Chris Vance, 42, is the Founder and CEO of Playground Sessions, the number one-rated piano-teaching software and method that he co-created with legendary musician and producer Quincy Jones.
Before Playground Sessions, Vance worked as a Managing Director for ZAG, a brand invention company as well as being a Brand Inventor for Qui Tequila. Vance also served as a Brand Manager for Proctor & Gamble and worked in finance with Goldman Sachs and Arthur Andersen. Vance holds an MBA, Marketing and Strategy, from Northwestern University and a BS in Finance/Accounting from Boston College.
Q: What would you like to see your team accomplish in 2019?
Playground Sessions is starting to take off across all fronts. As such, our team is naturally growing. As we grew as a team, our priority is to ensure that we do not lose our drive to be category pioneers and innovators—and that we are not afraid to fail.
Essentially, our goal is to maintain our culture, which, in my view, has been our main point of differentiation to date. Although we must grow as a team in size, we want to be sure to maintain the core values that make us who we are.
Q: Who is your role model or hero?
My mother, who was a teacher and school principal, was an incredible educator her whole life—touching kids, parents, entire families, and communities in unbelievable ways that had a real lasting impact. It really shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I’ve dedicated my career to education in my way.
Since I was a kid, I was told by my mother to be nice and kind. It’s crazy to me that business leaders are only now figuring out the importance of that! That mindset alone can bring lasting impact to your team and customers in immeasurable ways.
Q: What is your favorite book?
Watership Down by Richard Adams. It’s a survival and adventure book about a group of rabbits in search of a home. The rabbits are portrayed like real people. It’s a fantastic book on many levels. One thing you can take away from the book is just how similar we all are to each other, even to rabbits! I highly recommend this book!
Q: Do you use any specific method or system to run daily operations?
At a startup, every day is a bit different to say the least. The importance of being flexible and comfortable with uncertainty is incredibly important. However, methods and processes do (of course) have a place and play a big role. For me, the most important system you need to have on a daily basis is to make sure that every team member feels empowered and feels ownership.
You must have a culture where everyone buys into the same vision and is eager to chase down the same company goals. Your company is only as good as its people. If everyone understands that and you’ve invested the necessary time to hire the right people, things should run about as smoothly as they ever will at a startup company.
Q: Why did you choose your present industry at this time?
Playground will continue to focus on our industry as long as a problem exists. Almost 90 percent of keyboards and guitars are stuffed under the bed within 30 days, and that’s a huge problem. Playground was the category pioneer, combining technology and new approaches to music learning that not only democratize the learning process but make it so more people have success (and fun!) learning. It really works. Imagine that!
Q: What is the best/worst moment you can remember in your career?
Playground recently partnered with Harry Connick, Jr., who is now the primary piano teacher in Playground’s learning application. Partnering with Harry, seeing him in the studio teaching lessons, and now hearing from our community of learners how much they enjoy learning from him is certainly a career highlight for me.
We announced our partnership with Harry on NBC’s Today Show. Unfortunately, a technical glitch happened, and our app didn’t display the way the team knows that it should have and could have. That was a low point for me because it was such a big deal for our team. Harry managed it like the professional that he is, but for our team, it hurt!
Q: Looking back – if you could advise a younger version of yourself to do something different – what would it be?
Trust and love yourself as much as possible. When you grow up and grow into leadership positions, it’s essential that you’re happy with really believe in yourself. I’ve learned that if I give my 100 percent, it’s enough. I wish I always embraced that straightforward concept. I guess parents do know best, because I did grow up hearing, “just do your best, Chris.”
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