MediaTech Ventures’ Community Spotlight Ep.04 – Chris Howard

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Meet the futuristic cultural renaissance man, Chris Howard CEO/Co-founder of The Rattle.

Chris’ journey is incredible. Early on he pursued his dream of being a rockstar, only to drop music completely and get a PHD in Psychology & Computational Physics. After having some startup success, Chris helped launch Mass Challenge U.K., he was an EIR for Tech Stars, and it was during this time he noticed there was an even bigger need to address the saturated “startup program” market.

Bringing him back to his musical roots, with his incredible education and startup experience, the idea of merging counter culture with startup culture was starting to take shape, ultimately creating The Rattle. Find out why Chris can’t stand most innovation programs, why he’s so passionate about counter culture, and how The Rattle is out to shake up the world of innovation.

You have a very interesting background, you’ve got a doctorate in Psychology and Computational Physics, what pushed you towards the creative industries?

Chris: I guess it kind of started when I was a kid. I was one of the weird kids which grew up in what we call a housing estate in the U.K., which is kind of like super working class poor area. You had either a choice to be a bully or be a geek, and I’m weedy so I decided to become a geek. But part of my geekiness was just trying to learn as much as I could about music, and fell in love with writing, performing, making anything musical. That just snowballed into my kind of late teens early 20s where I toured around quite a lot as a singer-songwriter, had so many insecurities about whether or not I was good enough and all those classic artist things. My passion for the creative industries actually happened then, like ages and ages ago. It was in my early 20s when I was like 24/25 that I kind of just went “I must be too ugly or something because this isn’t working, or I was really shit” I didn’t know it’s one of the two. I couldn’t work it out and I just kind of quit, I just stopped all of a sudden. What I didn’t realize looking back now, we were an independent band selling out the clapping ground in London, which is like a thousand cap, and I had no idea that that was good. Because my understanding of good was you know, Rolling Stones, playing Wembley, watching Foo Fighters sell out the main stage at Reading Festival and that’s what I thought was good. So I was like I’m not getting anywhere, and that’s when I kind of panicked and just quit making music my life and went and did other stuff. It was only three or four years ago that I came back to music like, 10 years later.

Why not pursue a degree in the entertainment industry?

Chris: I never had any interest in the business of being creative, if that makes any sense? It’s never been something that’s even remotely interested me, when I was young I don’t even think I even thought of it, it didn’t even cross my mind. At that time I remember my dad used to be a fairly successful music A&R guy, when I was really young, and then he lost everything because he did too much drugs. He ended up drumming into me that music’s not a safe place to be, music’s not something you should ever do with your life, it’s the most awful thing in the world. So that was one of the chips I had on my shoulder, and probably a contributor to why I didn’t continue an artist’s career. One great piece of advice he gave, even though I hated it at the time, he convinced me to do a degree in something completely unrelated to music just in case I needed a backup. I did an undergraduate degree in Physics, and so I kind of leaned on that when I quit music and found myself at M.I.T. where I completed you know a PHD in Computational Physics and psychology. Then did a bunch of research and became a nerd, and that ended up me kind of forming my path in the world of startups and entrepreneurship. That was around 2009, despite the letters after the name I don’t really believe in in formal education I think I did it because my dad made me.

When we first met you said there should be a decelerator, people just need to slow down. Can you talk a little bit about that and how it forced you to find your own solution?

Chris: After I built a startup it did very, very well for around three or four years, and then I tanked it because I was an idiot. But that gave me a bunch of life lessons to then go and co-found the U.K.’s Mass Challenge, the extension of the mass challenge that was in America. It was in that process of setting up a startup program with a big brand in the U.K. that made me realize, that actually no one really wants this. People don’t really want an accelerator they want a check. That’s nine times out of ten why they would join an accelerator. I started really digging into what an accelerator is actually supposed to be for, and that led going back to the history of Y Combinator who I kind of consider to be the forefathers of modern accelerators. There’s two kind of forefathers there’s Rainmaking and then there’s Y Combinator. Y Combinator in particular, didn’t set up as an accelerator, it’s set up as a way of mobilizing the angry out of work to basically have the opportunity to build something that says fuck you. That’s essentially what it was for, it was a way of filtering the angry and out of work helping them make a statement, and by making a statement a great company can be born. As I’ve been watching all of these accelerators you know get born from Tech Stars, to even Mass Challenge, to you know the beta springs or whatever else there may be… We look at a lot of these equity driven accelerators and they’ve just become copies of copies of copies of Y Combinator, without really understanding why Y Combinator was created in the first place. It was created to make a statement, it was created to make amazing things, and a great business is the consequence. Whereas all these accelerators now are like you must follow the lean startup, you must fit your thing to the market, you will be a robot, you will make yet another Uber for something no one gives a fuck about. It’s so pointless, just make something amazing, and a great business as a consequence of being amazing, and being diligent about what you’re doing. You can’t make amazing things, if all you’re doing is going… What does the market want? You have to invent something, you have to be original, and that is different for everybody. But the most common behavioral trait about people who really make amazing things, is that they procrastinate, and they’re lazy, and they sit there and go “oh I’m going to play a computer game,” and then aha Dropbox! We need to facilitate that behavior without it becoming a poisonous character trait. So I coined this term “the decelerator” to slow people down, so that they can think of really amazing things, and create really amazing things, and that gave rise to now my anti-accelerator type attitude if I’m honest.

