Interview with Arts Entrepreneur: Dave Kaplan

Dave Kaplan: owner/founder of Dave Kaplan Management, one of the five cornerstones of a broad based entertainment company, which includes Surfdog records, Surfdog and Surfmutt Music Publishing, SDE Marketing Agency and Surfdog’s Java hut.

What did you want to do as a freshman in college?

I had no idea.  My best guess was to be a lawyer like my Dad.  I started taking business classes, then accounting, but mixed in with crazy things like Legal Aspects of Bioethics, Art History, Political Science, etc.

I would advise anyone, just take a bunch of interesting courses and learn, along with concentrating on the courses to finish your major!

What made you want to start your business?

I was working for a t-shirt company in the rock and roll business.  I saw what the various jobs were in the music business and knew I wanted to be a manager–that was the job at the center of all the action around the artists.  I’ve always liked being in control of my own destiny and to be able to do things my own way.  The only way to do that is to be your own boss.  That’s why I started my business.  There is a cost to doing that, which is that you take all of the risk of failing and of funding your company.

What obstacles did you have to overcome to start it?

When you’re in your own business, you have to overcome every obstacle imaginable (running out of money, getting clients, convincing people that your music is worthy, keeping the clients happy, being responsible to your obligations, keeping employees motivated, etc.).  They never stop coming.  The whole trick is to learn perseverance.  Without it I would have failed, many times.

How did you overcome your obstacles?

Keep working hard, with sheer will to get through things.

There is no magic or short cut to hard work and sticking to your goals.

What is the best part about starting Surfdog?

Two things: the excitement to make decisions on everything (rather than constantly trying to convince someone else to agree with your decisions), and the flexibility of my schedule, which allows me to be with my family whenever I choose.  Now, as far as work schedule goes, that doesn’t mean you work less when you own your own business–it just means you work the particular hours you choose.

Who was your inspiration when founding Surfdog?

I have many mentors, but I didn’t really model my business after any particular people.  My mentors include: my Dad, whom I watched get up to go to work early every single weekday since I can remember and who taught me ethics and class; Michael Eaton, a wickedly smart attorney from the UK whom I met 30 years ago; and Peter Paterno, a ferociously smart attorney from LA!  They taught me a lot and continue to do so.  I don’t know how anyone could survive unless they have smart, experienced people to help them through tricky situations.  I still lean on people today and ask them their advice on what to do in many situations.

What is the biggest issue you have today now that your business is successful and how do you overcome it?

The biggest challenge is that the business has become large enough that the monthly expenses are a serious number.  So the company has to meet certain revenue goals to keep functioning.  That’s a pressure that didn’t exist when the company was young and we could just concentrate purely on the music.  To overcome it, we have to keep being creative resourceful to bring in new revenue sources.  This is especially true since the digital revolution crushed the recorded-music side of our income.

What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?

The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Never, Never, Never give up.

Good is the enemy of Great.

And, most of all:

It’s not what happens to you in life, it’s how you deal with it.

What would be some advice you have for young entrepreneurs?

It’s hard for young people to understand this because, like I was doing when I started out, they are always looking for the “magic advice” to provide the key to success.  As I got older I realized there really isn’t any.  It’s just the same old stuff your parents, aunts, uncles and other “old people” would alway tell us and we’d ignore: the cliches of keeping your nose to the grindstone, work your butt off, and always do what you say you’re going to do.  The little stuff like show up for work with a great, can-do attitude and say “no problem” as much as possible when people ask you to do something.

Written By Mackenzie Ruh, SMU Student

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