How Vic Firth Drummed Up Some Business

By Shlomo Maital

   Vic Firth

  Vic Firth died Sunday; he was 85 years old, lived a full life, and for an amazing 40 years was the principal timpanist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  I’m certain I’d seen him in action, during the 20 years I taught as summer adjunct at MIT.  He played for such great conductors as Bernstein, Koussevitsky, Leinsdorf and Ozawa.  Seiji Ozawa called him “the single greatest percussionist anywhere in the world.”

   The Boston Globe once called him “debonair, affable,intelligent and sometimes cheerfully profane.”  He once came up from the audience and played a drum solo, in Providence, RI, with  The Grateful Dead. (The Boston Symphony told him never to do that again. He didn’t).  And, by the way, he launched a company that bears his name, that turns out 12 million drumsticks and mallets annually, used by classical, jazz and rock drummers everywhere. 

   How did this happen?  Here is what the Global New York Times wrote:  “[he desired] sticks that were fleet, strong, perfectly straight, of even weight in the hands and able to produce the vast range of sounds he desired….Working in his garage, he whittled a prototype that had the lightness, versatility and equilibrium he desired, and engaged a wood turner to fabricate the sticks.  …  his students clamored for them [and] soon other drummers did too.  Vic Firth Inc. was born.”

   A great many startups are born, when creative people want some product that does not exist,  and take action to make it.   They do no market research, no surveys…just introspection.   Because, if like Vic Firth you want and need something and know exactly what you want, then other “percussionists” will want it too.   And you don’t necessarily need to be the world’s greatest drummer to make it happen.

    What would YOU like to have, that does not exist right now?  Can you make one?   If the answer is yes, and yes,  you have a great head start.  Go for it.