Rebooting the business


It’s been a long time since we last wrote a post. This was due to several reasons: I had to finish my PhD (which I completed in September), we pivoted the direction of the business and had various personnel changes. We can talk at length about all the different reasons, but that’s for another blog post. In this one, I’d like to focus on our new business direction as we’re really excited about where the company is headed.

This post will be split into two parts. The first part describes what we did with our streaming music app and the lessons we learned. I feel compelled to tell this side of the story because it really helped shape how we got to our current position. The second part describes how we took what we learned and turned that into what we believe will be a sustainable and growing business.

Part 1. The Past

As you all know, the company started out with the big idea of revolutionizing the way advertising was experienced and consumed. This concept got us into the Collider12 B2Brand accelerator programme in London which jump started our road to the Billion Pound idea. We created our own free streaming music app (no ads, no subscription fee) in the hopes that we could gain traction rapidly and attract advertisers onto our platform.

Describing our music player in a nutshell, it showed other people’s “moments” with the song you were currently listening to so that you can experience what they experienced when they were listening to that song. This created a more social and connected music listening experience. It was a new way to discover new music socially, one that I hope someone in the future picks up on (Spotify / Rdio, I’m looking at you). The app was also beautiful, which was usually the first thing a new user would tell us. It was iOS 7 flat design before iOS 7 was released by Apple. So we thought we had everything tied down: the concept, the platform and the music licenses. Now all we needed was to convince brands to start putting their ads in there and we’d be in business because, I mean, how hard could it possibly be to attract a million+ users to our platform while giving away free full-length songs?

But what was that saying again? “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Yeah, that’s what happened to us. It wasn’t for lack of trying though, as our team did its very best to make it a success. But when we approached brands or advertisers, we ran into a few problems. The three most common were:

  1. They wouldn’t get on board without the user numbers
  2. They weren’t convinced of our vision as it was too hard to explain
  3. They wouldn’t pay for the music royalties

We essentially ran into the “chicken-and-egg” scenario in which we couldn’t get advertisers on board if we didn’t have enormous amounts of traction, but we wouldn’t be able to pay for the amount of music we were giving away unless we had revenue coming from the advertisers.

We also learned that giving away free music wouldn’t help sell the app (trying to buy word-of-mouth advertising) and that we actually needed money for marketing.

The numbers our app generated tell two different stories:

In terms of user numbers, it was quite small. We only managed to attract around 3000 users from the UK on word-of-mouth marketing as our app was limited to the UK iOS users only (due to music license and resource restrictions).

However, in terms of engagement numbers, it was through the roof.

Based on the feedback we received, we knew our concept of using music to connect people was solid but the way we delivered it was just too expensive for anyone to buy into. So now what?

We had to pivot fast as were were running out of time and money. So we took our special sauce (our knowledge in connecting music with people’s experiences), threw out the delivery mechanism (the streaming music app) and started over again.

Part 2. The Present

We knew that our strength was linking music to people’s behaviours, experiences and identities so we decided to start there.

One of the key elements that people liked about our app was using music to determine someone’s state of mind. But what if we could also use music to determine not just someone’s state of mind at a particular time, but also their personality overall. This was actually a part of my PhD research; how music can be used to figure out people’s identities or personalities. The reason being that there really is nothing more personal than the music we listen to.

Armed with this new idea, we set off to verify that we could build such an engine. Drawing on academic research (which I’ll touch upon in another post), we set out to turn raw quantitative music listening data into rich, insightful qualitative data about personalities. This is actually a part of our secret sauce as we’ve figured out an innovative way on how to do it. However, since music is so subjective, we need to continue collecting, testing and verifying this data in order to provide as accurate a view about people’s personalities as possible.

And that’s what we’re doing right now. Once we figure this out, there are a whole range of applications that could benefit from the results of our experiment (we have a few in mind and are already engaged in talks). We’ve had a great response so far, trialling the technology with a few companies and getting useful feedback to refine our system. But we’re not done yet. All of this work is required for our journey towards the holy grail of startups: product-market fit. It’s taken us quite a while to get to this point, but it’s definitely been worth it.


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