I’ve always enjoyed dancing, but I didn’t have the opportunity to get serious about it until my first year at the University of California, Irvine, when I auditioned for a competitive hip-hop team called CADC. Little did I know, it was also at UC-Irvine where I would meet Bayan Towfiq and Jordan Levy, who later become my partners at Flowroute, a communications software company we founded together and brought to Seattle in 2013.
It might not be immediately obvious, but there are several parallels between the artistic world of dance, and the startup and entrepreneurial world of business. Much like dancing and other artistic pursuits, starting a business requires immense dedication, creativity and the ability to pivot gracefully when the beat (or competitive marketplace) shifts unexpectedly.
Below are several lessons I’ve learned through my years as a competitive dancer that I’ve been able to apply as an entrepreneur in the competitive startup world:
Never stop moving
Just like with music and dance, the worlds of technology and business are always evolving. A strategy or product fix that saved the day last week might be obsolete the next. The pressure to bring something creative and original to your audiences is a constant challenge.
Honestly, it can feel humbling to always reinvent your business strategy and products to stay relevant and innovative. I had to develop a mindset with my dancing, and now with my business, to always stay nimble and passionate about going beyond the status quo. These character traits and motivation techniques have been instrumental in helping me and my Flowroute team bring something new to the Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) market. We are always looking for new ways to bring developers more control and transparency to integrate voice and messaging services into their apps and create new user experiences.
Step outside your comfort zone
My experiences under the critical eyes of dance audiences taught me the importance of taking risks to achieve a goal. You won’t get anywhere dancing in the back row and hiding from the spotlight.
Whether it’s a dance group or a management team, the key to building success requires focus and discipline toward meeting and surpassing your goals. Keeping the whole team focused on those goals isn’t always easy, especially when the music changes (or the market shifts in the business world).
Find inspiration in as many sources as you can
Growing up, I fell in love with hip-hop music, both its positivity and the culture. Hip-hop dance actually incorporates many other musical disciplines; what most people see today is a fusion of influences from jazz funk, modern dance, ballet and hip hop techniques and styles such as popping, breaking and locking.
Similarly, what makes a company’s culture unique and interesting is the wide variety of backgrounds and specialties that everyone is able to bring to the table. The exposure to such diverse knowledge and ideas has made Flowroute and its culture what it is today.
Know when to take the lead, and when to depend on your squad
There are times in both dance and business where you just have to take the lead and get something done by yourself. But more often than not, I prefer performing in a group. My experience with CADC was fundamental in shaping my collaborative approach to many aspects of my life today, including how Bayan, Jordan and I built out the team at Flowroute.
My experiences with the dance group Kinjaz helped me define what it meant to have a strong group of people you can lean on and trust in life, and most importantly to share in the team’s wins and success. Having a team to bounce ideas off of, try new directions and yes, sometimes really embarrass yourself in front of, makes everyone stronger as both individuals as a cohesive unit.
Seeing an inspiring artistic performance certainly has the potential to improve morale in very profound ways. The same can be said for the impact that a well-managed, highly collaborative and innovative business can have on its customers, its employees, and its community.
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