Music Dealers: A Story of Company Transformation

The Music Dealers Team in its Chicago office.

The Music Dealers Team in its Chicago office.

Born from a passion for music and transformed by the power of community, Music Dealers is now harnessing the dedication and spirit of its team for a new phase of hockey-stick growth. In 2008 John Williamson and Eric Sheinkop founded Music Dealers from a love for independent artists and creating a stage for new talent. Jonathan Sheinkop, Eric’s brother, joined in the fun first as an investor, then to help raise funding, and by 2011 on the team full-time as General Manager. Although Jonathan didn’t ever expect to work in a startup, he believed in Music Dealers’ vision and fit naturally into the founding team. “I really respected the expertise that these guys had in the niche and in the industry,” Jonathan shares.

Despite early traction in the industry and powerhouse partners like Coca-Cola, the team sought new ways to grow as a company and as founders, and joined The Junto Institute’s inaugural cohort in 2013, Junto I. John Williamson explains, “We wanted to learn as individuals and leaders. One of the main draws to Junto for me was just the idea of being around people that were going through the same things we were.” At the time, Music Dealers was struggling with a lack of team engagement and a feeling of disconnection from its mission.

The Music Dealers Co-Founders: John Williamson (far left), Eric Sheinkop (middle) and Jonathan Sheinkop (2nd from right). 

The Music Dealers Co-Founders: John Williamson (far left), Eric Sheinkop (middle) and Jonathan Sheinkop (2nd from right). 

As Jonathan and John participated in Junto (due to business travel demands, Eric was unable to) they felt shifts take place in themselves and their culture. Jonathan shares, “One of the biggest changes was a more complete awareness of the dedication and talents of the people both around us in the company and the new people we interviewed. I was much more capable of assessing what team spirit really was and more capable of understanding the risks of someone not being engaged.” Similarly, John saw growth in the founding team as leaders, “We were growing much faster from an emotional intelligence standpoint. In studying companies and business successes, it tends to be the people that separate success from failure, not the product offering.”

During Junto, the founders also experienced the impact of the supportive community in the Junto Tribe. John felt he learned that “No situation is unique. As an entrepreneur you may think that a road block may only happen in your scenario, but anything you have gone through, somebody else is going through or has gone through.” The biggest impact of the Junto experience for Jonathan was the people in the Tribe, “Everything prior to Junto felt like an arrangement. Junto opened up free thinking, free associating, and a more shared environment.” Jonathan and John had an engaged team of Junto Mentors who bought into Music Dealers’ passion and niche product early on.

The Music Dealers Team at the Cubs game.

The Music Dealers Team at the Cubs game.

Kayne Grau, at the time CTO with Apartments.com, was one of their Mentors and fell in love with the product from the start. Kayne shares, “I was interested day one. The night after our first meeting I remember telling my wife the company was so fun and so original and [filling] a niche need.” During the mentoring experience, Kayne notes that, “I was always learning just as much from them as I was trying to provide feedback.”

Although the founders grew as leaders and the company culture improved, by the end of 2013 they agreed that a leadership change was necessary to take the company to the next level and solidify the culture shift that had taken root. For this change in leadership, they found an invaluable resource in the Junto Tribe. Jonathan explains, “Through our Junto network, we went out and hired about as ‘A-Team’ as we could get.” From their team of Junto Mentors, Music Dealers hired Kayne Grau to become their President. Other executive hires resulted from connections Kayne recommended and candidates referred by the Junto Tribe.

Bringing in Kayne and other professional managers has transformed Music Dealers. Jonathan remarks on the effects of the change, “Having executives who can put everything together, and blend sales and operations is huge. There is a tremendous amount of transparency we’ve never had before.” They brought additional business savvy and connected with the Music Dealers product, vision, and most importantly, the team. Kayne shares, “I think Music Dealers was an easy decision because the product was so disruptive, but the most important factor was the team. Everyone was willing to listen, adapt, and change. It is a great environment to work in. Some really good DNA has been embedded in this company since day one and it has carried over to [the present].”

Today, through lessons learned, new leadership and a renewed sense of team spirit, Music Dealers has a clearer vision for the road ahead and a refreshed culture, anchored in teamwork. Kayne expresses, “What gets me up in the morning is developing the team. Shaping their careers and giving them an opportunity to find something bigger and better down the road. I love that.” The new leadership is focused on leveraging the company’s industry expertise, bringing their business know-how from past experiences to Music Dealers, and leaning on its newfound network. Combined with an intense focus on sales growth, this people strategy has enabled the company to triple revenues in 2014.

The Music Dealers Team conducting a sales summit.

The Music Dealers Team conducting a sales summit.

Looking to the future, Kayne says that Music Dealers is “headed to the moon.” With plans for global expansion and increased hiring, 2015 is going to be a big year for the company.  Because of the positive effects of Music Dealers’ involvement in Junto I, Kayne ponders an interest in participating in Junto again with the new leadership team. With the future growth, Jonathan hopes Music Dealers continues to leverage the Junto Tribe to help find new hires and raise money as company expands.

Through their leadership transition, Music Dealers has experienced how central people are to growth, whether on their own team or in their network. Their experience in Junto, a shift in mindset, and the resulting transformation has changed the way Music Dealers operates as well as its prospects for the future. In one year, a company that was experiencing significant struggles turned over a majority of its leadership team, and didn’t just keep the business on course, but instead has seen phenomenal growth that is expected to continue.