This episode of Get IN. features a deep dive into the story of Sweetwater Sound with its President and CEO, Mike Clem. Hosted at Sweetwater’s headquarters in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the discussion touches on Clem’s early introduction to entrepreneurship, his journey through the evolving landscape of retail e-commerce, and Sweetwater’s growth and innovation in the music industry.

Clem shares insights into Sweetwater’s unique business model, emphasizing personalized customer relationships and expertise in the musical gear sector. The conversation also explores Sweetwater’s approach to overcoming challenges during economic recessions and the pandemic, revealing how strategic flexibility and focus on customer value have fueled sustainable growth. Additionally, the episode highlights Sweetwater’s investment in community and education, reflecting on the company’s role beyond being a retailer to becoming a vibrant hub for music makers and creators.

Be sure to check out these great clips from the show:

  • 00:44 Introducing Mike Clem: A Music Industry Innovator
  • 03:39 The Sweetwater Sound Story: From Mobile Studio to E-Commerce Giant
  • 06:56 The Sweetwater Difference: Personalized Customer Experience
  • 11:32 Embracing Technology: Sweetwater’s Approach to Innovation
  • 15:11 The Future of Music: Generative AI, Spatial Audio, and Beyond
  • 20:51 Sweetwater’s Secret Sauce: Education, Relationships, and Value
  • 28:56 Unboxing the Sweetwater Experience: Beyond the Candy
  • 29:23 Cultivating Happiness: The Sweetwater Culture
  • 30:17 Building a Community: From Amenities to Family Inclusion
  • 31:29 Midwest Values: The Secret Ingredient to Success
  • 33:23 Musicians at Heart: The Sweetwater Team’s Unique Edge
  • 34:11 Music, Memories, and Discoveries: A Personal Journey
  • 35:24 Learning from Legends: Insights and Inspirations
  • 37:52 Navigating Growth and Challenges: Sweetwater’s Resilience
  • 40:12 Leadership and Transparency: Guiding Through Uncertainty
  • 44:55 Looking Ahead: Innovations and Opportunities
  • 47:22 Wrapping Up: A Lightning Round of Insights

Get IN. is the show focused on the unfolding stories and most extraordinary innovations happening in the heartland today. Get IN. is brought to you by Powderkeg.

In our conversation with Dan, you will learn about:

  • the convergence of technology, music, and entrepreneurship as exemplified by Sweetwater Sound and its leadership.
  • Gain knowledge on the evolution of the music industry, particularly in relation to retail e-commerce and the integration of technology within music production and education.
  • The importance of customer relationships, the impact of maintaining a company culture rooted in service and community, and the potential future directions of the music and sound industry, including spatial audio and creator economies.

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Episode Transcript

Matt: From the crossroads of America and the Hoosier State of Indiana, this is Get IN, the podcast focused on the unfolding stories and extraordinary innovations happening right now in the heartland. I’m Matt Hunckler, CEO at Powderkeg, and I will be one of your hosts for today’s conversation.

I’m joined at Sweetwater headquarters in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with co host Christopher “Toph” Day. Let’s roll. He’s ready to roll. CEO

Toph: I eat the mic again? A little bit. Okay, I’ll back off now.

Matt: And Max Yoder, co founder of Lessonly and good friend. And ours and the show. Thanks for having me. Awesome to have you here, dude.

And on the show today is Mike Clem, President and CEO at Sweetwater sound. Mike Clem is recognized as an innovator, speaker, and mentor. He has over 25 years of experience in retail e commerce, which began in the earliest days of the internet and includes many notable retail brands. Mike is a lifelong musician who is passionate about the music industry, and he is a proud Fort Wayne native, also very active in the community here, uh, and lives here with his wife and four children.

And Mike, thank you so much for hosting us today. Uh, love having you guys here. We are, are so pumped to do this. Um, I’m, I’m, I want to share this with our listeners because I think it’s kind of fun. Uh, I got halfway through this conversation and realized I did not hit record. And I did that at like the headquarters of music in the world at Sweetwater Sound.

Yeah. Like, this is like my new dinner table story to be able to tell. So, thank you all for sharing that with me.

Mike: We are used to showbiz. Right. So, here we go.

Matt: That’s what they call me, Mr. Showbiz. I’m really excited to do this conversation again. And, uh, Mike, you just took us on an amazing tour of Sweetwater Sound here.

Um, there’s so many things that you, you showed us, and I know we’re going to dive deep into the inner workings of this business that is just doing business at a massive scale, but wanted to start a little bit with your background. Uh, can you tell us a little bit about how you grew up and first got introduced to entrepreneurship and technology?

Mike: Yeah. So I’m a Hoosier. So I’m from very near Fort Wayne, a little small town. And uh, I always start the story there because, uh, only recently really realized how impactful that was to, to kind of my platform and even how I lead today growing up in a small town, hard work ethic. And so you learn from a very early age, uh, things don’t happen unless you, you just dig in with some grit.

And in my house, it was, uh, you know, we’re here to put other people before ourselves. And so those two things I think really served me well, uh, even today as I lead. So thank you, mom and dad. Um, and then a musician from an early age, it was a creative house. And so, uh, learned many instruments, drummer primarily, uh, kind of all the music I could do through, through school.

And then I was all set to take a music engineering degree in college and then kind of shifted right at the very end. This is mid nineties. I ended up at Purdue who had a very innovative program at that time that was like part computer programming, part design, but it was very specific to building e commerce and website experiences.

And so. I got that degree and then spent many years, uh, just kind of in agencies and building some of that early retail tech found my way here in 2003 and, and kind of married the passions as they say. And so, uh, having a blast doing that.

Matt: When you joined the business, I know e commerce was just a small fraction of what was happening.

I think you said less than 3 million in sales was happening online. When you joined in 2003, tell me a little bit about what you decided to kind of dive into first and why particularly you saw. All the opportunity that was out there.

Mike: Yeah, so, so Sweetwater had a website at that time. So, I actually went live in 1994.

So, one of the very first websites. Oh, that’s early, early. Not just in our industry, but, but really internet wide.

Toph: I think in 92 we were given emails at Purdue and nobody knew what to do with them.

Mike: Thank you, right. How do I get in this? And so, uh, but from, uh, Very early on for our founder, Chuck Surack, this internet was about how do we use that for community for educating for building what we now would call kind of the research destination in our industry and retail like selling online did not come until later.

At that point, we were very phone based. So this is not like pure play e commerce. This is not call center. This is like a very Uh, uh, kind of outbound phone based expertise, relationship based sales, which we can unpack. Uh, and so at that time is 60 million dollar company, but most of that was over the phone. So it was, you know, three or 4 million dollars that was online.

And so that was really my job to grow that up and not to. Compete with those phone sales, but really as a funnel. Like, how do we, how do we leverage this new world wide web to, uh, to, uh, bring those customers into this very unique, uh, sales motions, very unique business model.

Matt: Well, and it, it all seems very organic when you think about the founding story of Sweetwater, uh, nothing was, Intentionally meant to be, I’m going to build a billion dollar company.

I’m going to go and take over the music industry. It was literally the founder Chuck and his mobile recording studio, right?

