTC companies in building their brands, while also building his next venture.
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