Jazz Lessons for Startup Success: Dyn CEO Jeremy Hitchcock at XSITE

6/13/13Follow @curtwoodward

Dyn is one of those boring-but-important players that make the online economy possible.

Big names like Twitter, Tumblr, and Netflix rely on it to connect millions of users with their digital services, in the blink of an eye and without a hiccup.

So it makes perfect sense that Dyn’s CEO is really a frustrated jazz trombonist.

Sure, that might sound a little far-fetched in the tech world, where startup founders are typically imagined as precocious teenage computer wizards or visionary leaders with a ruthless streak.

But Jeremy Hitchcock, the CEO and co-founder of Dyn (pronounced “dine”), has turned his particular blend of interests into a very compelling story.

Founded in 1998 and headquartered in Manchester, NH, Dyn has grown right along with the Web by providing domain name system (DNS) services to some of the biggest names in tech.

Hitchcock

In 2010, the company added e-mail services to its product list, with more notable customers including Box. And after bootstrapping its way to multimillion-dollar yearly revenues, Dyn raised a $38 million slug of venture financing last fall.

What’s the secret to this under-the-radar success story? Hitchcock, who played jazz while studying computer science and founding Dyn at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, says there are some serious parallels between business and the great American art form.

You’ll get to hear Hitchcock and other founders riff on that idea and much more on June 19 at XSITE, our fifth annual Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. Sign up here to get your tickets for this must-attend all-day gathering at Babson College.

But for now, check out these two big ideas from the jazz world that, in Hitchcock’s eyes, translate directly into running a tech company—including one that keeps some of your favorite online services humming right along.

Same Tunes, Different Flavors

No art exists in a vacuum. And musicians in particular are always remixing and updating the tunes of their predecessors.

This is obvious even for someone who isn’t a big music nerd—from the Beach Boys lifting Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” as the music behind “Surfin’ USA,” to the endless number of hip-hop songs that have sampled breakbeats from the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” or James Brown’s “Funky Drummer.”

Jazz players have their own famous example of a musical idea that spread and changed, inspiring many others. The chord progression that George Gershwin put together when he wrote “I Got Rhythm” was used as a blueprint by countless other composers, including Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Duke Ellington, all of whom played with different melodies to create new songs based on that same series of chords.

The same is true in technology and in business, Hitchcock says—software and systems built by other people serve as the foundation for new services and applications, while executives are forever altering and adding to the leadership ideas developed and perfected by their predecessors.

“If you take a look at the Great American Songbook, you have some greats who wrote some great material (Gershwin, Ellington, Porter, Van Heusen) and then some modern interpreters (Harry Connick, Diana Krall),” Hitchcock says. “What that lesson teaches is how free ideas are … and how execution matters. In all of our businesses, we’re running playbooks of others in a way that’s novel and interesting for our own audiences.”

The Beauty and Messiness of a Team

Miles Davis had already been a successful musician—and gone through a period of personal downfall—when he linked up with an up-and-coming John Coltrane. Eventually, they both became titans of American music, producing Davis’s “Kind of Blue,” an iconic jazz album.

“When you bring together musicians or different players (bass, drums, piano), they have to be good but also gel—otherwise it’s a solo act,” Hitchcock says.

That kind of chemistry and creativity can’t be bottled, prototyped, or designed. But it’s just as important to business success as producing the right product and serving customers, he says.

“You’ve seen the all-star team get together, and sometimes it’s dominating and sometimes it’s a disaster. I’m more of the Billy Beane/Moneyball mentality—it’s about execution and getting things right,” Hitchcock says. “[Having a] shared vision about featuring everybody, having a good time, and entertaining an audience to boot.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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