From Unemployed Orchestrator To Startup Founder, Part I

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This series chronicles the experiences of Walt Ribeiro after he was laid off and started his new company, For Orchestra, while on unemployment.

Some think of unemployment as a negative occurrence.  I used to think so too.  Sure, it’s never easy to experience change.  But, change is not only healthy, it’s a way of life. Change keeps us interesting, forces us to keep learning new things, and keeps us scared.  Home mortgages, raising a family, health insurance, and more all change if we’re unemployed — but the change and uncertainty are good.  Ultimately, they become a reason for your success — and that’s what this is all about.

While I was working at The Independent Music Awards as their Director of Media, I was in a great environment where I got to work on their iPhone app, work on deals with distributors and partners, and launch new innovative media campaigns to grow their community and ideas. But as the saying goes, all things must come to an end, and, in the heart of the recession in 2009, I was laid off along with others at the company.  It was tough because I had recently renewed my year-long lease in NYC, had health insurance payments, and many more costs breathing down my neck.  And then there was the egotistical and psychological effects of feeling like a failure.

The thing about unemployment is that everyone goes through it, yet its so taboo to talk about.  It’s even frowned upon on resumes to have a 6-month period where you weren’t employed.  I think this is the wrong way to think.  It’s not healthy and it’s certainly not realistic because almost nobody works for 50 years straight without any hiccups.

In fact, unemployment is a time to take risks and grow.  A person who is unemployed is usually hungrier to succeed, patient, desperate to work, and more thoughtful.  Consider a boss who used to be unemployed is probably more mindful about layoffs regarding his own employees.

But, that wasn’t the first time I was unemployed.  The first instance was after I graduated college in 2006.  I studied music composition and had dreams of writing orchestra music and working with orchestras all around the world.  It never made sense to me why orchestras play music by 200-year-old dead composers rather than create interest with new music (and they wonder why so many orchestras go bankrupt).

So the day after graduation, I released a CD of my own music in hopes to build up a community, make plenty of sales, and change the orchestra world by grabbing the attention of orchestras for new performances.  That project cost me my entire college income of $15,000, which I used for manufacturing, distribution, marketing, traveling to stores and more.  It was a failed CD that left me gutted and scared.  Here I was graduating as a musician against the sea of people saying, “become an engineer and just do music on the side.”  I began to think they were right and now I was unemployed while  living in my parents basement with no money, no community, no orchestras, and no direction.

However, failing was great because it allowed me to reassess what I did wrong, gain insight, and made me hungrier to succeed.  We’ve all been there — unsure what to do, having long phone calls with friends to help lift you up, and emailing your network or searching Craigslist for any financial opportunity to survive.

I learned early on that “the best time to take a risk is right now.”  That’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

So, in late 2007 after living at home for 2 years with no leads, I made a YouTube video called “How To Read Music” because I was waiting on job searches and saw it as a fun afternoon activity.  Surprisingly, it garnered over 100,000 views within a month, and the idea occurred to me about doing a free lesson every day while earning revenue through in-video sponsorships.  So, I slowly built up my community, created daily content, and finally had my first paying sponsor after 4 months of my daily show.

So, here I was beginning to make money on a new venture.  But, what happens when you start your own company and it goes under?  As my next article will draw out, I met that scenario soon after I started my online music school.

Walt Ribeiro arranges pop and rock songs for orchestra, an idea which he jumped into after being laid off and collecting unemployment.  Since then, he has done it full time, orchestrating songs by Lady Gaga, Pearl Jam, Aha, Owl City, and more.  To learn more about Walt and to check out his work, visit his website at  You can also connect with Walt via his iTunes, Twitter, and Facebook pages.