We had the good fortune of connecting with John Mizenko and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi John, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk. I have been asked to give an assessment of what role risk-taking has had in my life/career.
This is a loaded question for me as there is inevitably some inherent level of risk in anything we do. Pre-COVID, most of our day-to-day routines were filled with low-risk activities and decisions. Going shopping, dining out with friends, seeing a movie, attending a concert etc…all activities we took for granted. Only now that these simple pleasures are no longer easily available to us, do we appreciate them. Today, these same activities are considered high-risk activities.
Most of the time I see myself as a pragmatic person. I look at situations for what they are and make decisions based on guidance and answers gained by my consultations with experts on the given situation, my personal observations, reading/research and my past experience with the particular situation. One may call this calculated risk. Other times, I just “go with my gut.” Just try it and see what transpires. I call these the “throw it up the flagpole and see who salutes” route.
For example, before I even begin writing an outline for a new class idea, I may run the idea by our clients using three bullet points to highlight the essential ideas for the class. If the responses are positive, I will then ask the same group who among them would be willing to commit to taking the new class. If a sufficient number are willing to commit, I will finish the outline and introduce the new class to our students. This is a fairly low-risk method for testing an idea for a new class.
“Without risk, there is no reward.”
Most of the time, however, I prefer taking a calculated risk. Calculated risk is vital to the growth and survivability of any business. Calculated risk is akin to playing chess. You plan potential moves based on all the variables on the board. You observe, take time to assess the situation, and then put a plan in place. But out of nowhere, an opponent may do something unexpected. As Mike Tyson so eloquently stated, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Your reaction and how you adapt to those unexpected moves (punches) should be the gauges you use to know how much risk you can safely take on.
Let’s say that after testing the strategy for a few weeks, you do not see new growth in your business. Do you continue the strategy just because of the effort and time you have already invested to put the plan in place?
Most of us would see that as foolish. Yet, people do this all the time. They are reluctant to cut their losses, or “tweak” the strategy they worked so hard to create. Follow the advice of Albert Einstein….”The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” I call it “chasing your tail.” You took the risk to try something new. It didn’t work out as planned. Time to move on!
My risks with starting Join The Band.
Before I started Join The Band, I was teaching 35-40 guitar lessons a week. It was comfortable, and easy. To move forward I took a calculated risk (with the encouragement from others) to start forming student band classes that featured shows at local clubs. Long story short, I had to take calculated risks to start and grow the program.
My first “calculated risk” was so small it seems ridiculous now. But at the time, this was a considerable financial risk for me. To speed up the rehearsal process, I thought it would be a good idea to purchase four guitar tuners so the guitar students didn’t have to bring – and inevitably “forget” said tuners to class. My thinking was that I was making the class run more efficiently by having the tuners readily available for use. The idea turned out to be well worth the expense.
Around the same time, I took on a much larger financial risk of renting monthly studio space to run my classes, and outfitted the space with amplifiers, drum sets and music stands. Now, students would no longer have to haul any accessory equipment to the class. This was a game changer.
This led to me eventually taking on a 3-year lease for the section of the building where I initially just rented rooms. To enable me to do this, I had to leave the extreme safety zone that was the music store I had been teaching from for fifteen years. This was a huge risk for me, but still a calculated risk because of my large private-student base for lessons which would feed into my band classes.
Taking that risk of leasing my own studio enabled me to grow my business. As the business grew, I was able to purchase my own sound systems, pianos, computers and other necessary studio equipment. The financial risks of taking on a 3-year studio lease and purchasing more equipment served the needs of my students.
Next, I took the risk of hiring outside teachers so I could focus on running the business. My wife took the risk of leaving a very good job to start working on the business alongside me.
During this time, my wife and I also joined a mastermind group led by a knowledgeable coach for creating a successful studio. It was quite a financial risk as enrollment came with a hefty monthly fee. The decision to join the group was one of the best business decisions I have made. The impact of the group’s shared contribution of ideas, suggestions, advice, have been invaluable.
Then came my biggest financial risk. The purchase of our own commercial building. Because of the great team we built (of staff and teachers), Join The Band was stable and well known in the community. We found the perfect building and crunched the numbers. Was it a risk? Hell yes! But, it was a highly calculated risk and helped to stabilize the business. We no longer have to worry about the building lease running out and being forced to move.
When taking risks, I advise you to think about how the outcome will benefit your current situation and who you serve. Will it help you move forward? Think long term. Avoid knee-jerk decisions caused by unexpected and rare circumstances. Just because you see a competitor doing something, doesn’t mean you need to follow suit. Focus on the calculated risks that serve the needs of your clients.
Currently, we have a music school with seven private lesson rooms and three rehearsal rooms with state-of-the-art equipment. However, with COVID raging on, we are restricted on how we teach music lessons. We had no choice but to conduct all lessons and band classes online. Is this an ideal way of teaching? Far from it. But, we are taking on new risks to keep our clients safe. We are investing in building upgrades (new ventilation system, air purifiers, physical barriers, revamped cleaning procedures etc…) to assure that when we do open up, our clients will have a safe studio to welcome them back.
The past several months have been the most challenging time for our studio. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face!” We are bobbing-and-weaving in the ring, and we will come out stronger than ever. John Mizenko Join The Band Music Lessons Studio
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Join The Band (www.jointheband.com) is a music lessons studio with an emphasis on live performance. We are the longest running program of its kind in Los Angeles. We have been featured in Dave Grohl’s “Play”video. 4,433,930 views. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e05H80-k0mY. Line 6 also featured us in a music education video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cy0AiGWUBfU&t=9s.
As stated in the essay on risk, Join The Band has grown steadily over the years. Lessons that I’ve learned of the years are: 1. Surround yourself with great people. You are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with. 2. Serve your clients. Find out what their needs are and solve their problems. Solve their problems and you have long time clients. 3. Listen.
Completely listen to someone when the speak. Don’t formulate a response while they are speaking. Most people don’t listen, they only want to get their opinion out. As Stephen Covey said. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.
Now with Covid our business has been put to an extreme test. Fortunately we have a great staff of teachers and clients to support us. With the new world we live in music and the arts have been what people are turning to for comfort. Learning music is one thing you can enjoy your entire life. Becoming a professional isn’t the point. The point is having fun whether playing with others or by your self.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
In Los Angeles the music scene pre-covid was great. Catch shows at the Roxy and Whisky A Go Go for the history of predominant rock venues, Baked Potato for the best musicians in Los Angeles or anywhere, and the Catalina Bar and Grille for the best jazz.
Venice beach is always a fun way to spend an afternoon with all the vendors, artists, and “bohemians” lurking about. Santa Monica is also fun with the pier , 3rd Street Promenade and the beach. Ventura Boulevard and Downtown are full of great restaurants. Clifton’s on Broadway and 6th is a fun breakfast as well as VIP’s in Tarzana, and Grand Central Market is full of any type of food you can think of.
Hiking on Dirt Mulholland is also a nice way to get away in hills while still not leaving the city. Take plenty of water. 🙂
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My wife Lynn, our entire teaching staff, and the thousands of students that have passed through our doors for the love of music and community at Join The Band.