(Part 1 of 2) This interview is the first episode in a series about the founders of internet & music startups. The premise is that people who have an idea about building a project around music and internet are driven by a strong passion , much the same as musicians are passionate about their music.
Artists should get a look at the difficulties of running a startup and should be able to recognize their own situation in the story of the startup founder; because in a way they are running their own startup: their musical career.
We kick off this series with Brenden Mulligan, the founder of ArtistData, a service that helps more than 25,000 artists to update their social network profiles in a more efficient way. In June, ArtistData was acquired by Sonicbids.
When you started on your startup, what was your background and your relation with the music industry and the internet world?
Before ArtistData, I worked at Aware Records and Asquared Management. Every day was spent supporting artists who were just starting out in their careers. Before that, I spent time working for a booking agency, festival promoter, and club promoter. I got to experience the industry through a lot of different lenses and see some common pain points for artists.
What was the tipping point where you said to yourself: this is the problem I should solve! At which moment did your really get excited about your idea and did you decide that you should move this thing further?
As digital music platforms continued to crop up, I found myself spending more time every day monotonously updating websites for our artists. It seemed to be a completely waste of time for a human, giving it was a problem technology could solve. I figured if data management could be more streamlined, managers, artists and everyone else could focus more on what’s important: the music. Keeping information up to date in crucial marketing channels is really important, but not if it comes at the cost of creating better music.
When did you start talking with other people about your idea? Was is difficult to convince other people? When did you have the feeling: I am working with a team on a project that we are all really passionate about?
The idea bounced around my head for about a year. In early 2006, I decided that it was time for me to move on from Aware and it seemed like a great time to dig a little deeper into the ArtistData concept. I took on some consulting work with an independent online music store and also managed a very small band while refining the ArtistData concept. I think it was around mid-2006 when I started really understanding what ArtistData was going to be, and that’s when I started looking for someone with a technology background to help me get it off the ground.
The idea itself was pretty straightforward. A tool that helps artists update social network sites through a central entry point. Everyone who had worked in the industry knew it was a problem and if we could build an affordable solution, most people would use it. We started building and by mid-2007 we started to see a product we were all really excited about. It’s hard to describe the feeling the first time I added a show and it posted to MySpace, PureVolume, and Virb automatically. It seems trivial now, but this was before Twitter and public APIs were popular. It was like magic.
Would you compare the team dynamics of a startup with the situation where some people come together to form a band and really get excited about sharing a passion?
I think it’s really similar, but all depends on the startup. When a band comes together, it’s a bunch of musicians with slightly different skill sets working on a common creative project. Eventually, they get non-musicians involved to help with the business aspects of things. In a startup (specifically technology), the analogous situation would be when a team of software engineers come together to create software. They all might have different skill sets (one is better with the front end code, one is better with databases, etc…) but together they are able to write a complete application, much like a band is able to write a song. The major difference is that in most startups there is the business person there from the start, where bands rarely have a manager working with them from day 1. But regardless, both startups and bands are a group of like-minded people coming together to work on a singular project that they believe can touch the lives of millions. And that’s an amazing dynamic.
Did you reach moments where you had a difficult time and the motivation was low? Did you think about giving up? What made you to put the negative feelings aside and pushed you to go forward?
Definitely. A startup is a never-ending series of joy and fear (and every emotion in between). One day you think your product is the best thing in the world, the next day you worry about a competitor, the next day you get a term sheet from a venture capitalist, the next day your star employee quits, the next day you successfully launch amazing features, the next day your servers go down. Eventually you close the company. Or you sell it.
It’s an emotional roller coaster, much like being in a band. Artists are constantly getting yesses and nos from record labels, agents, fans, etc.... One night you’re playing for 5,000 people because a larger act asked you to open for them, the next night you’re playing for 20 because you’re the headliner in a random city. One night, out of nowhere you sell out of CDs and the next night no one wants to even take a free demo.
But the thing that gets artists up every morning to keep going is the same thing that gets entrepreneurs up: they believe 1000% in what they’re doing. The minute that artists or entrepreneurs stop believing in their project, their work becomes less genuine, the project suffers, and eventfully, they quit.
But as long as the have the belief and passion in their work, they keep getting up, no matter how many times they were knocked down.