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Yukon Blonde and Epilogger on the Parallels Between CEOs and Rockstars
What's the difference between an indie band and a startup? We talk to Yukon Blonde's Jeff Innes and Epilogger's Michael Nussbacher to find out

Illustration by Tiffy Thompson

Yukon Blonde’s Jeff Innes recently hired a tour manager. Under normal circumstances this might not be much of a story, but Innes’ tour manager is actually the band’s new keyboardist, Matt Kelly. In order to make it happen, there had to be some sacrifices. The indie rock band knew from previous experience the fallouts than can occur when new members lack input, so they threw Kelly in headfirst.

“One of the tactics to make Matt feel part of it was hiring him as the tour manager. It was, ‘here, now you know everything going on,’” Innes says.

The strategy echoes that of Michael Nussbacher, CEO of Epilogger. Also once a musician (incidentally also from the west coast where half of Yukon Blonde is based), he knows first hand how being a CEO at a startup is similar to being the front man of a band. Epilogger is a platform that uses automatic algorithms to aggregate tweets, Facebook posts, photos and blogs through hash tags and keywords to build a living history of events as they happen. It plays directly into that fear of missing out, but also that fear of forgetting. That fear of life moving by so fast you forget to take a moment to let it sink in. The creation of the platform itself is a direct reflection of the desire to bring to life something bigger than you are, just like with music.

Here’s where the parallels begin. Both Innes and Nussbacher quit their day jobs to pursue their passions full-time. As Nussbacher says, “there is no such thing as a part-time entrepreneur.” They made sacrifices, relationships suffered and cheap food became (and sometimes still is) the norm. They apply for and often depend on grants or government-funded programs. They each took something and made it unique, made it something people want, and it’s allowed them to continue doing what they’re doing. That’s the golden question in startups — if no one wants what you have to offer then what’s the point? The tour stops there.

These tours went on. Yukon Blonde has been on the road almost full-time since 2010 touring their two EPs and two full-lengths, most recently 2012’s gorgeous release Tiger Talk off Dine Alone Records. They played Edgefest in Toronto on Saturday and will be taking off for some gigs in the States and the UK shortly after.

Nussbacher’s been spending time in Montreal. Epilogger completed a three-month accelerator program with Founder Fuel where they worked with mentors and investors to improve and refine their platform. They just wrapped up International Startup Fest there as well. They’ll be heading to Silicon Valley in September for three months. The Canadian Innovation Exchange chose them as one of three Canadian startups to participate.

“We get a free office from the Canadian Consulate to work down there and try to partner up with some big partners, plus we get access to new investors and new mentors as well,” Nussbacher says.

Screenshot from Epilogger with aggregated tweets and photos from this weekend’s Startup Fest.

It goes without saying both Yukon Blonde and Epilogger want to break it in the States.

“Obviously you want to build in the market you have in the place that you love, which is home, which is Canada, but if you want to make music a career you really have to get into the United States. Its crucial,” Innes says. The same can be said for Canadian startups, who like musicians often don’t receive international attention until picked up by media or acquired in America.

As CEOs, both oversee their bands. Innes literally, Nussbacher figuratively where the platform itself is his music and everyone else on the team helps make it come to life. 

“You could still call me the singer of the band,” Nussbacher says, “But look at [co-founder] Chris [Brooker]. Chris is like the Kirk Hammett of the band. He’s a blazing guitarist and although we wrote the song together, he wrote the licks. Rebecca [Cohen Palacios] is our designer. She’s the awesome slap bass player. I can’t slap bass. I know how slap bass sounds, I can tell her how slap bass can sound, but I can’t play it the same way she can.”

“A band is very much a democracy,” Innes says. “At some point everybody is a CEO in the band. Everyone has to make those crazy decisions or call the meetings. I write the songs so sometimes I’m in charge. There’s a little bit of creative control. When we’re not on tour, I’m the day-to-day manager of the band. We can’t justify hiring people to do this stuff.” Each band member has tasks they need to fulfill. Guitarist Brandon Scott handles merchandise. Innes’ girlfriend handles the art.

Polaris Long Listers Yukon Blonde’s music video for “Stairway” off Tiger Talk
The tech community and the music community also operate much the same way in their support for each other. Innes has been crashing at fellow musician Gavin Gardiner from the Wooden Sky’s house, allowed to stay for free as long as he helps build a studio in the garage. Nussbacher is on his way to Los Angeles where he’ll be crashing at a tech friend’s pad. “Its camaraderie. Everyone is helping each other out,” Innes says.

I’ve written about this before, but the idea of bands taking themselves more like startups has been garnering a lot of attention lately for good reason. Both startups and bands are risky business – and risk is sexy.

Innes recalls a high school teacher coming in and yammering to his middle school music class about how hard and awful it is to make it as a musician.

“At one point he said ‘two per cent of people make it in the music industry.’ I don’t know where he’s drawing this statistic from, but I took it to heart. I actually got inspired. I was like I actually have a chance. It’s like that Dumb and Dumber scene where he’s like, what are the chances you’re going to get together? Like one in a million and he’s like I have a chance! Exactly like that,” Innes says.

“That’s one of the things I always kept with me. Every body says it’s so hard and it’s a dead-end lifestyle, but if you keep to it and you’re persistent and you keep trying, you take note of these little challenges, then I think you have a chance.”


Sheena Lyonnais is Toronto Standard’s tech and business editor. You can follow her on Twitter at @SheenaLyonnais.

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