Mike: So the founding story. So, so Chuck, uh, pro touring musician through the seventies and, and, uh, the story famously goes, he’s in this VW bus that it was, you know, inherited from his parents.

It was full of bondo and spray paint and like this wonderful, you know, starving artist story. And when he was not out on the road, he was, uh, here in Fort Wayne doing recording services and, and, uh, was founded in 1979. At that time, there was not a lot of music technology, and so he got really well known for some of the early pioneering technical equipment in our industry.

And all of a sudden, the phone is ringing, and it’s a very major artist saying, Hey, we hear you’re the guy that’s gotten really good at this technology.

Toph: Is he designing that technology, or is he reselling?

Mike: At that point, it’s like other people are manufacturing it. But, uh, there, just like, there was no internet, so it was like, you know, how do I use this thing?

He’s guru, how do I, yeah. He, and so he just kind of figured it out,

Toph: Fine tune, tweak, and make it all work.

Mike: Right, right. And, and so then let me help train you on how to get that sound and now let’s start trading sounds. And so like, there was like this, this, uh, just really started as a community and then that evolved into retail, which was like, oh, well can you sell me though?

I don’t know. Let me find out. Right, right. and, and, and so just like this wonderful organic growth. Just one step at a time. But to your point, Matt, it was never designed for exit or not a financial vehicle. It’s just about serving one customer at a time. One detail at a time. The most wonderful, durable, uh, growth story that I’ve seen

Matt: When starting with like that, you kind of put it as the top part of the pyramid, right?

Like the pro pro musicians, like Stevie Wonder was hitting them up being like, how’d you get that sound? Kind of thing. And like, we’re talking series pros that are learning the instrument, maybe even more than the manufacturers even know what, what can be done with it.

Mike: Yeah, because back then the, the gear was very expensive, right?

Like these were serious investments. And so like uniquely, if the industry is a pyramid, we kind of started at the top and a lot of our growth tends to be kind of down market where normally you would, you would be moving up.

Matt: Yeah, that’s really unique. Well, one of the things that I think is really fun is that we have Max here.

Uh, in studio with us, uh, who’s a big fan of Sweetwater and how I initially got to understand and, and better appreciate the brand. So I was really excited to be able to bring him along today.

Max: Thanks for bringing me along. Never been to campus. Uh, received a lot of Sweetwater boxes, uh, over the last two years.

Thank you for that. My pleasure. Um, been building a studio, just a small little studio for, for myself and my friends to enjoy. But my actual musical journey, I’m excited to tell you, started with, uh, a Sweetwater, um, engineer. Uh, who was a, my, my, one of my best friend’s cousins. Giving me a piece of gear. It was the first piece of gear I ever got.

It was a Tascam recorder, two channel. Um, I did not know what to do with it. I didn’t know how it worked. And I just got to tinker with it. Plug in a microphone and be like, Why can’t I hear anything? Oh, it’s because it’s not on the microphone line. Just mess, messing around. Because he worked here and had access to that.

He had an extra recorder. I get to start recording. Um, it’s what I do with all the free time I have now. And it started with somebody who worked in this building. Love it. Six years ago, I started, you know, dabbling, buying some things, and I got introduced to Henry, and I’d like to talk about your model here, because I think this has really set you apart.

Henry Moore, who’s my, my Sweetwater engineer, I’m maybe buying one thing a year at the time, but Henry knows who I am, he checks in on me, um, he asks, you know, if there’s anything else I need, and most of the time, then I was like, not really, Henry, you know, kind of, kind of at stasis. A couple years back, I start buying more, Henry’s still the guy, right, I don’t get switched to a different guy now that I’m starting to, to buy more, it’s still Henry.

Um, and Henry’s like, so what are you making? So I send him some songs. Um, and what I love about it is, I don’t usually get to touch the equipment that I’m buying. I might be buying a compressor, which is a very nuanced tool. You can use it in a non nuanced way, but if Compressors do things that are sonically like, pretty nuanced.

So I don’t necessarily know exactly what compressor I want and which one I need, and I don’t have 14 of them in front of me to try out. So I talk to Henry. Here’s what I’m going for. Here’s what I’m looking for. And he’s like, I think this might, might work for you, you could also do these two. Um, he maybe steers me away from something that I think I want.

And he’s like, well, what are you really trying to do? All these things I don’t get anywhere else and I really need them in this process because Henry likes music as much as I do. So, I guess I’m going out of my way to say that is unique to me in terms of how I interact with, um, me growing up. I always thought of Sweetwater as an online store, right?

But it didn’t feel like an online store because I knew a person there. And I got to meet him for the first time in person today, which is really cool. Anyhow, I just find that to be special. I don’t think people know that. I don’t think people know, uh, necessarily, uh, that. That is such a way you set yourself apart from many other e commerce players.

Mike: Yeah, I love that and it is a unique business model. And so here’s Sweetwater about a billion and a half dollar company. We serve musicians, content creators, about 10 million customers all the way from the school kid learning to play at, at, at band up through people, you know, building a studio at home like you, uh, professional musicians, but also a lot of, uh, B2B, so, so recording studios, churches, schools, uh, cruise ships.

Mm-Hmm, , NFL stadiums, like these are all our customers. Very wide range of customers, but the model is the same for every one of those, whether you’re the the kid or the NFL stadium, um, at the heart and soul of our company is what we call a sales engineer. So 650 men and women recruited from all over the country.

Very prestigious job. Actually, you come from a pretty serious music school or I used to record, you know, uh, used to tour with so and so. And so like you, you find your way to Fort Wayne, Indiana. You go through an incredible amount of training before you ever interact with a customer. 13 weeks. In fact, we call it Sweetwater University.

It’s a curriculum. It’s classes, product training and business and customer service. We talk a lot about. You’re either adding credibility or you’re taking away. And so we invest deeply in these, um, these sales engineers before they get on the phone and are part of our credibility. Um, as a customer, you get paired up with one of these experts.

And so over time, interacting with us, you get that same person. So that’s why Max knows Henry so well is because we’re not just waiting for the phone to ring.

Toph: I even feel like I know Henry. Yeah, this is awesome. I want to be friends with Henry.

Mike: Thank you. Uh, so we’re nurturing that relationship and that’s really the magic here.

It’s, it’s, this is not transactional e commerce. This is like true one to one relationships. And so you get paired up and then we’re actually making outbound. We’re checking back in six months later to, Hey, what’s going on? I thought of you today. You told me you wanted this kind of sound. We actually have a product that’s doing that now.

You got to check this out, right? So, so that’s the kind of relationship. And so that times, you know, millions of customers is really what differentiates

Max: A major moat, right? Like, I mean, all the people trying to get into this industry are going to have to do it that well.

Matt: If they’re going to have to displace Henry, right, right.

Mike: Not easy to do. Yeah, that’s right. And again, starting at the top of the pyramid. That’s why we were able to do, you know, we can invest in these really serious accounts and then, and then, and now it’s just a matter of scaling. So we use tech and innovation kind of to scale that, that almost old school mom and pop customer service model.

Matt: Can you maybe go a little bit deeper than that on the tech side of things? Cause walking through the halls here, I mean, you see dashboards, you see like crazy setups with multi monitors and quick add buttons and, and people. Having impassioned conversations about, no, I really think they might have recorded it this way, like that is, is, is so cool, but to be able to do that a billion and a half dollars a year at that scale, how do you, how do you do it?