The Rattle has had a lot of iterations already over the past few years, can you talk a little bit about what The Rattle is and the evolution?

Chris: The Rattle’s mission is to kick start a cultural renaissance. What we mean by that is, we look at how new things get developed whether it’s in the world of music, or whether it’s in the world of startups. Much to the point I was making before there’s too much patent matching, there’s too much I’m gonna make something that fits the market, I’m gonna make something that sells lots of records, I’m gonna make something which piggybacks off Uber and does it again and that’s not culture that’s not in my opinion. Sorry it’s not counter culture, it doesn’t progress society’s message, it doesn’t make people think something new or behave differently, or kind of alter their perceptions on their own previous belief systems, to make their current belief systems better. So I wanted to see if I can somehow alongside my co-founders Bobby Bloomfield and Jon Eades, we wanted to basically put some stuff together, to see if we can use the techniques of building a startup but the moral principles of creating progressive art see if we can marry those two things together to create a counter-cultural engine, and that’s what the raffle was set up initially to do.

But a bunch you know three chumps with kind of no real track record, apart from Bobby no real track record in counter culture. We needed to win trust first, so we spent the first year or two building an incubator so to speak in London and in Los Angeles. Kind of safe spaces for artists, and for inventors so technology events to basically make amazing make amazing stuff, but the byproduct of them both making it under the same roof is that they start sharing philosophies.Inventors have a very strong startup philosophy artists have a very strong counter-cultural philosophy and they started to marry into new conversation, into new concepts which is exactly what we hoped it would do. For example some of our members who are artists started raising venture capital as a means to start up, instead of going for an exploitative ridiculously hideous record contract. Then our tech company started looking at their products and going yeah this is really boring, I should actually make something which is fucking good. So we started seeing these real behavioral changes and that’s exactly what we hoped would happen, but we didn’t know would happen, so we spent two years creating environments for that behavior to happen. Because it did, we were lucky enough to raise a significant round of financing to then now test our business model, and the business vision of The Rattle is to create a startup product for founders of counterculture. So a decelerator something that invests in their ability to slow down, make something great, and then leverage the output of that to start a company. We launched it privately beginning this year, and we’re about to launch it publicly next month.

Why focus on just music on not all verticals within media?

Chris: That’s a good question um so there’s an emotional answer, and then there’s a logical answer. The emotional answer is pretty simple, we fucking love music. It’s interesting when you say the word media because if you take the definition, the word media just means a medium of curb communication or storage. So the industry of media is just a means to communicate, it’s how I see it. You either communicate through experience, you know through art, through product of some, and that’s just the media of transferring entertainment and hospitality and whatever else it may be. We really focus logically focus on music, because music as a message, as a mechanism to spread society’s message, pervades every industry there is.

If you had a superpower what would it be?

Chris: Oh god… The ability to say no if I’m honest! it sounds so stupid but it’s a real pain point. Somebody says, “hey can you do this?” I go yep, even if I can’t do it, or even if I don’t have the time to do it. Just the capacity to say no would be it would change my life mate.

How do people get involved, how do people get a hold of you, is there anything that you would ask of the community?

Chris: If people want to get hold of me personally it’s just chris@therattle.com. if people want to know what the rattle is we’ve got a little bit of information online at the rattle.com. But the best way to get to know us is to come and visit, and to chat to our team, our wider network of supporters and mentors, and even our members.

If I was going to make an ask, it’s pretty clear… If you are bored of what you’re making stop making it and make something you’re not bored with, because that’s how great things get made

If I’m one of those people, if I want to create counterculture, what are some good books/podcasts/movies or other forms of media that inspired you?

Chris: That’s a really interesting question, and it’s far more loaded than I think you realize when you asked it. I’m personally not a fan of a lot of business books. What I find is that psychology is my friend, that’s why I studied it. Because if you can understand how people think, you can create and invent ways and changing behavior for the better. So if I was to recommend anybody in the world of startups, or anything else if you want to find a way to thrive start sorry psychology books. An author I really love is Richard Wiseman. He’s the pioneer of a field called Quirkology – which is a behavioral economics kind of Psy offshoot, incredibly powerful.

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