What gets you fired up about what you do?
At its heart Songkick is about connecting fans in the real world to art. For me, going to see some of my early shows was completely eye opening. Seeing the music i loved played by the people i’ve watched from afar in a room full or other people who were as obsessed about the same stuff as i am was such an incredible experience.
What we’re doing is enabling more of those types of moments to happen all over the world. That’s really motivating given how much pleasure live music has given me over my life.
What are some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome with songkick?
The toughest stuff is when it’s not entirely clear what the right direction to go in. It’s tough because it’s a state of limbo that often comes at the peak of some of the most successful phases of a startup. Such as when you’ve launched a bunch of new stuff and it goes really well and starts to grow and then you hit this phase of what to do next?
We get over those humps by having an opinionated team of people who are as passionate as we are about figuring out what’s next. i often like to get the team to take away a subject and rethink it for a few days and then come back and present to each other and the rest of the team.
What I find is that by putting all these ideas into a “hopper” the gradually this sense of the smartest, best path forward gradually emerges. I see my role as being the editor of the best ideas than as the progenitor.
How did you get started?
I met Michelle when i was studying in China and Pete at Uni. We were always talking about all sorts of startup related ideas so when the idea of songkick emerged it was a something that came out of the different perspectives we had on live music. We put our savings into a shared bank account to initially fund it. I quit my job pretty much immediately and the others did the same soon after. That was back in 2007.
When we started there was very little literature about best in class methodologies for building a startup. The most influential stuff we took to heart in the early days were Y-Combinator’s own mantras around making something people really want, starting in a niche and expanding from there and that kind of stuff. We also took a lot of inspiration from other founders and having late night conversations about best way to do things during YC.
Who are some of the voices you find most influential?
The two people who I regard as the best thinkers on startup strategy are Dave McClure and Shaun Ellis.
Dave McClure had just published his Pirate metrics, which to me has been the single most helpful document on building startups that i’ve ever come across. It provides a really great overall framework for thinking about the tension between making a gratifying product and distribution / growth.
Shaun Ellis is the other one. His central thesis is that great startups need to get three things in alignment. The first thing is a really gratifying experience, second is a unique growth strategy and the third is a killer revenue model.
How did you evolve the product? Were there any pivotal moments?
It’s less of one mega idea and more like a 1000 little ideas all coming together. It’s a composite of small clever ideas all rolled into one.
Also as a startup you need to be looking quite externally to find out what’s changing not just in your market but in the broader consumer market. Mobile has been huge for us, but that has been more of a global macro trend.
The stuff that has been more internal has been understanding exactly what we do that makes a fan delighted and really honing and simplifying that core experience. More about taking things out than putting things in. But you have to develop a really clear model of exactly what gratifies someone and how much time they’ve got to dedicate to your product.
I need a new book, what should I read?
To be honest i like to immerse myself in great works of art and people who are trying to express something very authentically rather than business literature. I spend a lot of time reading, going to the cinema, listening to music and going to concerts. The most inspiring thing for me is when you see someone working really really hard to do something authentic. I feel that somehow that can get you back to the core of the creative which to me is about authentic expression. I found Jay-Z’s autobiography Decoded very inspiring in that regard.
It’s amazingly difficult to be authentic in life. It’s so easy to start putting on a voice you’ve heard somewhere else or say what you’ve heard everyone else saying rather than just figure out what your voice is.
Recently I’ve been watching more documentaries. I find stories like Indiegame or Jiro Dreams of Sushi inspiring as well.
One of our team members Robin Tweedie curates a monthly movie night with stuff like that which I think is a great aspect of our culture. The author I’ve enjoyed the most is probably Dostoevsky. Contemporary Chinese cinema also hits me really hard for example Jia Zhang Ke. It’s that sense of seeing someone working to create something truly great, and world class.
It acts as a fly-wheel to help you stay focussed on doing something that you feel is really worthwhile.
What other startup would you recommend we speak to?
I met the founder of GoCardless last week and he had some interesting things to say about mistakes they’d made and their CEO stuck me as a smart, honest guy who might have good stories to share.