Things That Really Happened Along the Way: The Greater Fool
Saturday, June 3rd is The Velvet Note’s Fifth Anniversary. You can attend our celebration by making a reservation at http://thevelvetnote.com/fifth-anniversary.
THE GREATER FOOL
When The Velvet Note first opened, no one knew exactly what we were. It was unexpected for a jazz club to be located in a suburban strip mall, between a sub shop and a Brazilian wax salon. People wanted to see for themselves before making reservations. Individuals and couples would walk by and peer into the tinted glass of the door, trying to determine what went on inside. After a while, I would schedule my office hours for the high-traffic times of the shopping center. When I’d spot the curious taking a look, I opened the door and invited them to come and look inside. Then, I would tell them about The Velvet Note and what made us different from all the others.
As months went on, these “orientation” visits took longer and longer. Some people would take a seat and talk for hours (literally!) about how they had always wondered what it would be like to have a jazz club. They had lots of ideas about what they would do– install a dance floor, have a weekly happy hour, bring back Ladies Night or Singles Night and really pack ‘em in, offer a singing competition with prizes, knock out the walls on either side (or both), give away the music for free to get people in the door, have theme nights paired with them foods, the list went on and on. Over time, these sessions began to take on an odd tone: the curious person would give their advice, then listen as I talked about what we stood for and then get a look of pity on their face, which could only be translated as the discovery of delusion.
Yes, I confess—I am an example of what financial markets refer to as The Greater Fool. I believe in things that no businessperson in their right mind would embrace. The greater fool is someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego, who believes that he or she can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was built by greater fools, and I am proud to be one of them. Specifically:
- We believe that an artist is a person, not a commodity, and deserves the respect of our knowledge and understanding. Every artist deserves to have someone stand up and say something about them and the path that has led to this one moment in time when they put their heart and soul and expertise and practice on the line for our listening enjoyment.
- We believe that it takes just as much money to hire a few smart people as it does to hire a bunch of not-so-smart people. The staff who work at The Velvet Note are or have been entrepreneurs and musicians and bankers and special education teachers and architects and human resources executives and technologists and graduate students, and we will continue to hire the best people we can because we can.
- We believe that the enjoyment of live music doesn’t have to come at the cost of compromising creature comforts. A bad sound system, dirty bathrooms, bad food, hostile service, uncomfortable seating don’t enhance the experience or make the vibe more authentic, it’s just bad business.
- We believe that the customer is always right, but not everyone should be our customer. Serving the least common denominator isn’t nearly as inspiring for us as serving the better angels of our nature.
- We believe that the greatest luxury isn’t being bigger, but providing our customers with unique experiences that touch their lives and linger on in their hearts and minds.
Most people don’t understand why we do it this way, but a few do, and those are our customers.
About six months in, a woman came to the door of The Velvet Note in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day. She was stunning, with long, dark hair, and she wore a cotton-candy-colored pink dress. She said she had always wondered what was behind the door. I invited her in. She didn’t seem to be in the advice-giving mode, so I used the time to talk about our business model and what we had to offer. She listened attentively, then waited for me to finish, and then she began walking though the Living Room in silence. Slowly, she took one step after another…letting her eyes settle on each component before her. I was reluctant to interrupt her with banter—this was so unusual, I was mesmerized. After about fifteen minutes, her silent, meditative tour brought her back to the front of the house and almost out the front door. Then she stopped, and turned, and looked at me and said, “Advertise”.
With that, she walked out the door. I think she got it.
Lesson Learned: It takes leadership and discipline and stubbornness and money to be The Greater Fool. Most of the time, it doesn’t work out. But sometimes it does.