Can you, you know, you don’t have to share the trade secrets.

Mike: The simple answer is we just know our customers at a more intimate level than, than most retailers. And it’s because we’re on the phone with you all day long. We’re not just looking at. Online behavior clicks or searches like we’re actually, we know the passion, the emotion under the sale.

Oh, you’re trying to record an album. Oh, you’re trying to play live. And so like we take the time to just understand. And in a high passion industry like this, you, you, it’s fun to talk about rock and roll. So, so we get to spend a lot of time with our customers, even when we’re not selling, we’re learning.

And so we have a really powerful CRM system where we’re listening to this call. Oh, you collect guitars. Check. Oh, you, you Oh, left handed guitars check. And so we’re storing all this understanding of you. So that we can add more value for you. Like, like some retailers would, you know, that’s like a sales tactic.

And like, for us, it’s like, no, we’re just trying to support the relationship and add the most value at a very human level. And so when we learn all those things, now I can just not, uh, not only do product recommendations, But we can customize your content and now I can send you videos or I can send you articles that I know are relevant.

And so it’s really about surrounding that whole musical journey. And so we just understand our customers at a deep level.

Toph: Like maybe talk a little about how the needs of musicians, professional and or, or versus hobbyists. Um, and like how their needs changed and how like the macro changes in music change those, those musicians needs.

Um, and, and how do you, and are there any other big things you think that are coming that are gonna be big shifts in the future?

Mike: Max was asking a similar question earlier too. And I think it’s, uh, really kind of the core of the question is like, what is music making? Look like and how does it change over time?

And so you go back to the origin and it was like, it was this early technology, but basically we were all playing, uh, acoustic instruments and, and, and, you know, electric guitars, but, but, but, uh, not computer based music is my point. Yeah. And so then I think probably the first evolution is like, okay, now there’s computers.

Now they’re affordable. Now there’s software at home to do recording. And so like what used to have to be in a really expensive recording studio. Now we can do in our bedrooms, right? And now I think in recent years we’re even seeing, oh wow, now it’s really high quality gear that I can put in my, my room and I think Max is a good example of that.

And so it’s affordable and it’s approachable and I think that’s good for the industry because it’s kind of lowered the bar to, uh, to creativity and, and collaboration. And so like we love any one of these step changes in technology that kind of introduces more, you know, kind of a new generation into music making.

Max: Sorry, go ahead, please.

No, no. 20 years ago, uh, Apple buys, uh, eMagic, I think that’s what it was called. Well done. Um, and, and, and creates Garage, and releases GarageBand maybe a year later. I, I would be so curious, we don’t, can’t know this, how much your growth and the fact that GarageBand became something that was on every hobbyist Mac computer.

I mean that, having GarageBand on my computer made me more interested in music. Oh, that’s interesting. And, and, and how, you know, that was a move you didn’t, you weren’t colluding, right? Just two trends that come together. To create so many more people who can make music and who need a microphone, you know, and then podcasting is what I’d be very interested to hear how you’ve seen all those things, you know, rise, and I’m sure you’ve risen with them.

Mike: Yeah, for sure. And so, and so now it’s on our phone. And so now it’s mobile. Now, now I’ve got a literally a recording studio in my pocket. Right. And, and so now I can do mobile recording. Now I’m, I’m, you know, on an app. It’s like, it’s, uh, it’s engaging an entire generation of music makers that otherwise weren’t, weren’t going to be introduced to that.

So I think, yeah, great point garage band, I think has been wonderful. And now we think about where does it go from here? And it’s like now we’ve got generative AI. And I, you know, you can’t do a podcast anymore without talking about gen AI. Um, we actually get really excited about it. I think it’s going to be good for the, the industry because it will lower that bar again.

And so now I can sit at a prompt and I can say, Hey, make me music that sounds like this. Oh, wow, this sounds great. And so now, you know, uh, this generation will be introduced to, wow, this really sounds good. I want to do more of that. Oh, now I want to get more serious. Now I want to buy gear. And so it will kind of change the entry point.

We believe totally.

Toph: Do you think generative AI will change, um, the authenticity of an artist versus someone who’s creative at putting sounds together? And I’m not diminished. I’m not diminishing, um, the generative AI, the future of what music might be. But like, like, let’s take Michael Jackson or, you Madonna or Hank Williams or these, these just amazing musicians that, that are timeless and reinvent themselves.

Do you think the artist will change like the, what makes you an artist will change in the future because of generative AI?

Mike: I think we’ve got a lot of to, to figure out. I think it will lower the bar, uh, you know, you know, I can start making music with, with Less talent, if you will. Yeah. Um, sure. That’s good.

But it’s, but, but like one of the challenges we have with, uh, especially music programs in schools is it’s like, it takes a lot of grit and effort to learn an instrument. And in a world of instant gratification where I’m otherwise just want to be gaming right now, I think for the first time it’ll be like, Oh, this is, this is sounding good.

I can, I can get some more traction. What it means for more major artists is sort of interesting to figure out and there’s all kinds of like even the like the Grammy Awards is trying to figure out like they just published some policy of like, well, gen AI songs be eligible for a war. There’s a whole lot to figure out.

What about rights management? What about when it learned from previous works and so. Whole lot to figure out. I, I think, and Sweetwater thinks if you really are in it for love of the game in this industry, that there’s no replacement for just like really enjoying, collaborating and making music. So it will change the tools.

We’ve seen it before with other tech, but, but at the heart of it is it’s like, uh, nobody wants a computer to just replace such an emotional expression.

Matt: One of the things that Apple also introduced, uh, recently was. These the air pod pro with the spatial audio and we got to experience here in studio someone Mixing and putting together in spatial audio experience, which is hard to describe But it seems like that opens up so many other pathways for people to think about sound beyond just stereo Can you talk a little bit about other things?

Things like that or that specifically in how artists and music is sort of evolving with this new technology.

Mike: Yeah. So, so spatial audio. So, so for our listeners, so, so, you know, stereo sound where I have a left and right speaker and then surround sound like many of us have around our TV, like the next evolution of that is spatial or, or maybe you’ve heard of Dolby Atmos.

And so it’s a very specific number of speakers around, uh, the listener and now in, in, uh, ear pods. And so there’s a whole momentum around this in the music industry where now you can take a, uh, maybe a, uh, a famous hit out of a back catalog. Now we’re remixing those and we’re doing some of that work here at Sweetwater for, for, for major artists that, uh, takes those instruments and puts them in space.

So I hear the guitar coming from over here. I hear a vocal come from over here and effect over here. And so it’s, it’s this wonderful experience that, that is opening up. Um, it’s more enjoyable to listen to. And so, so there’s, there’s a real momentum around that and that creates. new opportunities for artists and it creates new revenue streams.

And so that’s important for our industry in a world where, you know, we don’t buy albums anymore. We just go to streaming services. So there’s a lot of concern about like an artist really support. And so anything that kind of reinvigorates and creates more opportunities for artists and more, more listening is, is wonderful.

