"Even after years of doing this, I still don't really know how a band becomes famous," White admits. "I have a much better sense of that pathway to fame, but it's becoming clearer that that pathway is always changing."


Back at the Cup, as the unknown musicians continue to try their luck in front of the open mike, White heads outside for a seat by Rayani and Hoffman, who are fueling up for a long night of coding.

Not too long ago, their most immediate concern was how to call a potential backer when they'd already used up their cell-phone minutes for the month. Now they worry about things like how to arrange payroll and health-insurance benefits for their employees, how to plan a national press conference, how to divide up stock options. "It's a slow march," says White, staring into the night. "Nothing's an overnight success. It's all about little by little getting recognition. Like a band, it's all about how big you can get and how far you can spread."

Next Big Sound CEO Alex White is plugged in to the music business.
Next Big Sound CEO Alex White is plugged in to the music business.
TechStars general manager Nicole Glaros helps tech unknowns get their name in lights.
TechStars general manager Nicole Glaros helps tech unknowns get their name in lights.

But in the world of tech startups, the band analogy goes only so far. In the music business, success means hitting the top of the charts, going platinum and then, as a band, selling out stadiums year after year. For a lot of startup teams, though, success is often getting bought out or acquired by a bigger player — and in many cases, breaking up the band.

"It's heartbreaking, the stories of people who sell companies that are then totally botched," says White. They've all heard these stories of promising websites purchased by corporations that were then never updated — or worse, wiped off the Internet entirely. They don't like to think about such things. They'd rather dream big and bold.

Drinking their cappuccinos and pondering their future, they take little notice of the musicians still in the coffeehouse, the unknowns serenading the crowd. Not that they need to: If one of these musicians happens to be rock and roll's future, Next Big Sound will let them know.

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