Lloyd Baggs is the definition of a modern day creative entrepreneur. A successful photographer, designer, musician, and businessman, Baggs has been through it all in striking the balance between creative and industrialist. Most well known for his manufacturing company, L.R. Baggs, he has successfully worked in the music industry for over 30 years developing some of the worlds best acoustic guitar pickups, microphones, and preamps.
How did someone who started out like me, a creative soul hailing from a small college with an art degree, end up a business tycoon in an artist’s industry? I called him, and here is what he said.
1. “FIND YOUR LANE”
One of my biggest struggles is answering the eternal question: “what do I want to be when I grow up?” I find that I still don’t know what that means. If you find yourself pondering the same question, I have some good news: you are not alone! Baggs bounced around quite a bit before starting his now successful manufacturing company. Beginning as a cellist, then a master printer and photographer, a guitar luthier, followed by a four or five-year stint as a car salesman, Baggs had his own confusing journey to the top. He kept telling me to find my lane. When I asked him to elaborate, he responded:
LB: “If you find what you’re good at, don’t listen to anybody who tells you otherwise…I used to build stuff as a kid: rebuild cars, rebuild engines, I was always out in the garage making stuff. Both my parents would say, ‘you know, if you would only pay attention, if you would only give half the effort to school as you’re giving to this – you’d be somebody, you’d go somewhere.’ Right? So, what am I doing today? I’m making stuff in my garage. It’s just a bigger version of it!”
It is important to feel confident in what you are pursuing.Though it may take a few tries and a few fails, find your lane and hold steadfast.
LB: “I think one of the most important things for twenty-something people to do is work a bunch of bad jobs to know what you don’t want to do…I knew I didn’t want to be a classical musician. I sucked at guitar, I didn’t want to be a printer the rest of my life, and I was pretty good at woodworking, so I just started making guitars as a hobby and half way through, it just went ‘click.’ I was 26 at the time when I heard that click. I thought to myself – that’s my lane.”
2. “GO ALL IN”
For many, discovering what they want to do with the rest of their life is the easy part, but how do you go from a lane to a freeway? What is the fastest path to your creative business freedom? Lloyd shared his most important tip to getting started – if you’re going for it, go all in.
LB: “There is a thing that I call the ‘all-in club,’ and if you’re not all-in on what you’re doing, it is not going to work.”
When I asked Lloyd to elaborate more on his ‘all-in’ moment, he explained that the crescendo came to him at the birth of his daughter, Jenny.
LB: “I just really wasn’t very disciplined or focused…when I was making guitars, I loved it and I did it with all of my heart. I felt like that was a feasible business, but I had been approaching it more as a hobby until my daughter came along…when our daughter Jenny was born, it was like somebody dropped a hot coal down the back of my trousers and it’s been burning ever since…that was about the time that the pickup business came into the focus.”
This moment can come to you in different ways, shapes, and forms – but when it does come, dive in. Baggs explained that it was by no means an easy process getting started.
LB: “I took a job selling cars about 50 hours a week, and then I built the business with the other 20 or 30 hours that I could stay awake. I probably worked 70-80 hours a week for several years.” As he later told me, “any time things get kind of hard, my wife says – ‘well, you know, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.’ There is a factor in there of just being crazy enough to outwork anybody.”
3. “DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES”
When you decide to throw yourself into your creative business and commit to going all-in, it doesn’t mean you will do everything right or be an overnight success. As with any endeavor, you are bound to make mistakes, especially if you’re heading into unknown waters. Accept them, and learn to appreciate the knowledge you’ll gain by getting back up if you take a fall. Baggs agreed.
LB: “You know, really, I didn’t know anything about business. I didn’t go to business school, I had a degree in art. I mean, if you ever want to force your child to become an entrepreneur, send them to art school. That is the only way.” He laughed and continued, “I mean, maybe five people get a job with Disney or something like that straight out of school. Most people struggle like crazy…I had to just kind of make 10 mistakes and hope they didn’t bury me. Man I made so many mistakes, but as long as I did one more good thing than bad, I was still moving forward and learning.”