Max: And we haven’t had any really real step changes since stereo. They tried quadraphonic, you know, and there’s surround sound. But I don’t hear a lot of people listening to their music in surround sound, right? We watch movies in surround sound. Um, so it’s pretty neat to think that this might actually be that.

I’m not sure if it will be.

Mike: Yeah, we we Yeah, there will be all kinds of use cases. We think even live sound. So major venues are looking at, like, what does spatial look like? And, uh, the sphere, if anyone has had that experience in Las Vegas, there’s some really cool audio technology going on in there.

Toph: Edgetown Research out of California is like using the body, right, to proliferate. Edges. Yeah, right. It’s amazing technology.

Mike: Yeah. And so then you, then you move out into augmented reality and virtual reality, not just like listening to music, but how will we, uh, how will educate music education change? And so I just saw a really great video just yesterday of a.

Kind of an augmented, I’m playing the guitar, but here’s like these prompts, uh, in my augmented reality just showing me, oops, you should have moved your hand to here. And so like, Ooh,

Max: Another way, another way to try that. It

Toph: gives me hope. I might not have played the guitar

Max: yet. I believe in you. I believe in you.

Yeah, me too. Matt and I, uh, play, do a lot of jamming together. And we were talking the other day. We don’t always have a drummer. And how sweet

Toph: Edgetown Research

Max: It will be when we can have a drummer that is, uh, you know, instead of having a drum machine that stays very consistent, what if we have an AI generated drummer that is riffing with us?

Has some feel. It’s hearing us and it’s, yeah, it has some feel. Yeah. I don’t think we’re too far away from that.

Mike: Coming soon. I agree. Yeah. Yeah. And so all this is musicians and then we think about content creators, uh, and so like what we’re doing right now, podcasters, streamers, like that’s a big market for us and a lot of momentum there.

And what’s interesting there is I feel like we’re kind of moving out of the first inning where we all had an iPhone and like we’re doing kind of basic production and all of a sudden it’s like, wait, this is working or I’m making money from my channel. And so we’re seeing this real momentum right now and to kind of upgrade into intermediate and pro.

And so like there’s this entire generation of when I grow up, I want to be a YouTube star. Um, and we’re seeing people like really, uh, start to, to do it like it’s working. And so we’re, we’re finding great momentum.

Matt: It really does seem that, You, you mentioned YouTube, uh, specifically, I’ve probably watched hundreds of hours of Sweetwater content on YouTube.

Um, it, it really seems like learning these skills, techniques, um, has never been easier and it’s only getting easier, uh, for those who are interested. Um, tell me a little bit about how Sweetwater is currently educating its, uh, employees, its customers, its partners, uh, because just taking the tour here, amazing training spaces, multiple different, I mean, you had a theater set up, you had a live stage sound set up, uh, you had a training seminar area.

It just seems like education is a really core part of your business.

Mike: Yeah, thank you. And so, so we, there’s kind of three pillars. Like it’s like these deep relationships with customers. It’s this. Expertise and, and just, um, um, knowing the most about the gear in our industry. And then it’s value add, there’s things we’re doing to just add more value than, than if you bought it anywhere else.

And so investing in that expertise for us looks like what I said earlier, the Sweetwater university, this is like the first 13 weeks of training, but then there’s this unbelievable amount of ongoing training, which is, you know, Two giant meetings, uh, each week where we have manufacturers flying in, they’re bringing the newest gear.

They’re like, you know, Hey, listen to what happens when I turn this knob. It’s like very in depth product training and then hands on. So they’ll stick around in a room somewhere in the campus and I can come in and actually put my hands on it and hear it. So, uh, again, not a call center. This is like, uh, you know, I’ve, I’ve had my hands on that gear.

So when I’m talking to a customer, I can explain exactly what’s going on at a very high level. Um, we do a lot of, uh, uh, uh, We have vendors who actually have offices on our, uh, campus village vendor village. Well done. Um, so like, Hey, I don’t know about this question. Let me just walk over and ask the manufacturer who has a presence here and then sometimes even jump on a three way call.

And so a lot of investment there and then we just have the, the, the studio world class studio on site. The main, the engineers can come down and actually put hands on the gear and a live recording studio or in our store. And so we make all these, these, uh, uh, investments into our, our people so that they can speak out of a position of authority.

Matt: One of the things that, uh, stood out to me as we were kind of going through creator row, I don’t know what you call that area of the, of the campus. Uh, but you literally have session musicians that can come. Uh, join and, uh, obviously big name artists come through here in Fort Wayne and want to record something and say, Hey, I need a drummer.

It’s like, Oh, well, we’ve got a world class drummer who played with Genesis and all kinds of other bands. Just let me go get him. Like it is incredible the, the amount of ways you go above and beyond. And it really seems like that, um, aligns with this. I don’t know if it’s a stated core value, but trust.

Mike: Oh, well done.

Yeah. Uh, and I said earlier, like this research destination. So from a customer standpoint, what we’re trying to establish is like when you start a purchase journey and I’m just in that first stage of like discovering a product like we really want you to think of Sweetwater first. And so that’s why we go over the top with all these investments in video.

We write all of our own product copy. We take high res. Photos of, of, uh, nearly all the products we do video 360 spin, like you will find more research tools about these products on our website than anywhere else. And that’s an investment. So, so that as a customer, you can start your journey there. Um, and then we add more value.

So, so like, like one thing we’ve learned over 40 years is it’s just an incredible. It’s a competitive mode as Max said earlier, but we in an industry where prices are very similar, we believe that we want to invest more in giving you more value. Um, there’s a Chuck, uh, a phrase that Chuck would use land yap.

It’s a southern term. It just means give you a little bit more value than you expected. And so for us, that’s. You know, we do free shipping. We do a free two year warranty with nearly everything that we sell that where you would pay for that anywhere else. We do a, uh, tech support on the phone after the sale.

Like, let’s, you know, Hey, I’m having this error trying to install the software. No problem. Let’s help you out. Just call in. We’ll take care of it. We do a really unique thing with guitars. So, so we call it guitar gallery. We take every guitar out of the box 399 and over. It goes through what we call a 55 point inspection, where we have technicians actually looking for cosmetic imperfections, playability.

They’re actually making adjustments. So it’s like literally better than factory fresh condition. And then it goes through this guitar gallery where we’re taking high res photos of each guitar. So on our website, you can actually look at, you know, if we have several of that guitar in stock. Ooh, I like that wood grain specifically.

Let me reserve that serial number and we ship that one to your door. All these investments, not just in content, but then in that value stack and the reason we’re doing all that is because we’re really trying to bridge that gap back to brick and mortar. This is otherwise a very emotional purchase. So I want to go to the local store, feel it, touch it, hear it.

And so for us, that’s really bringing you close. So you feel like you got up close and personal with that instrument and have all the confidence and trust back to your point of buying online and kind of best of best of both, if you will.

Toph: I think this is really smart. And so it. Um, I feel like we’re going through a full cycle.

And so in, in the old days, you go back, well, what’s old days, but let’s just say you go back 30, 40 years, a hundred years, right? If you’re a merchant in the middle of town, there’s a one on one relationship. I know who you are, you know, I’m selling to you, I’m buying from you, et cetera. It’s an experience.

