We’re very excited to be interviewing Andy Sharpe today! As well as being a great storyteller, Andy is the astute and awesome entrepreneur who founded SongDivision, back in 2003.
Since then, SongDivision has been pioneering ways to use the scientific principles of music to strengthen social bonds and emotional connections and to consolidate corporate culture.
Sir Richard Branson once described SongDivision as a great company that uses the power of music to connect employees and customers.
SongDivision is the official music partner of organizations like IMEX and Hard Rock Hotel and Resort.
Andy is from Australia, and he lives in Maui.
Andy played the clarinet in his school band. He also played the piano, and keyboards in a rock band outside of his school, from when he was about fourteen years old. The band played some gigs in local pubs, and a few years later, they managed to get a development deal with Sony Records.
By then, Andy had started studying at Sydney University. When the band finally got a record contract from ACDC’s record label, they all dropped everything and went off to the UK, where they stayed for the next four years.
When he got back to Australia, Andy was recruited by IBM, where he worked for the next ten years in global financing. IBM put him through an MBA. It was through working for IBM that he came to experience the event world, with incentive trips and team-building experiences.
Writing songs for pop stars
While working for IBM, Andy continued writing songs for Australian pop stars. As a result, he was asked by Yothu Yindi, Australia’s famous indigenous band, to run some songwriting workshops with indigenous teenagers, at their cultural festival.
The joyful experience of seeing those kids, who didn’t think they could write a song, collectively create a piece of music in the space of an hour or two, had an enormous impact on Andy.
Coming up with the idea to create SongDivision
Although Andy is described as an entrepreneur, he says that he’s not a serial entrepreneur. Creating SongDivision was the only entrepreneurial idea that he can ever remember coming up with.
How it all started
A friend of Andy’s in Sydney ran a telecommunications company. He was aware of Andy’s success with his songwriting workshops with indigenous kids, and he asked Andy to do the same thing for him, with his sales team.
Andy was reluctant at first, but his friend persisted. So Andy offered to take the team into a recording studio, bring in some session musicians, and some beer and wine, and help them write an original song.
It was a huge success. And having just completed his MBA, Andy saw it as a good opportunity for starting a business.
It takes more than an idea to build a business
Andy understands that it takes more than an idea to build a business. People tend to think that a good idea is enough but that’s not the case. You also need to have a great service or product.
It wasn’t easy in the beginning
Although everyone was very supportive of Andy when he started his business, it wasn’t easy for him. The business never really exploded so he had to continue building it steadily over the last seventeen years.
Andy likens SongDivision to a band that had to build itself, fan by fan until it finally became a big, independent band.
There were some great clients in the first year
In their first year, SongDivision had some great clients, like three of the four major banks in Australia, AstraZeneca, and Virgin.
Andy understood the value of the service he was offering and people were willing to pay for it, so things were looking positive for the future of the business.
An event with Richard Branson
SongDivision has done several gigs with Virgin. And, in 2010, when the company had grown considerably, they did an event with Richard Branson himself. It was a magical experience, and at one point Richard Branson even went crowd surfing!
Doing a small event is just as stressful as doing a large one, so Andy chose to go into the corporate market, rather than doing many more, smaller, local events.
Checking things out in America
Most of the events that SongDivision does are national sales conferences. As there are only a few national sales conferences going on each year in Australia, Andy decided to go and see what was happening in America, for his music, as well as for the business.
He went over at the beginning of 2007, and did two free sessions, with PwC, and with Lehman Brothers.
At the time, the US and Australia had just signed a free trade agreement, so Andy could get a visa to work in the US.
Getting married and moving to America
Andy got married in 2008, and he and his wife moved to New York.
Within about a month, they were doing events with about 3000 people, with companies that invested in their people, brought them together, and made their strategies very clear. Those companies needed help with their communication, getting buy-in from everyone, and connecting people. And they knew that using music, along with SongDivision’s proprietary techniques, was viable and it worked!
SongDivision launched in the UK soon after.
And they launched in Singapore about five years ago.
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