Jerry Garcia: August 1, 1942 – August 9, 1995

Whether you are talking about TV (CNBC), magazines (The Atlantic) or books (Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History), lots of people are talking about the business and marketing lessons to be learned from the Grateful Dead.

Just remember where you read it first! As the Grateful Dead would say, this one is From The Vault, August 9, 2009…


The best example I could find explaining what Jerry Garcia meant to Deadheads comes from legendary venture capitalist Roger McNamee, of all people. From the New York Times on the day Garcia died, August 9, 1995,

“I feel like a member of my family died,” said Roger McNamee, a general partner at Integral Capital Partners in Palo Alto. He also said that the day was one of emotional contrast for him. As a technology investor, he had been elated by the early success of Netscape Inc., a hot new Internet company that had its first public stock offering. But when he learned that Mr. Garcia had died, he felt devastated, he said.

Just how big of a deal was that hot new Internet company?

FORTUNE Magazine
Remembering Netscape: The Birth Of The Web

It was the spark that touched off the Internet boom. On Wednesday, Aug. 9, 1995, a 16-month-old Silicon Valley startup called Netscape tried to go public, but demand for the shares was so high that for almost two hours that morning, trading couldn’t open. The stock, which had been priced at $28 a share, zoomed as high as $75 that day and closed at $58.

And he felt devatstated.

Garcia understood the connection. In today speak, Garcia and the Grateful Dead launched multiple, synergistic initiatives to leverage their installed base. He was a visionary leader who understood social networks, marketing and monetization. I’m making him sound like a dot-com CEO! Have I completely lost my marbles? I don’t think so and here’s why…

P2P File Sharing, 1965
Fifteen years before Shawn Fanning was born and 33 years before Napster was invented, Jerry Garcia launched a P2P file sharing network. The files of the day were cassette tapes and the people sharing them were Deadheads who were free to record and trade the music. Over time, so many people wanted to record each concert, the band established a “tapers section” that allowed for great recordings and minimal interruption to the audience. Last month Forbes, of all places, actually published an article on this topic titled, Grateful to the Dead,

Like the Grateful Dead, Phish and Widespread Panic are notorious for their open recording policies, encouraging fans to record their shows for free. “Music once spread through word of mouth. Now it happens on the Internet–very quickly,” says John Bell, the lead singer of WSP. While Internet downloads bite into record sales, it’s plausible that if these bands had enforced their copyright, they never would have achieved such popularity.

Self Publishing, 1973
After several less than satisfying experiences working for “the man”, Garcia and the Dead decided to bypass record companies and start their own label. They self-published. Just like bloggers, tweeters and Facebook friends.

Built social network, 1973
From Sandy Troy’s 1994 biography of Garcia,

Part of the band’s confidence in starting their own label was rooted in the Dead Freaks Unite campaign initiated by Garcia on the inside of Grateful Dead (album), which had the following notice, “DEAD FREAKS UNITE: Who are you? Where are you? Send us your name and address and we’ll keep you informed.”

The response was overwhelming and the band quickly built up a list of twenty-five thousand names. With this direct mail list and a newsletter to communicate information, the band had an effective link with their fans, now known as Dead Heads.”

Garcia and the Dead didn’t just build a social network, they monetized it. Out of that list grew a business empire that eventually included music, a full line of merchandise, even ice cream, designer neckware and art. Ten years after his death, in 2005, the New York Times wrote,

The Jerry Garcia company and Grateful Dead Productions are separate businesses each generating millions of dollars of revenue a year. Just how many millions is not publicly known. But consumers still buy more than a million J. Garcia-brand neckties each year, and Cherry Garcia is often the top-selling brand of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, each pint generating royalties for the Garcia heirs.

He helped to build a durable, thriving band brand and he did it by harvesting and building on the community of Deadheads by using innovative means of communication and information sharing.

Like I said, the Godfather of Social Networking.

Since this is a Jerry Garcia post, I think we need a little music as well.
Franklin’s Tower from Radio City Music Hall, 10-31-80