And so that’s how businesses were built based on relationships and experience. And then this thing called the internet comes along and we all became detached. And so it’s very transactional. I think I disembodied. Yeah. Disembodied. And it’s almost like humans subconsciously want to get back to the experience, which is what you’re delivering today is, is I will all day long, I’m just thinking about when I call, you know, MX or I call whatever I call the customer service number of.

I just want to talk to Max, because I’ll remember Max, Max may not remember me if it’s 10, 000 customers, but eventually Max probably will, right? So like, this is a message to all those companies out there, because you do that naturally in a startup, because you only have three customers, so naturally you’re one on one relationship.

But then it breaks down at some point as, as companies grow and, and you built the infrastructure Mike to like maintain this. Cause that’s just, it’s in your DNA. And so like what, what advice, and maybe it’s hard to talk to other companies out there listening that are maybe more medium stage companies that have lost that one to one, the ability to one to one touch their customer and the absolute requirement to get back in there because given the choice between that water bottle and that water bottle, I’m going to choose the best experience every time.

And if you know me, and I’m gonna remember your name because I probably only call there once a year. Uh, how, what advice would you have or recommendations for companies to start thinking about that way? Because it does feel like the experience versus the transaction will win for the next 50 years.

Mike: What we’ve learned is, uh, we invest in the lifetime of the customer, not any one transaction.

And, uh, we don’t want to lose money on any one transaction, but in a high passion industry like ours, we can invest in these really long lifetime journeys. And so that’s why we go so deep with the relationship. We can bring a human into the loop. So we have kind of the same understanding of customers as other retailers do online.

But then we have this really unique ability to say, Oh, it looks like, you know, max is in market for, for whatever next product. Why don’t we just shorten that journey and get a, get a human to come in and really just, uh, uh, meet you early in that journey and add more value in that way. What you find out is like from a business standpoint, we get this unbelievable retention and loyalty and word of mouth.

And because we invest so deeply in these relationships, uh, it, you know, you look at our cohort curves and, and just sales over time. And it’s just like these wonderful straight lines. Like if you stick around, you tend to stick around forever and ever. And so almost, almost resembles recurring revenue business model where it’s just like this really reliable revenue stream also

Matt: One of the things I love about the relation relational aspect and also the sort of surprise and delight adding value. Is that every package comes with some candy in it? And what, what a cool way to create an experience. Also hearken to the brand sweet water. Thank you. Is there a story behind how that, that started?

Mike: There is a story. Um, so I think there’s a story. I like, as I understand it, it was just a Chuck Surack thing. It’s just like, let’s just throw a little candy in the box. It just makes it a little bit extra special. And it was just a little wow moment. And, and it’s just like these, you know, for no reason other than just like, could I just make someone’s day a little better.

And so. But we became known for it. And now you guys will not believe the amount of requests we get from customers like in the comments on the order. It’s like, Oh, only tootsie rolls, please. Or no fireballs. Wow. Or my spouse is only letting me buy this because of the candy.

Matt: Max is like, I didn’t know I could do that.

I didn’t know that was an option. I won’t

Mike: use it. I won’t use

Matt: it. I won’t use it.

Toph: I would request hot tamales, please.

Mike: That’s so cool. So, we’ve become very known for the candy. And

Matt: I knew, like, I knew that that was a thing that Sweetwater did, but still, when I got my first package, it was still a surprise and delight moment, you know, because it’s like you get so many other packages, you’re just ripping it out and, you know, okay, time to recycle the box.

And then, you know, you get the, you know, the most recent thing I ordered was a foot pedal for Nate’s cajon to play in the team jam that we were doing. I was like, oh yeah, candy, this is great. Um, so, so fun. Are, are there other ways that, um, you, you’ve kind of seen that in the customer journey here at Sweetwater or even thinking about the employee journey?

Um, everyone around here seems so freaking happy to work here. Um, it is, it is, uh, palpable, the energy and excitement that people have. And I know that that, uh, translates to the customer experience too.

Mike: So it’s a relationship based company. And so we, we talked sometimes about the three legged stool of customers and employees and even vendors like, like, we just want to partner really well with vendors.

We want to, you know, the same investment we’re making in customers and these long term relationships. We think the same way about vendors. We think the same way about employees. The culture we’ve had to be very intentional about building and so I would say it starts with hiring. We’re looking for people that have a bit of a servant heart like I want to be part of something bigger than myself.

Like this whole business model is how do we just pour into the lives of these musicians over the phone? And so you have to kind of start with your own heart to be able to reflect that into these phone calls with customers. And so we’re, we’re hiring the right people. And then the space, this campus, we’ve made a huge investment in, um, just wrapping, uh, structure around what does it look like to have community?

And so we’re bringing all these employees in from other parts of the country and kind of displacing you from your normal support network. So we really try to build that up with, um, All kinds of opportunities to meet other families, events that we do, like we try to just like do life together, not just business together.

That’s an important concept.

Max: There were kids in the cafeteria when we had lunch today. You know, there’s families in there. Like,

Mike: Like bring your family in and, and now we’re meeting other people and it’s like these little collisions. Like we just love that. I thought that was cool. Um, but then in amenities.

And so we have this fitness center, this doctor, this nurse, this hair salon, racquetball court. And so like we just invest in space, uh, because we think it matters. We think that that culture and like building that. Um, you know, kind of putting your money where your mouth is, I guess, and just, just building a space that we all enjoy.

And it does. You have, you walk around the building. We saw it this morning. All these people are smiling and we get, we get that comment all the time. And they’re like, is this a cult? Like, what is going on? And like, Hey, um, no,

Toph: and the signs all over that say, just do the right thing. Yeah.

Mike: And, and which sounds so boxy, but, but we’ve just realized it’s just, it’s very real and it shows up.

And we talk a lot about, um, Take care of one customer at a time, one detail at a time. Do that with passion and precision and the growth will come. The money will follow.

Matt: Do you think that being headquartered here in Indiana has a positive effect in that way? I

Mike: think so. Don’t you guys see it? I think in other places it’s like there’s something very real about Midwest values and work ethic.

And I think that’s very real because we have a lot of presence also in Manhattan or LA or Nashville, other music cities. But there’s just something special about this culture here that lets life flow down to zero. We’re not trying to be something, you know, you know, it’s just a. It can be very natural and I think that shows up in the relationship.

Toph: There’s an old story out there that um, I think, I think it was Warren Buffett that um, um, I can’t remember if it was directly or with one of the, one of the companies, I think it was one of the companies he invested in, but that CEO would purposely ask, proactively ask people applying for jobs at that company.

Were you raised on a Midwest dairy farm? Huh. Yes or no? And if the answer was yes, hired. A Midwest dairy farm. Midwest dairy farm. Okay. Specifically. Did not matter, college, no college, nothing mattered. Midwest dairy farm, yes or no, you’re hired. Automatically, we’ll figure it out. I would,

Max: I would

Matt: have not gotten hired.

Mike: That is so funny. We, we did a, I can’t make this up though. We did a promotion this week, a young woman. Who grew up on a Midwest dairy farm and a hundred percent. It was like, there’s a work ethic. There’s a work ethic. You just, you understand.

Toph: A genuine desire to serve, right? Right.

