I had the pleasure of leading one-on-one discussions with remarkable leaders Willard Ahdritz and Tom Windish these past couple days at SXSW in between watching NoMBe and Thutmose perform to packed audiences!

Willard founded Kobalt back in 2000. He recently put together the additional $150MM initiative for AWAL Recordings to disrupt the recorded side of the music business as he did the publishing industry through his admin deal model. Kobalt was valued at $789MM in October of last year.

Tom Windish founded his booking agency in the early 90’s before selling it to Paradigm, where he continues to agent as one of the executive leaders at the company. He has the best ears in the music business.

Both entrepreneurs have had extraordinary success led by their values.

It’s important for companies to have a powerful and inspiring mission –

At Th3RD BRAIN, ours is to create together with the most talented artists in the world in a way that inspires others across the globe to accomplish their dreams too.

There are two extensions of the mission which are equally important as the mission itself – the first is the north star strategy and the second is the company’s values.

Tom and Willard have instilled simple, profound values into their organizations. These values enable their companies to thrive and prosper. Their success proves the importance of cementing concrete values as an extension of a company’s mission.

Here were the specific values which led to their immense success –

Tom Windish / Paradigm, formerly the Windish Agency

  • Only work on what you love.
  • Respond immediately.
  • Be nice to everybody.

Tom only signs bands he loves, he responds almost in real-time, and he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. As a result of his leadership by example and instilling these three simple values into his company’s culture, the agents at Paradigm follow suit. By focusing on signing what they love, Paradigm has been able to pick up a lot of great artists before other agencies believed these artist’s businesses could be financially feasible.

Willard Ahdritz / Kobalt

  • Put creators first. Kobalt focuses on a service model as opposed to ownership. They don’t own their artists. They service them. They fund their artists without pushing them to give up ownership.
  • Be transparent. Every Kobalt client can dive into every detail of their accounting, across all right types, in the Kobalt Portal.
  • Thrive on creativity. They invest heavily in their A&R staff and develop them with a team focus.
  • Keep it simple. Their deals and accounting are straightforward.
  • Be a good partner. They have over 600 publishing partners. In 17 years, they have only had two conflicts (where one of their publishing partners wanted to sign an act Kobalt was also pursuing). They bowed out of both pursuits.
  • Champion diversity. They have a diverse team across race and ethnicity from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. In my opinion, Kobalt was one of the first companies to successfully hire from outside the music industry. I don’t know their exact numbers on gender equality, but I work with multiple amazing female leaders at Kobalt – The repertoire they have built under the leadership of their Sas Metcalfe, their first employee and the company’s Chief Creative Officer, is a tour de force.
  • Embrace technology. Kobalt was the first publisher with an app clearly communicating received revenue in real-time. Through technology, they maximize operational efficiency to keep expenses as low as possible and then pass on those savings to their clients.
  • Educate everyone. Kobalt’s marketing and content team remove the hood of the music industry. They tell amazing stories of their wins and always share knowledge.

The team Kobalt has built on the foundation of these values transformed the publishing industry and is planning to do the same for recorded music. They clearly communicate their mission across every touch point of their brand, including their successful AWAL house at SXSW.


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