Singing in a Choir Makes Me a Better Startup Founder
I moved cross-country to L.A. knowing only three people. Self-care and ‘play’ through singing helped me connect to communities of wellness.
my 16 years of being a part of young technology companies, I’ve become accustomed to the constant hustle, moving targets, and endless work hours. In many ways, I thrive on that, as it pushes me to build amazing products that can affect millions of people. My most recent endeavor is the first startup that I am a founder of — which makes all of the successes and challenges I face feel like they’re on steroids.
When my co-founder and I started SkyHi in 2016, we didn’t know what was ahead of us with regulations, technical audits, or complicated processes to work with airlines. We just knew that there were inefficiencies in the airline industry and a growing demographic of people who were purchasing airline tickets in a different manner than before. We saw an opportunity.
From a business perspective, we got things rolling, but what I didn’t expect was how much more diligent I needed to be about my self-care practices—the work I had to do to avoid burning out or succumbing to the constant challenges of startup life.
For nearly two years, my co-founder and I ran the business together, but 3,000 miles apart. He was in Oakland, and I was in New York City. In late 2018, we decided to establish a full-time presence in Los Angeles. Since SkyHi is a consumer-facing product, we felt L.A. was a better market for us to be in, from both an investor perspective and a customer one.
So, after spending my entire adult life in New York, I moved to L.A. knowing just three people. In all my years in New York, I was most content and productive when I had a consistent wellness practice of meditating regularly, running, playing music, and being involved in multiple communities. All of those things gave me the stability to tackle the nonstop stressors of an early stage startup. Isolation has never been my friend, so I knew the fastest way for me to stay healthy and happy in a new city was to get involved with different communities.
What I didn’t expect was how much more diligent I needed to be on my self-care practices — to not burnout or succumb to the constant challenges.
Being an Angelino for just a year, I am still a newcomer. Aside from endless sunshine, palm trees, and green juices, what’s become abundantly clear to me is that Los Angeles has a vast array of communities focused on true connection and play. In times where our general social aptitude has diminished, and our “quality time” is spent on social media and Netflix, I have found it incredibly refreshing that communities are forming to show that connection itself is a wellness practice.
In the spring of 2019, a friend invited me to join a community choir called Landlights. I felt every type of internal resistance you can think of: My voice isn’t good enough. I haven’t sung with other adults in over a decade. Is this like church?
All of my hesitations faded after the very first rehearsal. The Landlights community is not built on perfect pitch or finding God, but instead is a collective of incredibly interesting adults of varied ages, professional backgrounds, and singing abilities, coming together solely for the purpose of “play” through singing.
The founder, Greg Delson, is one of the top vocal instructors in L.A. and has studied at the Complete Vocal Institute (CVI) in Copenhagen. The technique he teaches, Complete Vocal Technique (CVT), is a simple to understand, immediately effective, anatomy-based approach. Through laryngoscopic research and analysis, CVI has been scientifically examining for decades what is going on inside humans’ vocal tracts when we produce sound. In the studies, they have found that there are certain physiological rules and settings to produce all vocal sounds in a healthy way. That’s why this technique works for any and everyone.
Here are some of their findings:
There are no voice “parts” or “registers.”There is no such thing as tone-deafness—everyone can learn to sing in pitch.All adults can attain at least a three-octave range.Using the voice should always feel great; never painful or uncomfortable.There is no need to do vocal warm-ups before singing.
As a startup founder, I’m no stranger to imposter syndrome, or comparing myself to other founders that I think are more successful. Greg’s philosophy that everyone can sing helps me recover when I find myself in those negative cycles. The constant positivity of feeling good about singing has had major ripple effects on how I showed up for my business.
Greg told me he started Landlights because he, “didn’t see the choir that I wanted to join, so I created it!” He was already leading one-night “Instant Choir” events, where he was teaching a group of 75 people to learn one song and be videotaped for all to see. He formed the Landlights choir to provide more consistent opportunities to sing for those who were requesting it.
The constant positivity of feeling good about singing has had major ripple effects on how I showed up for my business.
He envisioned the choir to eliminate as many barriers to entry as possible. He decided to hold no auditions, not require any previous experience or skill, and teach all the harmonies by ear, so no one would have to read music. He also wanted to democratize the song selection process, and so the choir nominates and votes on the themes and songs they sing. Each season is comprised of learning eight to 10 songs over a 10 week period, capped by performances in front of hundreds of people.
This approach was wildly different than what I was used to in technology startups. I’m so programmed to think of how to weed out candidates in order to get only the best talent. Or how to put barriers up to prevent others from innovating. What I was experiencing at Landlights was more like asking, “What can we create together if we’re just having fun?”
Greg believes that singing should be joyful, communal, and fun. With Landlights, he innovated on the traditional choir experience by simply deleting all of the seriousness, rigidity, and hierarchy that go along with it.
Landlights actually allows its members not just to explore the joys of singing, but to bond as human beings. According to Oxford University, TIME magazine, and The Royal Society, group singing releases endorphins and oxytocin (the bonding hormone), and provides numerous other positive physiological and psychological benefits. This can help with depression, anxiety, and loneliness, and therefore, can lead to an overall improvement in well being.
My firsthand experience is that all the research above is 100% true. Group singing is now a huge part of my wellness routine. It makes me happier, more present, more productive, and more social. By feeling more grounded, I am able to better focus on what’s required for my business.
If you’re in L.A., maybe check out Landlights. If you’re not, seek out activities with group singing. It’s scientifically proven to make you happier. And whether you’re a founder or not, being happier will help you be better at everything else you’re doing in your work and your life.
Written by: Rama Poola
CEO & Co-founder of SkyHi, flyskyhi.com, the flight club for everyone. Lifetime technologist, musician, writer, chef, and dancer.