How a contemporary composer I randomly met unknowingly led me to start a successful company.

(Originally posted on 8.08.2013 on

In the spring of 2008 I was a junior in college and the main thing going on in my life was playing in a rock band with my friends. One especially exciting weekend, my bandmate Ben and I were driving from Cleveland to Williamstown, MA to play a big show at Williams College. En route however, we had lined up some time to stop by a major recording studio in New York City called Clinton Recording Studios (RIP) to be considered for internships for the summer. We arrived outside the studio but our contact there said he needed more time because Yo-Yo Ma was recording and going over-time. We needed to wait somewhere close by and Ben had a cousin who was working as a line cook at a restaurant called Esca, just a few blocks from the studio. We headed to Esca to hang at the bar.

As per usual when we’d kill time, Ben and I ended up talking music. Since at the time we were each deep in music history classes at school, we were talking about pretty esoteric, OLD music. I don’t remember exactly what we were discussing but probably something in-between Gregorian Chants and Einstein on the Beach, and that was enough to get the attention of the gentleman sitting next to us. The stranger jumped in and started enlightening us to a number of aspects about the pieces we’re discussing that we hadn’t learned about. The three of us proceed to nerd out on everything from the romantic era to the The Talking Heads and it’s a lot of fun. When we finally ask who he is, it turns out he’s an acclaimed contemporary downtown composer named Mikel Rouse. Cool! Eventually we leave for our interviews at Clinton, head up to MA, and prior to crashing in the hotel I friend Mr. Rouse on MySpace (remember MySpace?). With no expectation that meeting him would provide any relevance to the rest of my life, I go to bed.

Fast forward to the fall of 2008. Now I’m a senior in college. A senior who majored in music in college. I knew I needed to spend most of my time finding a job for after graduation.

The majority of my time on campus during those college years I spent cooped up in a recording studio. So it made sense to me to find a job in the audio/production world. But I had spent the summer of ‘08 interning for a major Manhattan recording studio (not Clinton) and realized that many of the people that end up working in that environment just weren’t happy people. So I thought I’d take a look at post-production instead. I applied to intern/work/whatever at every reputable mastering house in NYC. No one responded.

I had thought I ran out of leads when one bored night I went back on good old MySpace and saw that I was still friends with Mikel Rouse. I decided to look him up and saw that he had his own writing studio in Manhattan. I looked up the address and noticed that on Google Maps there’s another business located in the same building called “Vault Mastering”. I look up that business and lo and behold, it’s another Mastering House I hadn’t yet applied to! Amazing. I read the bio of the principal engineer and he just so happens to have the same alma mater as my school, The Cleveland Institute of Music, and interned at the same company while in school as I did, Telarc International! I was furious that my school hadn’t already connected me to him, but that’s a different rant. I contacted the engineer, and got an interview for my next visit to NY. Long story short, he couldn’t afford to hire me, but very kindly introduced me to a very successful mastering engineer who had just purchased a legendary mastering house, Masterdisk. I got an interview at Masterdisk and was accepted! Second semester of my senior year hadn’t even started yet and I had a job lined up. Mission accomplished.

So what to do with the remaining semester? My friends and I had been talking about this idea of representing musicians online with portfolios. We decided to take the time we had that last semester and see if we could actually make something happen. We created a minimum viable product of the site and spent most of that semester learning how to start a company from mentors around town. Eventually I graduated and started work at Masterdisk, but the company we started for fun was starting to do something. We began talking to schools about using it for their applicants instead of mailing CD’s and DVD’s and there was serious interest. In my second week of working at Masterdisk, real investment dollars were being offered for us to work on our company full time. It was too good to pass up and at the time it was something I felt was truly once in a lifetime. I could always go back to work at a studio, but I wouldn’t necessarily have another moment where people were offering me money to build something I had dreamt up with my friends. So on week two of my job at Masterdisk, I quit and began spending most of my time working on my startup.

Today, my company, DecisionDesk, provides application submission and review to nearly 200 major universities and businesses around the world. We’ve processed thousands of applications for some of the finest programs there are. The business employs more than 20 people and has two offices, one in Cleveland, and one in Manhattan.

Obviously this was a story about different events and people linking to other things, and you can play this game endlessly in your life to connect everything. But I’m never going to forget that one of the big reasons my company was able to be started was because in that last semester of college I had 1) Time to dedicate to it because I had already secured a job (thanks to a lead from meeting that random composer in a restaurant bar), and 2) Being a student who had secured a job in the industry the startup was poised to disrupt gave our team clout most wouldn’t have, and attracted both confidence and investment from a number of supporters.

My guess is that the next big thing in my life will come from a chance occurrence as well.

This is a photo from the show in Williamstown we were headed to. It was equally awesome.

Marc Plotkin