In The Tank #4: Mark Montgomery

Mark Montgomery is someone I always pay attention to. Mostly it’s because he’s ridiculously smart, laser-focused in his observations and commentary, and has a track record of doing cool, successful things his own way. It’s also because I’m never sure quite what’s going to come out of his mouth, and I like the feeling of being at the top of a roller coaster that’s about to drop, which is how I often feel when I prep for Marko to answer a question.

Mark is the founder of FLO|CO, a group of companies doing cool, innovative things. After launching, growing, and then selling echomusic, one of the first companies to sell music online, he founded FLO. In the past few years they’ve launched the beverage industry’s fastest-growing new spirit (Blue Chair Bay Rum) as part of their work with country superstar Kenny Chesney. They’ve worked with companies such as Google and Under Armor, and launched the Made In Network, a Multi Channel Network focused solely on music. Mark also works with the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, coaching new and aspiring startups, as well as pushing to develop tech talent in one of America’s fastest growing and coolest cities.

You’re as likely to find him at a music club (playing in or watching bands) as in a meeting with the mayor, the governor, or other industry and community leaders. Generous with his time and intellect, we’re thrilled to have him as part of this series of Q&As.

Q: You like to talk about disruption – why is it so exciting to you?

A: Because so much about the status quo is so wrong. As frustrating as it can be to try to change the “standard”, it just seems to me to be the right thing to do.

Q: What things do you look for the make something prime for being disrupted?

A: Inefficiency in a system, chronic crony-ism, and outdated models are the three big things that I look for.

Q: You’ve been an advocate for musicians to take charge of their own brands more aggressively (see Kenny Chesney with his own rum). Is that something that anyone can do in their own world / on their own scale?

A: The issue of creators taking charge is a double-edged sword. Many of the “last wave” of creators are making hay inside the old construct, which perpetuated the idea that all they had to do was create and everything else would be taken care of for them. It was, but how much of that trickled into their pockets is a whole other story. Taking charge requires a commitment to creativity on several levels…

The new creative class coming out of the universities (speaking of a system in need of disruption) understands that there is no such thing as a “free ride” in the creative arts. You have to be able to access both sides of your brain to really make your way in the world today. The great news is that many of the barriers are down, which is also the bad news. Anyone can create and come to market today.

Whether they know it or not, they are entrepreneurs first and foremost. They need to start with a core product (their art) and build around it. The art is the product, and the creativity comes not just in that core creation of the product, but the strategy to bring it to market, price it correctly, find white space and fill it, you get the general idea…

Q: You’re very involved in developing a tech/entrepreneurial culture in Nashville. What sorts of things make Nashville a strong place for that environment? What things may hold it back?

A: The secret sauce is the community aspect of Nashville. You cannot replicate a fabric as strong as the one in our market with all the money in the world. People are competitors, but they are also willing to help pretty much anyone, take a meeting, make an intro, you get the idea.

The couple biggest things that hold the market back are:

  • Its generally conservative nature (both from an investor perspective and a political perspective)
  • Sometimes we are too damn nice (it’s perfectly fine to tell someone their idea sucks)
  • The state politicians’ idiocy lands us on the front page of national papers looking like dumb hillbillies far too often (thankfully there is plenty of that going around in a variety of states)

Q: To say that you speak your mind is sort of like saying that Keith Moon was an energetic drummer. Have you ever gotten pressure to tone your personality down? What are/were the upsides/downsides of that?

A: I get a lot of pressure, mostly external…

It’s an interesting debate for me actually. I certainly do elicit a strong reaction when entering a room, which I have learned to be ok with. One night, my bride and I were talking about this after I had challenged a big shot in a meeting that day, and I was suggesting that speaking my mind had a downside. I was feeling pretty bad about it. She asked me how I’d feel if I hadn’t spoken my mind, to which I responded; “worse than I feel now” – so, I continue to push the elephants out into the room.

Recently I had a discussion with a young entrepreneur who I gave a very hard piece of advice to. It involved telling him that he had picked a real douchebag for a partner, and that he should terminate the relationship. I could smell the stink on this guys “partner” and knew it would not end well. I happen to own this particular T-shirt a couple times. It was hard for me to say, and hard for him to hear.  He had a lot invested. About a month after that discussion, he called to thank me for “having the courage to say something to him when no one else would”, he did terminate the partnership, and during that process, got to see the other side of his “partner”.

Life’s too short not to ask the hard questions, challenge the status quo, and suggest that perhaps there is a different or better way to do something, right?