Andy Seth got his start selling mixtapes to Culver Academies classmates
Dec. 1, 2022
Serial entrepreneur Andy Seth ’96 told Culver Academies students he got his start by making mixtapes and selling the music to classmates.
Seth returned to Culver recently and met with two classes taught by master instructor Ed Kelley in The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur. Seth conducted a rapid prototyping workshop for 12 students in the Introduction to Innovation class and a lean startup workshop for 18 students in the Applications to Innovation class.
Seth told students his parents were immigrants and he lived in a Los Angeles motel until he was 14 years old. He attended Culver and Boston College on full scholarships, earning degrees in economics and Spanish.
He has created more than 10 startups, including Apprentix, his most recent startup, Flow, a personal branding agency, Ravience, a customer service business, and a wealth management company. He also wrote the book “Bling” and is a music producer.
When he arrived at Culver as a teenager, he observed something was missing.
“I saw very quickly that people didn't have good music. I thought, ‘Well, that's something that I could solve because I have records that are very fresh coming out of LA,’ ” he said.
Seth told the students he would rent studio time and make mixtapes of music that was popular in Los Angeles before the songs hit rural Indiana.
“If it drops in LA, it's not coming out here for a while. So, I have this gap of time where I could make music and sell it,” he said.
He’d help sell the music by working as a DJ at dances around campus.
“It’s how I broadened my market,” Seth said.
He told students in the Applications to Innovation class how he got his start, then asked them to use Lean Canvas to deconstruct his business plan.
“When you hear people come in and tell stories, listen for the business model. Listen to, how did they make this thing work?” he said. “The Lean Canvas is a way that you can listen and filter it and put it down. In one page you’ll understand that person’s business.”
The students quickly determined the problem Seth was solving was that students at Culver Academies in the 1990s didn’t have access to good music. They identified the unique value proposition was that Seth was from LA and knew how to DJ. Seth’s solution was to create mixtapes. His channel was being a DJ so he could connect with customers.
The revenue stream was selling the mixtapes. His costs were the records and studio time. The key metric was the profits he made, which Seth estimated was about $1 per mixtape. The unfair advantage he had was the gap in time it took for music from LA to reach rural Indiana and his DJ skills. His early adopters were people who appreciated new music.
“You pretty much nailed that,” Seth said.
He urged the students to ask those questions whenever they hear someone talk about a business.
“Because if you can understand the business model, all those dots start to connect. 'Oh that's how that business works,’ ” he said.
Seth told the students in the Introduction to Innovation class he started a new business in February called Apprentix, a software platform that helps businesses with 20 to 200 employees create and manage apprenticeship programs.
“Because you learn really well while you’re doing,” Seth said.
Seth then reinforced his point by challenging the students to take part in an exercise he calls rapid prototyping. He started by asking students to pair off and draw pictures of each other in 30 seconds, with no talking allowed.
“The point of this exercise is to get out of your head. You have no choice but to do. There was no time to think. There was doing,” he said.
That set the stage for the next challenge, where students in three teams were asked to each build a home page for Apprentix, including designing it and writing copy. He told the students to brainstorm ideas.
“Brainstorm is not, ‘Let’s talk about it.’ Brainstorming is you write out every idea. One idea per Post-it. You don’t talk. Why don’t you talk? Because talking creates what’s called ‘group think,’ ” he said.
He told the students “group think” doesn’t lead to the best ideas.
“This way, the quietest person and the loudest person all have equal votes,” he said.
He told the students that in group settings the loudest or most charismatic people often win even if they don’t have the best ideas.
“No originality happens when you all have to agree. Originality happens because you came up with something. And then the question is how dope was it?” he said. “Was it a good idea? Or was it kind of all right? How do you figure that out? You're going to vote.”
He told the students each team could decide on its own how to vote. As examples, he said each team member could have one vote. Or each student could have two votes, one for best idea and one for most original idea.
Each team had five minutes to come up with ideas and five minutes to clarify those ideas, in case the person didn’t provide enough information, and then vote on the best ideas.
After the first round of ideas, Seth had some suggestions. One group came up with an idea to pitch to students who “don’t like class” and would prefer to learn on a job.
“Who is that for?” Seth asked.
“Students,” the students responded.
He pointed out that companies will be the ones paying to use the platform, not the students. So he gave the students another 30 seconds to find a different idea.
He offered a few other suggestions. He then gave the teams 10 minutes to come up with a home page that includes a headline and a primary call to action.
“Because the whole point of a web site is to get a person to take action,” he said. “When they go to the web site, what do you want them to do?”
He then had half of the team members crossover and act as though they were potential customers for other groups, while those remaining team members answered questions. He said the idea was to get suggestions to change their prototypes.
After finishing that process, he asked the students if they were done.
“When would you be done?” he asked.
“Never,” a student responded.
“Yeah, exactly,” Seth said. “When would you launch?”
“Yesterday,” a student said, causing Seth to laugh.
“You push it out,” Seth said. “At a point you feel it is good enough to launch with, you would push it out. Then you would still get feedback. There’s testing you could do, etc. But you wouldn’t sit and wait.”
Seth wrapped up with a question-and-answer session.
He told the students one thing he’s learned through creating these various businesses is that the most important thing to him is creativity. He said he learned that when he sold LotusGroup Advisors in 2015.
He said he was at the pinnacle of his career and he wasn’t that happy.
“I thought by making a lot of money that that would make me feel happy. It didn’t. It turned out I just had a lot of money,” he said. “And that's a really strange feeling to think you're going to hit this, ultimate place and it didn't make you that happy.”
Seth said he learned he needed to find happiness from within. He compared it to doing well at Culver, where expectations are high.
“It’s kind of intense. But how you experience that intensity is your choice,” he said. “You can experience it and say, ‘I can’t believe I get to be here. I can’t believe they are teaching me this stuff. … It’s how you perceive life.’ ”
Seth was the first speaker in The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur’s annual speaker series, endowed by Ron Rubin ’68.