Mike: And there’s a grit and there’s a pace and a hustle.

And that that’s, you know, we talk a lot here, uh, like how does Sweetwater win? And I always, uh, it’s like peeling an onion and at the very center is heart. Like this is a company with a heart. Um, we surround that with an obsession over details. Like I’ve never seen anywhere else. And then we wrap that with like this, this hustle, this like entrepreneurial, there’s just a pace and a scrappiness relationships.

You know, you can get that far out the onion. I haven’t said a thing about musical instruments yet. There’s just a foundation here that’s based in those, those, you know, personality traits. Then you get to gear advice. And then finally you get to tech that just kind of scales and kind of, you know, empowers the whole thing.

Matt: Well, you read my mind because I was just about to ask about musical instruments. Um, it stands out to me that probably what 70 to 80 percent of your team are musicians themselves. Uh, do you think that musicians make a particularly better employees or do you think that there are things that musicians in particular bring to the job that may be non musicians?

Mike: Yeah, that’s a fascinating question. I think there’s plenty of research that says, yeah, as musicians, like it really trains our brains to think and problem solve and so like there’s wonderful research around all that. I think for us in particular, it’s like you really do have to kind of be it in love of the game.

Like, like to really kind of understand the customers well. Mm-Hmm. . And, and it just, um, it just creates a better experience when, when, when, you know, passion is igniting on the phone because it’s like we’re speaking the same language. Mm-Hmm. . And so not just the sales team, but like all throughout the company.

Like when you kind of understand your customer at that level, like what we’ve learned is that that really matters a lot.

Matt: I want to ask a few more music questions if you don’t mind, because we’ve spent so much time getting business knowledge from you. Um, I’m, this is a question I’ve asked only a few other times, uh, on the podcast, um, but I, I think you probably have some interesting answers.

One of the things I’ve noticed for me personally is that during certain seasons of my life There’s an album or a song that really stands out and it’s just like for this season of my life This is the album like wild Tom Petty wildflowers like this is gonna be on repeat for the next six, you know, however long Um, Are there any songs or albums for you that stand out to any particular seasons?

Mike: I get this question a lot and I always have to answer like, like, no, like we love all of our kids. They’re all, they’re all customers. That’s fair. Um, but what I’ve learned, so a musician and I’ve gone through several seasons myself or different bands play different styles or whatever. So I have a pretty wide taste.

Yeah. What, what I love is like this world of Spotify or streaming services where it’s just like, I don’t know, Spotify, you tell me. And yeah, like just, I love discovering the algorithm something new and, and it, I don’t know. That’s how I, that’s how

Max: I, I love that. Yeah. I listen to a lot more Ethiopian music than I ever have in Spotify, and I had no idea that I was big like that.

I was gonna enjoy that at all. And now it’s a big part of my catalog, which That’s awesome.

Matt: Which is bizarre. Yeah. Thank you, Spotify.

Max: I’d be curious, a similar vein, um, music oriented, you’ve had some legends come through here. I have a, I assume they’ve dropped some nuggets of wisdom that have stuck. You tell me.

Um, I’d love to hear, you know, even if it wasn’t somebody who we consider legendary, just somebody who just said something here, came through, gave a talk, answered a question, and it stuck with you. Yeah.

Mike: We We do, we get all these artists that come through. We, we, we had this discussion a little bit earlier in the day where, you know, there’s like these major artists, like these billboard artists or whatever, um, that are wonderful and famous.

The artists that we love that come through. are the sort of players players. It’s like not a name I know, but it’s like just their, their, their work just sort of stands for itself. It’s just like, these are the crafts people. Um, the, the best nuggets we’ve had coming through are from those folks. It’s like, I’ve been in the trench, I’ve made this album.

Here’s how I got this sound. Here’s how I did. And so, like, we love those folks that come in and just have really refined a craft and are willing to share. Uh, that’s what I love about this industry is it’s like, we’re all just creators. We just want to help each other get better. And so the amount of people that are willing to come in here and just, you know, we’ll have a workshop or a masterclass.

We’ll have. You know, a hundred people fill a theater and someone’s just sharing their lifelong learnings. And so we, we love doing that.

Max: A Wes Dooley is an example, AEA, ribbon microphones. This is a gentleman who makes microphones. He’s, he’s famous. If you really like ribbon microphones, like if you don’t know anything at ribbon microphones, you would not know who Wes was.

I bought one of his microphones and he, we were supposed to sit down for 15 minutes and talk and he spent two hours. Oh, wonderful. And he didn’t need to do that, uh, but he just, I was interested in what he knew, and he poured it, he poured into me for two hours. Sight unseen, never, you know, we, we’ve texted since, but he, he didn’t need to do that.

But I do think that is something that, uh, comes with the musician spirit, of being like, this person’s interested in something that I might have been fortunate enough to have some time with, and I like talking about it too, you know? And so then we end up spending two hours instead of fifteen minutes. I don’t know, I, I’m sure that’s in other industries as well, but I find it frequently in this one.

Mike: Yeah, I love that. And it’s, and it’s again for love of the game. And, and, um, and it just creates these connections with customers. I think, you know, as advice for other people, it’s like, what are the things you can do in your business that create the not just selling, but how do I wrap that with these experiences with this other value add?

And so it’s authentic, it’s authentic. And for us, it’s that takes the form of education or these guests, the amphitheater that we have in our customer. You know, part of our campus where we’re doing concert series all year long. We have the studio where we’ve got workshops going on. And so like, we really invest in that almost as give back.

Um, you know, we certainly could charge for that. Sometimes we do, but mostly it’s like, how do we just support this community? Well, in those ways,

Matt: Sweetwater is a culture. It’s a, it’s a movement. It’s a community, but it’s also a business. And, uh, obviously businesses always have challenging times. Um, Sweetwater has seen growth through, you know, 2007, eight, nine.

Uh, growth through the pandemic. Can you share a little bit about those experiences? I know you were here for both of those, uh, time periods,

Mike: um, blessed with a fantastic growth, 20 percent compounded annual growth for going back to the nineties, uh, literally, uh, grew every year except one year, uh, 2009, uh, which was just a little blip, but, but that’s, this was great recession.

Thank you. We, um, uh, learned a lot through that timeframe and, and, and Chuck kind of famously says, like, I just refused to participate in this recession. And we’re like, well, what does that mean? Chuck? I like to do that too.

Matt: Yeah.

Mike: I don’t want to participate in it. And what it meant was this. And it’s a wonderful lesson, which is like our entire, our entire life.

Uh, industry and really all of retail, like pulled back, like, like, like it was a lot of uncertainty. Um, a lot of concern. Let’s turn off our ads. Let’s pull back. Chuck says, I see that as opportunity. Uh, we’re going to push in and, and we’re going to go meet customers that are shopping and we’re going to, um, um, you know, so, so as a result, we took a lot of market share, got to meet lots and lots of new customers.

But we also added on to the value stack at that point. So it’s like, okay, times are tough. Customers need more financing options. So we actually in 2008, 2009, we came up with an internal kind of 36 pay like an installment payment plan long before it was a, you know, partner, a firm and so forth, right? We that’s when we did the two year warranty.

