Categorized | Shoestring Startup

Shoestring Startup – Audimated.com: Revolutionizing Independent Music.

My name is Lucas Sommer and I am a twenty-five year-old music producer and founder of Audimated.com. After ten years in the volatile music business and my work with other independent musicians, I realized the need to help artists monetize their music. In 2009, while running a recording studio part time, I started working for the University of Miami’s entrepreneurship department, The Launch Pad (http://tiny.ly?hH5). During my time at The Launch Pad, I consulted over 400 businesses and I learned a great deal about small business and entrepreneurship. However, when the opportunity to start my own business surfaced in the spring of 2010, I had to take the chance.

After multiple conversations and networking with friends, I connected with Andrew Levine, a fellow music enthusiast and graduate of the University of Miami. We began discussing starting our own business and finding the money to get it started. After running the numbers and meeting with family and friends, the two of us decided to move forward with the business. This was one of the biggest transitions of our lives during a very unstable economic time. In March of 2010, Andrew and I both left the steady paycheck and benefits provided by our employers to pursue entrepreneurship and Audimated full time.

Our idea was to help independent artists and fans share, discover and monetize music. Audimated would be the first music community where fans can make money sharing their favorite independent songs, while giving artists the tools they need to make money in a music career. Fans could browse videos, find top artists, listen to the radio and discover new music all from one location. Bands and indie artists would keep their copyrights and allow fans to be the sales force for their music, merchandise and products.

There were also a few market factors that were in our favor. With the changes the Internet has brought to the music industry, record labels no longer have complete control over what content is distributed. Now independent artists with the right tools and the right information can compete against major label content. Also, as the price of home recording equipment continues to come down, there will be more and more artists with content that needs to be heard and distributed. Audimated would exist to provide those tools and opportunities for independent artists.

In the beginning, Andrew and I started by asking artists and music fans whether or not they would be interested in the service if we were to build it. After collecting over 500 surveys (using Google Docs) from both artists and fans, we had a good indication that there was a significant need in the market for helping independent artists market their music. This strategy was something that helped build our confidence, secure the idea as valuable, and give us our first few hundred leads.

During the initial stages, Audimated looked promising with a solid brand image, trademark position and concept. Before even launching the platform, Audimated and I won the $25,000 first prize WeMedia Pitch It Challenge (http://tiny.ly?F4S) for best new for-profit start up. Now in its second month of marketing and promotion Audimated has quickly amassed thousands of new fans and artists across multiple countries, genres, and market groups. Audimated is also partnering with independent labels and has plans to expand its partnerships to other service providers in the industry.

Audimated was funded entirely by ourselves and our families. While most online music portals/stores close several million dollar financing rounds, Audimated has bootstrapped its development and launch from day one. Using social media and several free tools online (Google Docs, 99designs, Google Apps, Tweetdeck, Help a Reporter Out, Forums), Audimated is now growing, taking in revenue, and well on its way to creating a unique partnership between music fans and independent musicians.

Not everything has gone according to plan. Within the first few weeks of the website’s launch, Audimated filled its servers with user content faster than the servers could handle and crashed the site several times before finally moving the site to a host that could keep up with Audimated’s growth. Although frustrating to the users and staff, this was a positive problem to have. The indication was that the service was being used and the need was there.

In addition, the initial resources necessary to keep up with development and maintenance of the website needed to be upgraded. Originally there was a team of 8-10 freelance web developers and designers that were working on the project, but not having the team “in house” was causing considerable problems. There are constantly new ideas, features and innovations that need to be developed and implemented. Now Audimated has three full time employees working on improving the interface and marketing the service. The lesson here is not to outsource your website if your website is your business. If you are going to have a web-based business, partner with your web guy in the beginning (outsourcing is not always the answer and can cost a lot more than it saves).

Coming up with the name also proved quite difficult. With the proliferation of the internet and domain registrar services, acquiring an acceptable .com domain name is actually much harder than it seems. Andrew and I spent months developing the website before they had a brand name for the business. Hundreds of different names were considered and days were spent searching the registrar for available domains. Eventually we settled an Audimated.com which is a combination of the words “audio” and the suffix “mated” (which means automatic process). This combination brings the message of getting your music business automated: Audimated.com.

While overcoming these obstacles, Audimated was featured in the Wall Street Journal (http://tiny.ly?IN1), Inc Magazine (http://tiny.ly?t8f) and the Huffington Post (http://tiny.ly?1DF). In Fall 2010, Audimated is also sponsoring and attending the North East’s biggest music festival, CMJ.

Audimated is preparing for growth over the next several years and is focused on improving the service rather than driving revenue. Audimated is convinced that if we can become the destination for independent music online that revenue will follow. An exit is not on our radar at this point, but we will keep the interests of our users in mind as we move forward with this business model. One of our underlying missions is to add value to the independent music industry and our exit strategy will derive from this mentality.

My advice to entrepreneurs starting their own small business is to measure your market and idea before you get started. You should thoroughly research weather the members of your market are interested in your product or service. Surveys are a great way to accomplish this, but make do not survey your family or friends. Find participants who are completely at arm’s length and who will give you unbiased responses. Entrepreneurs also need to really investigate and establish what makes your product/service unique from what is already out there and whether or not you can or should use a certain business name.

Almost contradictory to this, I would also advise not to become paralyzed with analysis. Do not spend the first three months writing a fifty page business plan on what you are going to do when you could just get started doing it right now. You do not know what will happen once you get started so unless you know the future your business plan will always be wrong. The important thing is to have done your research and feel confident that there is a unique and significant need for your business to exist. If you have that in place you should just get started.

Lucas Sommer
Audimated.com

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