This week I’m excited to introduce you to Caren Kelleher, the founder and president of Gold Rush Vinyl in Austin, Texas. When I started Women in Vinyl she was one of the women I really wanted to speak to. Of the many things I respect about Caren her thoughtfulness through the process of starting her business; hearing her speak on how she got started coming from a creative yet corporate background (as I do too), and seeing how she is able to apply these business principles to a different type of creative industry that also incorporates manufacturing is inspiring.
Caren started laying the groundwork for Gold Rush in April 2017, after resigning from a job at Google, where she was Head of Music App Partnerships. Construction on Gold Rush started in January 2018 and the first record was pressed in March 2018. She had no background in manufacturing but now loves it.
I can’t believe I get to make records for a living.
In her free time she is reading and writing movie screenplays. One of the reasons she enjoys working on movie soundtracks at Gold Rush Vinyl. Someday she’d like to produce movies. She also gives a lot of her time to education and mentorship saying she wouldn’t be where she is today without great teachers, so she gives back by speaking or lecturing at colleges like University of Texas and Texas A&M.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
My career in vinyl started because I saw both a problem and an opportunity. I’d been working in the music industry since college and thought I had seen it all, but I had never seen anything quite like the vinyl resurgence. I was working at Google at the time, though my sister and I were also managing some incredible independent bands. I was shocked how many of their fans wanted vinyl. I was more shocked, though, by how difficult it was to get quality vinyl made in a timely manner. One project took about eight months to complete and, by then, a lot of the money-making opportunities for the vinyl had past. When I resigned from Google, I discovered that full-time band management wasn’t the right fit and — for the first time in about 20 years — I gave myself permission to slow down, rest and think about what could be next. The more I thought about it, I kept coming back to the vinyl problem I had experienced…. One morning I went to a coffee shop and drew up a business plan for a new vinyl production company called Gold Rush Vinyl. Now, it’s a real thing (and know how to drive a forklift)!
What is a day in the life like?
As the owner and operator of the business, there is no shortage of work for me to do. I start my day by asking myself what I can Automate, Delegate or Eliminate… that is: how can I use software to do the work for me? What can I empower my team to take on? And distractions should do away with?… Anything after that is something that I am uniquely positioned to work on, and this helps me focus my attention on the right things.
The first thing I do when I get in to the office is to say hello to each of my team members. We’re now running 24-hour-a-day production schedules, so the machines have already been cranking out a lot of records by the time I arrive. My team handles so much work and I’m very proud of all they do, but especially how much leadership they demonstrate each day in their respective divisions of the company.
I try to reserve my mornings for the work that needs me to be fresh, namely internal meetings with my business team. I’ll also spend the morning reviewing our financial transactions from the previous day and updating monthly, quarterly and yearly projections. This is not work I like to do, but it is incredibly important. By getting it out of the way in the morning, I can spend the rest of my day on more creative things.
Because so many people want to see the factory in action, I usually give at least one tour a day (to prospective business partners, investors or clients), usually around lunchtime. I also spend my afternoons working on brand development and sales. We’ve been lucky that at Gold Rush almost 100% of our sales come from word-of-mouth, but staying on top of new inquiries can be overwhelming.
Before I started Gold Rush I asked a number of other entrepreneurs for their advice on starting a company and they reminded me not to neglect my health, so I try to end each workday with a workout. I played water polo in college so exercise has always been really important to me, especially as a way to de-stress.
Then I usually am off to a concert or some other event. Success in the music business relies so much on maintaining strong personal relationships, so I put a lot of time into growing and maintaining my connections with artists, managers, labels, promoters, radio stations, local politicians and other business owners
What has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
The reason Gold Rush Vinyl exists is to help musicians earn more money from their music so they can keep creating. It’s incredibly rewarding when I get to meet artists and hear about their musical journeys. Being a part of that gets me excited every day.
My absolute favorite thing about my work, though, is creating jobs. I take hiring very seriously and it brings me so much joy when I see members of my team in the factory doing such phenomenal work. Over half of the Gold Rush staff is women and they work across all parts of the company.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
The most difficult part of my job is managing myself. When you’re running a business, you’re under a tremendous amount of pressure and can find yourself pulled in a million directions. I’ve had to learn how to process all of that and how to be kinder to myself through the tough spots (and there are so many more bumps in the road than you will expect there to be). I’m extremely close with family (my sister is also a business owner) and they are always there for me, as are my friends and advisors. In whatever you do in life, it is so important to keep good people around you and to ask for help when you need it. I am so grateful for my staff, investors, family and friends for the support they offer me.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Don’t sit back and wait for the perfect moment or the perfect song or the perfect business plan before you start. Too many people — especially women — talk themselves out of doing things because they don’t feel ready or don’t feel like they’re good enough.
I didn’t know anything about vinyl manufacturing before I founded Gold Rush Vinyl, but I did have a solution to a problem, a willingness to learn and an enthusiasm for the work ahead. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I’ve also created a life that I’m very proud of.
That said, it’s unfair to offer the advice “follow your dreams” without acknowledging that it comes with very real sacrifices and you have to prepare for those. For me, that meant saving money, cutting back on expenses, moving to a new city and making tough personal life tradeoffs. You have to be prepared to say “no” to a lot of things in order to say “yes” to your dreams.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
The bulk of my personal collection is made up of Beatles records. I bought my first one in 1999 at a flea market in Germany. I didn’t own a record player until about ten years into collecting vinyl, though, which is the story I hear from a lot of younger vinyl collectors. Now I listen to everything on my great-grandparents’ 1948 Philco, which my family refurbished.
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
I would love to see more conversations and actions around sustainability. Vinyl can be a very wasteful industry and, as a plant owner, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can bring about more change here.
Tell me more about what you’re listening to right now:
I love Oldies and studying the musical history of America, especially the 1960s. I’m really enjoying Ken Burns’ documentary about country music right now, especially the stories it tells about Austin’s early music scene. I also have a soft spot for Swedish pop and 70s yacht rock.
Gold Rush Vinyl: @goldrushvinyl
Gold Rush Vinyl: @goldrushvinyl