Like we listen. Customers need more confidence with precious, you know, harder and money. And so, so, so it was not just like, you know, Market share, but it was like, how do we help these customers have more confidence, more trust? And so. That was what we learned in 2008, 2009. And we pushed in, it was a great accelerator for our business.

Then we get to the pandemic, your, your second question. Um, uh, and listen, I say delicate, like there was a lot of, uh, you know, some companies, uh, a lot of hurt and a lot of pain. Ours was actually a success story. Great accelerator again, uh, 2. 5 million new customers through the pandemic that we, uh, brought to.

Um, because we sell the kind of things you need to stream from your home, your business, your school, your church. And so that was a, a, a big acceleration and had the best way to research them. Uh, thank you. Uh, but also bucket list. Oh, I always wanted to play guitar. So now, now we have time, we have money, uh, by way of stimulus checks.

And so like the amount of people that picked up an instrument or reengaged with a previous passion and now they’re sticking around. And, and so because it’s a high passion, um, Uh, hobby. Um, now we’re not just going back to like, you know, pre pandemic trendline. It’s like, uh, no, they’re sticking with it. And so, so it’s actually been great for us.

Matt: Do you have any advice for leaders who need to lead through a challenging time like that? Because I imagine it wasn’t like, Oh, uh, a pandemic, this will be good for the business. Like, yeah, I am sure it wasn’t like a initial thought and there was, I’m sure uncertainty like any business had amongst its team.

Yeah. What did you see Chuck embody and what did you embody with your team that you think others could learn from? I think,

Mike: I think a number of things we, we try to be a very transparent company, like, like, like this is the kind of family oriented culture, like we’re all part of this fabric that kind of passes down through, through, you know, generations, if you will.

And we all stand on the shoulders of, of the leaders that were here before. So. We’re very intentional about, um, even teaching you things outside of your functional area, like here’s how other things work in the company. So you just kind of have this understanding of all the moving parts and that’s been really effective.

We also, uh, we invest a lot in our frontline, uh, leadership, like, like this, uh, idea, like you, you quit your boss, not your company. And so, like, we take that very seriously. And so we really do a lot of development training and at that, that frontline. And, uh, and we lead in proximity. Uh, this is something we’ve learned, which is like, um, be in the trench with your team, like they need to know that you’re there.

I’ve got your back, like we’re in this together, like, like, like you’ve got to be close to your teams, whether that’s remote or distributed or on site, but just like, you’ve got to be with your people. Um, and, and have them feel that, that, that connection is there. That’s something

Matt: we’ve learned. I would imagine it’s a little bit, uh, the, the metaphor that has come up a couple of times on the podcast is it’s a little bit like a tuning fork, uh, if the, if the leader is vibrating at a frequency that’s like slow and steady, it’s a constant, this is middle C or this is, you know, whatever that, that, uh, frequency is.

The rest of the team can kind of, uh, gel to that vibe.

Mike: Resonates, yeah. Yeah, it resonates. Yeah. And we wrap a lot of structure around that. So, so we had, this is a company, no shortage of good ideas. We have, we have great people, great ideas. Like for us, the stretch is in the middle. Like our challenge is sometimes focus, which is like, are we trying to do too much at once?

I bet. And so for us, it’s like getting really good strategic plans, good scoping, good requirements, and then good operational rhythms that say, do we have the right cadence of meetings? You know, Not too many, not too few. Do we have the right people? Do we have the right prep? And so, like, we put a lot of intention into, like, just kind of structuring the work itself so that we’re being good to ourselves.

Matt: What’s Chuck doing these days now that he is not at the CEO helm?

Mike: Yeah, thank you. So, uh, so Chuck stepped away a couple years ago from the building after famously, you know, I’ll, I’ll die in this chair. I’ll never, you know, um, Chuck is, uh, listen, Chuck is a man with a heart. Uh, wonderful man. So many things that he wanted to do from philanthropy to community development.

Still has the same heart for Sweetwater, chair of our board. He’s, I have breakfast with him, you know, once every one or two weeks, uh, probably email him every day. Um, very much invested, um, but he just has all these other things that he wanted to do. And so he’s very passionate about Fort Wayne and, and some economic development.

And, and so he’s doing those things. He’s got a foundation now that’s doing some really, really cool work in this region and just supporting Lots of things. And so we couldn’t be more proud for him. So a little bit out of the day to day. Um, but, but just only so he can multiply his time, which I love.

Matt: I love that his DNA is still very much in this business.

You walk in the front door and there’s a Volkswagen van that looks like maybe is a little nicer than the one I’ve heard in the stories. Um, and just some amazing gear, probably the Kurzweil keyboard that he, uh, you know, learned to program early on. Um, but at the same time, like there is. There’s just like this, uh, energy and people are streaming.

You’ve got creators who are creating tech talk videos and short form videos all across the company. So there’s this really neat, um, balance almost of like roots. But then you also got like these new leaves that are kind of sprouting all the time. It seems just like a very healthy environment.

Mike: The one thing that Chuck taught us, like when we talk about obsessing over details, like we just hold the bar incredibly high.

And, and that’s straight from Chuck. That’s a founder led, like, listen, this is the level we’re going to serve our customers. This is just the right thing to do for humans. And shame on us if we’re, we’re letting a problem go or, you know, like, like letting a customer walk away mad. We talk about the. Leaky bucket metaphor, you know, a lot of companies.

It’s like, well, if I got enough customers coming in the top, I don’t care what falls out. We are literally a why did anyone customer fall out the bottom of the bucket kind of company and like these meetings of, you know, with all of our executives in one room, Chuck would, why did this customer not understand the return policy?

And it’s like, wow, like serious, like, And, and so that’s the culture. And so we hold, hold the bar at that, at that really high level. We have a saying here, um, solve the customer, solve the problem, solve the system. And, and what we mean is like, before you solve the problem, get your arm around the customer.

Like, like, like, first of all, uh, let’s just get you back and make sure you know, like, we’re going to take care of this, whatever the answer ends up being. Now let’s go solve the problem and then let’s look at the system because I bet other, other customers are having that same problem. And so we, we think about this.

Matt: What are you excited about the most right now at Sweetwater?

Toph: Yeah. And what’s the next category? Is there, is there.

Mike: Well, we’re running out of categories. So, um, Hey, listen, I said one earlier, this creator, like, like, like. You know, when we say that here, what we mean is like beyond kind of traditional musicians, but just people that are doing creativity in other ways and, and just gaming and streaming and podcasting wonderful momentum.

They’re really excited. We have some really cool growth happening in the K 12 like education space. And, and so just heartwarming, just like, like, this is what I love just like these watching these young musicians just come to life. And so like, we’re doing some really cool things. There are some partnerships, um, the spatial audio that we talked about earlier, like there’s going to be a lot of innovation happening around that.

We see that as great growth opportunity. And, um, and then there’s other, I could keep going on, but there’s like, uh, used gear. Like we have really not done a lot with used gear. And so there’s a whole opportunity around that. We don’t do hardly anything internationally. And so like, we have all these opportunities for growth.

What I would say though, is our focus is not really any of those things as much as just staying true to who we are. Like, like this is like, take care of one customer, one detail at a time. And so like, we just really think about just like, how do we double down on the existing relationships and just really serve well.

