Little Will-E Records AKA Ronnie Dunn, Jeff Balding, and I recently met up in Boston with Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot, JD Sherman, COO of Hubspot, and David Meerman Scott, legendary marketing strategist, speaker, and author. It was a big deal sitting between the most decorated country music artist of all time and by all estimation the next Steve Jobs. You might think the conversation was dominated by business, money, and the next plan to take over the world. If that’s what you thought, then you don’t know Ronnie Dunn or Brian Halligan. Here’s some insight…
Ronnie said no to the music establishment despite being offered large amounts of cash. He believes art shouldn’t be moderated by a bunch of suits and the fan should decide what they want to listen to. He wears the same black t-shirt and black jeans almost everyday, prefers hole in the wall mexican food over fine dinning and almost always drives his pickup truck to get there. He won’t let anyone post on his socials other than him (zero tolerance policy) and anything unauthentic or over branded doesn’t sit well in the Ronnie Dunn camp.
Everything you need to know about Brian Halligan can be summed up with this. Some people bring their dog to work but Brian doesn’t just bring his dog Romeo to work, he brings his dog to your work! He owns it. Ask one of his 600 employees and they will all tell you Brian Halligan is the real deal. He’s a huge Grateful Dead fan. Check out his book Marketing Lessons from The Grateful Dead. He loves his dog, marketing, and people. Money and business are a distant second. “For the love of marketing” is a Hubspot slogan not for the love of money.
By all accounts Ronnie and Brian have nothing in common. Ronnie was born in Texas, Brian in Massachusetts. Brian graduated MIT, Ronnie the head of his class at the school of hard knocks. For the last six years, Brian developed one of the fastest growing software companies in the world Hubspot while Ronnie founded Little Will-E Records and rocked sold out stadiums from coast to coast. They aren’t the same age, they don’t come from the same place, and they don’t dress the same BUT by the end of our meeting we were laughing, hugging, and trading information like we were back in high school. No judgement, no fake or phony niceties, just hangin’ and talking about music and family like we do in Ronnie’s barn in Nashville. I forgot to mention that Brian took off his button down shirt and put on a Little Will-E Record t-shirt by the end of our meeting.
This meeting was epic. It taught me so much about how business in the 21st century should be. As Simon Sinek states we all need to start with why. A meeting like this defies all of the assumptions. It turns out a cat from MIT can be friends with a rock star from Texas because they are both AUTHENTIC and care more about things outside of themselves, their business, their profit, and their brand. They both love art and that’s where the conversation should start. Business desperately needs art and art needs business. Every business should be asking how can we take our passion and make art that helps and inspires people. If we make money then we create more art that helps more people.
This certainly wasn’t a normal meeting with normal people because NORMAL SUCKS!It’s boring. Remember what Johnny Cash told ‘em,“I’ve never been normal, not what you call establishment. I’m country.” This meeting wasn’t about making the establishment more established. It was something bigger…the love of a dog named Romeo, music, and marketing- the way business should be done.