Pushing forward with confidence, knowing that there will be both failure and successes, and choose to inherit both as a learning experience will lead to our eventual success. By simply taking a leap, we will be better prepared for future obstacles.
Jumping into your creative endeavor or new business is not going to be easy. If there is one thing that a mistake will teach you, it is that the hardest part will be picking up, dusting off and starting again.
Here’s a video of L.R. Baggs sponsored artist, Peppino D’Agostino, playing “Acoustic Spirit.” As a self-taught musician, D’Agostino truly embodies perseverance. He’s gone from playing guitar on the streets of San Francisco, to releasing eight critically acclaimed solo studio albums.
LB: “I’ve got to hand it to my family for hanging in there with me. It didn’t always look like we had what people wanted. I was just bull headed enough and stubborn enough. That’s just kind of how I did it.”
When I asked Baggs if he had any big moments of struggle that stood out to him, he laughed.
LB: “We came out with this really snazzy new product called a duet which had this big preamp on it. At the time, we didn’t have any electronic engineering on it. I was hiring the designs out from various contractors at the time. So we went into building these things and they weren’t cheap. At one point, we got this big box back from Godin, which was about the size of two suitcases. It was filled with these electronics that were failing. The ones that didn’t fail were brilliant but these ones had failed.”
Baggs and his small team spent months reengineering them, spending countless hours and dollars to get them just right. All the while, the box of broken units was shoved under a desk in their office.
LB: “By this time I think we had four or five employees and everybody was pretty depressed looking at this box. So one day I thought – let’s do something with this.”
He ended up throwing a company BBQ party at his home. After everyone was fed and the party was winding down, Baggs pulled out the box for the last time.
LB: “I poured the whole box onto our patio and gave everybody sledgehammers. We beat the crap out of those things. Then we swept them all up and dug a big hole in my backyard and poured them in… the guys that were working for us at the time all peed in the hole and moved on! Said, ‘NEXT!’ ”
Baggs later recalled another time where he tested about 100 completed pickups, thinking they worked, only to find that they all failed.
LB: “My wife and I just sat in our little garage where we had our business and cut the wires off of our entire month’s production and just cried. I mean, it was pretty scary… But the story’s got a happy ending [because] we persevered.”
Years later, that little garage would expand to become one of the most successful pickup businesses in the world. It was by no fault that each and every mistake they made along the way lead them straight there.
5. “REMEMBER WHAT IS IMPORTANT”
In all the excitement of finally finding confidence to follow your dreams and even finding success in your creative business, it can be easy to lose hold on what is important. What was your purpose in pursuing your creative passion? Which values do you want to instill in yourself, your mission and eventually your employees?
LB: “I really feel like this business, the product of our business, is not pickups and electronics. The product of our business is the change that we can instill in people’s lives.”
As L.R. Baggs has grown, its founder has held on to the same values and business philosophy he set out with. Baggs has built his legacy on a foundation of generosity, honesty, belief and a confidence in himself and his employees. Baggs strives to pass down lessons from his own journey to his employees who may be just beginning their own.
LB: “You know, I had a job…but I really didn’t get that I could steer my life or that I could make it what I wanted it to be so that I could do what I wanted to do. There really wasn’t anything that I couldn’t achieve. I think most people don’t really understand that. There is a pathway to do anything. That’s huge.”
Baggs continued to explain that he sees his own company as a place of learning for other twenty-something’s who are going through similar discoveries of their own.
LB: “I like to think of our business as an incubator. Where they’re taking their first baby steps into adulthood but may not have the confidence to go out and pursue whatever they might be secretly dreaming about.” It is part of his mission to teach his employee’s important skills and traits to inspire them to eventually take a leap of their own.
It is true that in order for a business to thrive, it has to make money; It is important for any business to profit in order to flourish and grow.
LB: “But, at the end of the day, it’s not about money. It’s more about how you can influence the lives of the people you’re around in a really positive way.”
When heading out to pursue your creative aspirations, keep in mind the values that you intend to guide you on your path to success.
LB: “Somebody once told me, ‘Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes you’ll get rained out, but you always suit up.’ I think in just being open and when you prepare and do everything you can, then you just open up and see what happens. It can be kind of cool.”