So that’s always our, Our focus and then just very careful, careful growth outside of that.

Matt: How can listeners of the show support you and support Sweetwater, support Fort Wayne, um, and what you’re doing for music here?

Mike: It’s more like how can we serve you and, and, and, you know, if there’s any. Um, creativity happening in your house from music making to your kid in school to, to creator like we’d love to chat about that and, uh, and help in those ways.

Matt: Well, we are at, uh, Nate’s favorite part of the show, uh, Nate, who is generous enough to give up his seat for, uh, our, our MVP, uh, before you go, Max, I just want to say thank you so much for joining us.

Max: A pleasure. I’ll, I’ll, we’ll do it again next week. Thank you.

Matt: Do you have any burning questions before you go?

Max: I think I’ve gotten them in. I’m excited to hear some rapid fire

Matt: from Nate. All right, cool. All right, Nate, you’re all warmed up.

Toph: Yes, sir. This is the hot seat.

Nate: Here we go. First off, I took a few notes during it. Um, General Electric. It was the David Becker episode who General Electric had it on their application.

Are you a Midwest dairy farmer? Yeah. And if you were, you got like fast track on top of that. Oh, interesting. Humble plug, Toph shouted him out. Edge Sound Research. Yep. Valtteri Salomaki is doing like sound experiences with vibrations. Humble plug to check out that episode as well from Rally. I interviewed him and it was, uh, it was a really fun time learning about the, their thoughts on the future of sound.

Very cool. Sorry, I just had to, those were burning a hole in my, uh, in my phone.

Matt: I like it. There it goes. I just did the same thing with my phone. Yeah, I saw that.

Nate: Ugh, alright, I gotta, let’s get going. We have a lightning round. Um, we have three typical questions for our lightning round. I do have one extra. I know that you, Bonus question.

You love all of your kids equally. All music is great. Yes, yes, yes. Yeah. But this is what I want to know. Okay. All right. You’re, you’re going into whether it’s a meeting or a pickup basketball game or whatever it is where you need to be pumped up. What’s on your pump up playlist?

Toph: Oh my word. Besides Thunderstruck.

Mike: Pump up playlist. I don’t, yeah, I don’t know how to answer your question. We’re, we’ve got, you’re going to strike me out on this one. So, uh, So it’s the Spotify playlist.

Nate: Like you say, you say pump up and anything that comes on.

Mike: Uh, uh, yes. Yeah. I type in pump up. All right. No, listen, Hey, I’m reaching for something older.

So, so, uh, nineties, like I’m probably back to something that’s, uh, it’s going to be rock oriented. It’s going to be alternate. Maybe it’s like. Something in that vein. Alright, something

Nate: 90’s rock gets, uh, gets Mike ready to run through a wall. Yeah, there we go. Alright. Alt rock?

Mike: Alt rock. I don’t know, is that cool to say?

Yeah, totally. Like Foo Fighters kind of? Uh, Foo Fighters would count, yeah.

Nate: Okay,

Matt: alright. I’m just trying to place it. Some oldies classics I like. Mike didn’t say it, I said it, so no one can pin that on you.

Nate: There we go, exactly. Um, this is great. So, three questions, lightning round. First thing that comes to your mind.

Outside of the amazing entrepreneurial ecosystem, what is Indiana known for?

Mike: What is Indiana known for? Um, okay, so we’re a music company here, so known for some musicians. Uh, do you know any of them? Famous Hoosier musicians? Michael Jackson.

Toph: Well done. John Cougar Mellencamp. Gina Jackson. Well done.

Mike: Mmm. Mm. There’s more baby face. Yes. Um,

Matt: oh, baby face.

Toph: Who’s baby face?

Matt: I don’t wanna steal the spotlight from Mike’s.

Mike: You, you don’t have baby face on your pump up, uh, list. Should I? Um, uh, who else?

Toph: Ax. Oh, Axel Rose. Axel Rose. Yes. I went to high school with him. Andy, briefly. Andy. Yes. True story. You’ve

Matt: been Shannon Ho.

Mm-Hmm. .

Toph: Blind Mellon.

Matt: Yep. Well done. Yeah, that’s right.

Nate: I’m getting on a roll here. Gosh, dude. I don’t know how we doing. I gotta put these ones to memory. Is that all of them?

Matt: This is a Jedi level rapid fire cause he has answered zero questions so far.

Toph: In the lightning round. He just somehow,

Nate: He just somehow got

Matt: all of us to answer his questions.

He just won the lightning round. What the world? I’m feeling thunderstruck. Hey, next.

Nate: Silence from the peanut gallery. Silence from the peanut gallery. Mike, what is one hidden gem in Indiana?

Mike: Ooh, a hidden gem in indiana. Um, Listen, here in Fort Wayne, this children’s zoo, fantastic if you’ve never been, uh, that would be high on our list.

Uh, for our family, like, we’re outdoorsy, so, uh, Marengo Cave would be high on our list, uh, down south, so, uh, so that would be our hidden gem. Alright, that’s a good hidden gem.

Nate: Marengo Cave. We haven’t, we haven’t gotten that one yet. That’s great. And, to wrap up the lightning round, Who is someone we need to keep on our radar?

Someone who is doing big things,

Mike: things. Okay, you know who I’m digging right now? And, and it’s a friend of the show. I think he was on your show recently. Dan Hanrahan. Um, and here’s why I love what Dan is. So I knew Dan from whatever, 15 years ago when he was doing, you know, his, his, uh, uh, his early tech stuff.

But now this focus on like hyper local, like what Dan is doing is like, Okay. You know, cool, we can use technology for moonshots and self driving cars or whatever, but like this idea of like, how do I just serve my neighbor and and like literally starting with this neighborhood and the city and kind of growing from there.

Like, I’m really into that concept.

Nate: I love that you said Dan because I got coffee with Dan maybe six months ago. And I was talking about the podcast and I was like, I’d really love to get an exec from Sweetwater on the podcast. And he said, Oh, I’ll introduce you to Mike. It was great. And that’s

Mike: how it all got started.

Full circle moment. Full circle. There you go, Dan. Shout out. Yeah.

Matt: The love is flowing here in the state of Indiana. And, uh, it is definitely pumping through the veins of this company. Um, Mike, thank you so much for taking time. Thank you for your patience as I figured out how to use recording equipment today.

Thank you for showing us around this amazing state of the art facility. This is just incredible.

Mike: Hey, so much fun and so much. So, so cool that you guys are doing this, like lifting these stories up, uh, super fan of the, of the show is so cool. So thank you guys.

Matt: You are at the top of our list. And so now we can say we checked off.

Sweetwater. Yes. And, um, thank you, Mike. This was awesome. Thanks, Mike. This was awesome. Great job.

This has been Get In, a Powder Keg production in partnership with Elevate Ventures. And we want to hear from you. If you have suggestions for our guest or segment, reach out to Matt or Nate on LinkedIn or on email to discover top tier tech companies outside of Silicon Valley.

In hubs like Indiana, check out our newsletter at powderkeg. com slash newsletter and to apply for membership to the powder cake executive community. Check out We’ll catch you next time. And next week, as we continue to help the world get in, since you just listened to this podcast, you might be thinking about starting one for your company.

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