SongKick’s Daniel Rogers shares his views on how innovative start ups are eating their incumbents’ lunch by doing so. Also learn more on how a well-built API can help grow a site.
Current Residence: London
Occupation: Head of Growth / Traffic Acquisition
Areas of Focus: Online marketing, and product management
You mentioned that Songkick received an honorable mention at the Tech City speech. How does what’s happening in Tech City (UK) compare with what’s going on currently in the Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley in the States?
David Cameron’s Tech City initiative has been quite controversial, but I think it is a step in the right direction. Although startup communities are inherently bottom up movements, and tend to have very little to do with government and big business, the government can definitely help through incentives like tax breaks, entrepreneur visas, and better infrastructure. I think the real difference between London and Silicon Valley is the culture and mindset. Most UK graduates still, even in the midst of this recession, focus on careers in banking or consulting. Engineering students at Stanford dream of starting a career at Google or Facebook then founding their own startup, Imperial student counterparts, however, dream of a career coding spreadsheets at Goldman Sachs followed by retirement spent on a beach. There is plenty of money for investment in London and plenty of raw talent. It’s just that the talent currently isn’t focused on entrepreneurship. As more successful startups come out of London, and employees of these startups form their own companies and networks, the culture will change. It’s just going to take a long while.
You are a newbie, relatively speaking, in the music industry. What strategy and/or circumstances, do you think, allowed you to rise so quickly to the top of the heap?
The traditional music industry, with a few notable exceptions, is still full of rent seeking rather than value-creating behavior. This focus on rent seeking has allowed innovative startups such as LastFM, Spofity, and Pandora to completely displace the incumbents. Live Nation and Ticketmaster are also fundamentally rent seekers; vertically integrating then increasing the price of everything from service charges to car parking. This why there has been such a backlash against their business. The same is also true of cable TV, where Netflix is encroaching on the likes of Comcast.
Prior to the internet, media’s primary business model was in controlling and managing distribution. Although that model is now completely dead, part of the industry is still fruitlessly trying to cling to it. This is evident in their continuous blocking of deals such as Spotify’s attempt to launch in the US. The reality is, if you offer a convenient service at a price people are willing to pay, then they will pay for it. If you don’t then people will either download it for free, or not consume it at all. Look at the decline in concert ticket sales, for instance.
The Songkick API has taken on a life of its own. Can you describe how the API works within the technological framework of partner corporations like Vevo?
I’ve not been that involved in the development of the API (far smarter people have), but generally I think the best APIs replicate all of the core functionality that your service is trying to provide. Many startups still think of web service first, then API second. A well-designed API can potentially power everything; your web application, iPhone app, Facebook app, and partner websites. In the future I think (hope!) we’ll see a lot more “API first” development.
What were some of the framework’s integration considerations?
The hardest aspect of dealing with a very open service and framework – where any user can upload any content they want – is moderation and data quality. There are huge reputational risks to providing incorrect, or malicious, content. As you become the reference source for data, maintaining quality becomes essential.
Do you anticipate your API becoming a more broadly used utility; i.e., a standardized technology that you can migrate for varied uses?
Definitely. I’d like to think we aren’t too far away from achieving this.
During it’s development, was there ever a point where the team had to reconsider and iterate in different direction? If so, what was the outcome/results?
Without wanting to go into specifics – yes! A key advantage to being small is the ability to iterate rapidly, especially when you are working with so many unknowns. This tends to be the case in innovative industries.
What is the geographic reach of Songkick? Are you only covering industrialized nations?
We are more artist-centric than location-centric, so if a popular artist is playing in an (what we deem) unusual location we are highly likely to cover it. One of the pleasures I get out of Songkick is seeing nascent communities form everywhere from Mumbai to Jakarta. Anecdotally it seems that language is less of a barrier as more and more generations grow up using the Internet. There is, however, always the question of whether we should be working more on localization.
There is sometimes animosity between musicians and large corporate entities. How did you gain the support of the music community that Songkick features?
Most people just care about traction. If you’ve got it in a way that doesn’t threaten their business model then they’ll want to work with you. Getting traction is the hard part!
Your selection of artists seems to appeal to a particular subset of young adults. Does your target market fall within a certain age range?
We have a pretty eclectic range of artists and users. Some of our biggest enthusiasts are well into middle age or beyond. I think it tends towards users in their twenties due to the nature of the activity. If they’re younger than that they can’t afford to go to many concerts; older than that and they have other things to worry about – like kids and mortgages. We are always aiming to be inclusive though!
Who are your heroes?
My father has always been an inspiration for me. He grew up in a rough area of London and left school at an early age, but has since gone on to found a successful illustration agency (http://www.phosphorart.com/) and has won numerous awards for his work. He’s a great example of how far hard work can get you. He’s still pulling 18 hour work days in his late fifties and finding time to go to the gym for an hour every day! He’s also continually adapted to changes in the industry. His obsession with computers, in fact, is the reason I’m where I am today.
What’s next for Songkick?
We’ve got quite a few big changes in the pipeline – but you’ll have to wait for the exact details!