Meet Pär-Jörgen Pärson, Sweden's heavy metal VC
Pär-Jörgen Pärson is one of the most prominent venture capitalists in Sweden. He works for big-time growth-investment firm Northzone. Sits on the Spotify board. Sold an early-stage tech venture capital company he founded for $177 million. And now he has written a book about what heavy metal can teach companies.
Yeah, that’s heavy metal of the headbanging, devil-horns, guitar-shredding variety. Not, like, cobalt.
Pärson, who’s also the frontman of a heavy-metal cover band called Frank Xerox and the Perfect Copies, wrote “Heavy Metal Management” with his friend Hans-Olov Öberg, an investment banker turned writer of crime fiction. At first, the men thought the metaphor would be ideal for a humorous guest column in a newspaper. Then they started pushing it further and developed an analytical framework for their argument, exploring what needs to be mastered to be truly metal. Next they applied an organizational theory, asking: What constitutes a strong metal team? They soon realized they could extend the metaphor to book length. Well, “116-page book with lots of pictures” length. It'll be on sale in physical and electronic form via Amazon and Barnes & Noble within three weeks.
In “Heavy Metal Management,” published by Öberg’s boutique Bullet Point Publishing imprint, Pärson and Öberg argue that companies can learn strategic positioning, branding, client management, organization, and perseverance from, well, heavy metal bands. It's as if Black Sabbath turned into a Mckinsey consultant.
“If you are focusing and you’re not looking left and right, you’re just going your way, building your audience, playing your tune, perfecting your tunes, that’s the way you build sustainable value,” Pärson said just hours after his band played Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” at the SIME Internet media conference in Stockholm (see video below).
“The metal scene has been around for close to 50 years now, and it’s never been hit-driven. [Heavy metal bands] sell the most merchandise of all categories of music because the fans really want to be a part of their world.”
The band members, he says, are also like their fans: outsiders who want to stay aloof from the establishment. “It’s an alternative subculture that has survived for 50 years, through constantly being mocked by critics, through being seen as pretty pretentious, phony stuff. But they have stayed the course. They have stayed true to their ideals.”
Some of the world’s most successful companies, such as Apple and Berkshire Hathaway, know what that feels like and hold similar ideals, said the 49-year-old Pärson, who was wearing a blazer and button-up shirt, with a black T-shirt poking out from underneath. In case you're curious, he has wavy blonde hair.
In the book – with chapters like “From Good to Badass,” “In Search of Pestilence,” and “The Wisdom of Motherfuckers Goin’ Apeshit” – the authors outline what they call “The Pentagram of Six,” which, given that a pentagram has five points, is a misnomer – or, as I like to call it, misnumer (you can have that one free, Internet). Lying within the identity-confused pentagram are perhaps the book's key takeaways:
- Be epic: Without a fantastic story to tell and a great vision, you are doomed from the get-go.
- Be a master: Craftsmanship is the bass for true respect.
- Be instinctive: Rational analysis is dead. Trigger basic human drivers instead.
- Be sensory: Involve as many senses as possible – continuously.
- Be forever: You have to be strategically consistent over a long time span.
- Be total: True conviction and single-mindedness is a core requirement for every successful company.
That attitude is out of touch with creating art – and startups. “The fact of the matter is that we are not rational people. We are predominantly driven by emotional decision making, emotional drivers. We are very instinctive.” If you use that realization as a core part of your management practice, then you have a fundamentally different opportunity to get close to your customers, or to your co-workers, he said.
And, as well all know, there’s nothing more metal than being so close to your customers that they can feel your spit.
So startups, let the saliva fly.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]