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Trade Talk Blog: Dead Ringer

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Bears 3

“Once in awhile you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right.”
-Scarlet Begonias

As the manager of TT CampusConnect™, Trading Technologies’ university outreach program, I spend a lot of time on college campuses and have the opportunity to reap the benefits of those visits.

On a recent visit to one of our partner schools, the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), I noticed a poster advertising the Grateful Dead Archive, a collection available for public viewing in UCSC’s McHenry Library. What? This is right up my alley. As a big fan of all things “jam” (the Dead, Dave Matthews, Phish, et al.), I had to check this out.

In 2008, the band members donated over 30 years of business records, posters, backstage passes and laminates as well as audio and video recordings to the university. They even donated the skeletons used in the music video for their song Touch of Grey. Guitarist Bob Weir said, “It seemed to all of us that the stuff really belongs to the community that supported us for all those years. And Santa Cruz seemed the coziest possible home for it.” Ah, California!

While in the university bookstore, I came upon a book by Professor Barry Barnes, the chair of leadership at the Huizenga School of Business at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale The title was Everything I Know About Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead. Really? This I had to check out.

After reviewing the table of contents and doing a bit of quick reading (I kept getting the “Are ya buying that or what?” look from the cashier), I noticed some distinct similarities between the business models of the Grateful Dead and the TT CampusConnect program.

OK, I bought the book, and here’s what I found:

Strategically improvise. The backbone of a Grateful Dead show is their ability to improvise on stage. Joni Mitchell pointed out that musicians have the opportunity to create every time they perform as opposed to painters. She said, “Nobody said to Van Gogh, ‘Hey, paint “A Starry Night” again.’” The Dead took full advantage of their time on stage. They created music in the moment with the hopes that the result would be magical. Sometimes the result was not so glorious, but to quote Professor Barnes, “If everything you play is perfect, you’re not taking enough chances.”

People often ask me what TT CampusConnect is all about. A simple question with a not so simple answer. Sure, the end result is a relationship between our company and the university community, but the way that relationship evolves depends upon what a school wants. I’ve seen a number of companies engage with schools by providing them a boilerplate answer without ever considering the university’s question. Each school is treated the same.

This is not the vision of TT CampusConnect. If we truly want to engage with a university and build a mutually beneficial relationship, we have to listen to what they need and do our best to meet that need. Since every school is different, the answers vary. We have provided software donations to schools that want their students to experience the futures and options markets through our TT® platform. Some school have requested help with curriculum development while others ask us to visit campus and speak on the possible career paths our industry provides for graduates.

I guess the simplest answer to what TT CampusConnect provides is: What do you need? The answer leads us to strategically investigate and discover possible solutions.

Share your content. Ask any Deadhead and they will tell you there is more to the Grateful Dead than the music. At some point in the conversation, the concept of community will be mentioned. The band began in the mid-’60s, and the community began as they all lived at 710 Ashbury Street in San Francisco.

While it was not a part of the business plan (actually, I don’t believe there was a business plan), the Dead soon found out their music was being taped and their artwork was being reproduced on T-shirts and posters without their permission. The standard industry answer would be to prohibit this type of activity. The Dead, once again improvising, decided that the real fans should not be punished or prohibited since they were part of the community. Over the years, they moved from allowing to encouraging this behavior. The end result was that as more and more people had mementos of the band, the Dead’s popularity grew—and so did their profits. They discovered there was an important correlation between familiarity and value. As John Perry Barlow, a sometimes-lyricist for the Dead, said, “If I give my song away to 20 people and they give it away to 20 people, pretty soon everyone knows me and my value as a creator is dramatically enhanced. That was the value proposition of the Dead.”

Through TT CampusConnect, we donate our software to schools’ business, engineering and computer science departments. Our software is the industry standard for professional futures trading, so giving the students access to this technology gives them a live market experience. Students who pursue careers in capital markets are equipped with the necessary market skills to succeed.

Many ask why we don’t charge schools for our software. The value of the donation is ultimately an investment in the relationships we have with university partners. The return shows up as new customers, new employees and new schools. As more schools join TT CampusConnect, the value our software brings to the classroom becomes more pronounced.

Exploit the experience economy. I have always appreciated the music of the Dead, but the fact is I have never seen them in concert. This disqualifies me from being a Deadhead, and many would say I’m not qualified to be a fan. True enough. How well do you know the Dead if you’ve never seen them? This is why the taped shows had so much value since each performance was unique. This is why the community of fans was as much a part of a Dead show as the band themselves. It was genuine, authentic, the real thing.

I believe our trading platform brings textbook theory to life. It puts flesh and muscle on what students are studying. The automated trading tools, charting and analytics, and the live market prices make the TT platform a real experience and not a financial video game. In this way, students can get as close to experiencing the live markets without the risk of losing money. The fact that our software is the industry standard for professional futures traders means students are primed for careers with our customers.

Of course, Professor Barnes points out a total of 10 innovative business lessons that can be gleaned from how the Grateful Dead run their business. From treating customers right to perpetual innovation and transformative leadership, most remind me of TT CampusConnect and, in a broader sense, Trading Technologies itself.

With the beginning of another school year, I’ll find myself trucking to college campuses doing everything from software training to assisting with a class, to career development and recruiting. Call it my Fall Tour 2016. I don’t have any delusions that I will have a following similar to that of the Grateful Dead. Although with former TT interns scattered throughout the U.S., there will always be a community wherever I go. Tech heads? Mmmmmm…

Is your school or alma mater interested in getting access to TT software on campus? Visit the TT CampusConnect website and complete the online inquiry form to start working with us.