Having good ideas does not make you a good entrepreneur.
After considering about 50 ideas in the past 3 years and working on a few of them, I’m currently writing this blog with €0 profit (Although I swear we made €100 bucks once) and a lot of unfinished ideas.
Nice to meet you — we’re Youssef and Mike. We secretly wanted to be rockstars, but somehow we ended up working for technology businesses. Somewhere in 2015, we got the idea to start a business together. Because we’re just as nerdy about music as we are about tech, we decided that we would build apps for musicians. The goal was to start it as a side project, then go full-time when we could afford it or get investment.
From that point, when people would ask me what we were working on with Podium, it could have been any of the following answers:
As you can probably guess, we never launched any of these. The excuses we tell ourselves range from ‘too little time next to a full-time job’ to ‘we found out no one wants this after working on it for 5 months’ to ‘we thought we could build this in a month, but it will take about a year and cost a lot of money’.
It’s easy to see these as failures, but I like to think of them as very educational fuckups. Partly to save myself from anxiety, but also because they taught us what approaches definitely don’t work for us.
Over the last few months, we took a good look at our approach and decided that if we really want to do this, we should change it drastically. So:
Since it’s our first time doing this and we’re trying to make this remote lifestyle work, we figured it’d be interesting to write about it every month. Of course, there’s already tons of people who have written about what they did well. We’re not just going to do that.
We’d like to use this blog to be completely honest about our initial plan, what we messed up, what we did right and what we learned along the way.
Aside from keeping people up to date, we think committing to writing every month also helps by forcing us to reflect on why we do things, making sure that we do what we promised. Basically, you’re our bosses now.
Because we don’t want to get too technical, at the end you’ll find some separate startup talks or tech talks. These are sections where we go deeper on the tools and technical solutions we use.
After finishing school, I started doing marketing for startups in Amsterdam. In the meantime, I was teaching myself how to design and code a little bit. I ended up in a consulting role to help startups with growing their business and improving their product.
Youssef is one of the smartest people I know and an amazing developer. Aside from that, he has a great mind for business and is an awesome person to work with. I’m forever grateful I ran into him. I honestly hope he never finds out he doesn’t need me to do all these things.
Together we’re just confident enough to think we can do this, and just humble enough to realise this won’t be easy at all.
So first of all, we’re trying a different approach than most startups: we’re setting this up so we can work from any place in the world. We were inspired by companies like Basecamp, Zapier and Invision, who’ve built great businesses with people spread all over the world. Invision even has 700(!) employees all working remotely.
There’s a lot that has been written about the benefits of working remotely, but the main reasons for us would be these:
When you’re in different places, you can’t tap your colleague on their shoulder and ask them a ‘small question’. We think this is a good thing, as the average day at an office is full of these kind of distractions. Different timezones and being able to turn off some notifications allows people to deeply focus on a difficult task for a few hours. When building software, that’s quite useful.
Access to talent
Imagine you’re looking to hire a developer in Amsterdam with a set budget. To get really talented people, you’ll probably need to compete with the coolest tech companies in the city who can offer double the amount. What if you would keep the same budget, but hire globally? You could get the most talented person out there, give them more freedom and they would live like a king. You’ll literally spend the same to get a much better result.
If you’re reading this, and you’re thinking “why would you want to work from any place in the world?” I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain it to you. This benefit seems pretty obvious to me.
A while ago, we started from scratch and started researching: why it is so tough to make a living as a musician? Where does the money actually go?
Turns out there’s a lot of large businesses an artist is dependent on to grow. For starters, there’s a record label for marketing, a publisher for collecting money, a booking agency for gigs.
These companies take a cut of the artists earnings and spend their time helping a large number of artists. For the bigger ones, their model looks a lot like an investment bank; a few artists will be extremely successful and the money they bring in pays for the losses made on the less successful artists.
Because of this model, when an artist is not performing well, either the record label feels the need to interfere with what kind of music is being made or starts to spend less attention on the artist. However, because the contract is signed, they still make at least 30% of what the artist is earning. Even when the artist is responsible for making those earnings happen.
So a few artists have actually decided to skip signing to a label altogether and become independent. We thought that was interesting; wasn’t signing with a record label the dream for every artist?
Turns out there’s more and more examples of independents being successful on their own, by publishing their own music and growing their own following online. One even won a Grammy this way.
We think this is an awesome trend — why try to become friends with large corporations if you can grow on your own? You keep 100% control of whatever you make and are free to produce whatever you want to. Even if you sell half of what big artists sell, you’ll earn the same. Sounds like a good deal.
Youssef did some in-depth research on the benefits of being independent. Read about it here
The problem is, being an independent artist means you have to do a lot of shit yourself. In fact, both the artists and their managers have to do a lot more. Suddenly, you need to be a master planner, a digital marketing expert and a data analyst, aside from managing your music business.
We don’t think that’s very realistic, so we’re working on ways for managers to be able to delegate these tasks without giving away half of their earnings. The first step to get there is to free up time and create structure. With the Planner, we’re trying to help managers organise and automate some of their repetitive day to day work.
This should help them improve communication with the team behind the artist and create an overview of what’s on everyone’s plate. Things like emailing files back and forth, collecting and sharing new demo’s, sending over details about a live act, scheduling and approving social posts and many more small tasks.
We’ve rounded up about 20 artist managers who are willing to do a beta test with us. I’m finishing up the designs for the Planner this week, which we’ll discuss with the beta users to find out whether we’re on the right track.
A huge challenge will be to find out whether we can build something that’s not just helpful, but also something that people would pay us for. Hopefully we figure out something smart in the coming weeks to test that.
If we’re right, we can start building like crazy. If we’re wrong, we’ll have to go back to the drawing board again. Either way, it doesn’t matter: we’ll learn and get one step closer to our goal.
If you’ve made it this far — thanks for reading. Like everything we do, this blog is a forever work in progress, so please feel free to burn us down and tell us what you think.
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We’ve borrowed our process from Ash Maurya, writer of Running Lean. I think it’s a lot more actionable than most innovation advice, because it’s extremely practical. It introduces the Lean Canvas, which is very focused on defining Problem/Solution fit before you build anything. In my opinion alternatives like the Business Model Canvas spend too little time on defining the problem well.
It’s a bit awkward at first to interview people without having any kind of product to talk about, but once you get over that, it’s amazing to see what you can learn by just talking about the right problems. It helped us a lot.
Another great part of the book is how they explain why raising investment too early is a very bad idea:
Basically, when working towards product/market fit, you should be able to make extreme changes to your strategy and product overnight. You’re trying to learn as much as possible to find a product and business model that makes sense. This means the last thing you’d want to do is try to scale your business.
If you’ve already raised investment, you’ve probably promised investors that you’ll show growth numbers every month. This will force you to grow a product that doesn’t work in the long term, instead of experimenting until it’s a healthy business.