Sanem Alkan

Sanem Alkan

Interviewfest
12 Jun 2011,

Current Residence: New York city
Occupation: Entrepreneur
Areas of Focus: Music Technology
Website: http://audiovroom.com/

I first heard of your start-up at an Amherst College Innovation Pitch event. What instantly caught my attention was the well developed video presentation of your product. How would you advise others on creating a “perfect” pitch?

Practice, practice, practice! A succinct, more visual, engaging and simpler presentation allows the audience to stay focused on the main message. More detailed questions can be addressed more easily afterwards.

One of the most innovative features of AudioVroom is the “bump” feature, which make music sharing interactive by the tap of your phone. Could you briefly describe this feature as well as the inspiration behind it?

Our service puts the social into the online music experience and makes it a truly interactive, engaging experience between two or more users in the same Room–what we call “meet space”. AudioVroom users can shake phones to connect and exchange music preferences. We then find their mutual tastes and deliver songs from the cloud. For that to happen, we explored ways to connect user devices over bluetooth, GPS or Wifi. For the one to one connection, we determined that an established service from Bump Technologies was a great fit. This firm recently offered their technology for developers like us, so we did not need to recreate the wheel. However, for the one-to-many crowd-sourcing of music, we developed our own device connection, which gets activated when users shake devices with a central unit.

How are you different from your competitors like Pandora or other music related services?

Most existing services expect users to either own their own music or know what they want (like Pandora) to start new playlists and discover artists or songs. AudioVroom is the first service that offers both a lean back and lean forward experience–depending on what users want. Another difference is our social and gaming features: As AudioVroom users interact with the platform and each other, they collect valuable points–good for free music listening time, as well as badges and tastemaker status. When it is time for a group session, these tastemakers can use their points and rights to direct and start sessions, influencing the music in the room. No other service takes music listening to the user in the same room in an engaging way.

Sales, often times, is a challenge for beginning start ups or any business for that matter, how do you plan to build a sales pipeline? Does anyone advise you in this area?

We have several revenue sources: Our users can buy points (blocks of time) or subscriptions (unlimited annual contracts) for a small fee. As we grow the user base, we also have the opportunity to generate rich metadata on usage and put our analytics tools to work for our business partners. These business applications can be licensed in exchange for significant fees. We can also sell advertising as well. These revenue sources were designed by our team; we were not advised by another party.

Can you describe a specific hiccup in the development of the I-phone App product and how you resolved it?

Quickly after our initial design, we noticed that designing a platform is one thing, developing it another. We had contracted a capable iPhone development team out of Brazil to build our prototype–and got what we wanted within a reasonable time period. However, when it came time for the full product beta version, development slowed down. We realized outsourcing initial development to an offshore team was not as effective, and hired US based coders, who did deliver our current version within two months.

Could you tell us a little more about how was your team formed? And based on your own experiences, how would you advise others on how to form a team?

The best advice for any startup is to find talented, experienced team members whose skills complement each other. We have three core members: One designed the platform, one wrote our music listener, another wrote the analytics software, and the third turned the music app concept into a real business.

Two of our co-founders have been friends, who recognized the effort it takes to discover new music even if one has music-tech expertise. We looked for a third partner whose background and interests were a perfect match, and coincidentally found him fairly quickly with the help of our network.

I understand that your app also possesses a game aspect in which users acquire points. How does your point system work (i.e. uses of these points and ways to increase the number of points) and how does it garner user interest?

Every time users interact with AudioVroom by rating songs (love/fail/question) or bump with friends, they collect points. As they listen to music, they lose points. This gives the user an incentive to connect and be more social. Beyond these points, users also earn badges and tastemaker status. Those hidden rights are quite powerful as well–allowing these users to start-lead group sessions and determine what kind of music gets to play. Down the road, these tastemakers can also win prizes from their favorite bands or events, as super fans…

Another issue that comes to mind is people with eclectic or quirky musical tastes. Will these people be able to locate rare music on AudioVroom?

Our catalog has over 10mm songs and growing each month. We feature music from all corners of the world, though some parts of the catalog will definitely be weaker than others. It is up to the listener to love/fail songs and give us feedback so they can get more personalized playlists over time, discovering these gems.

Could you tell us a little more about how DJ mode sorts through music preferences and generates a fun listening experience for the user?

DJ mode allows one AudioVroom user device to be in “promiscuous mode” so several other AudioVroom users in the vicinity can join a group session simultaneously. The music everyone has in common is combined and played through the device in DJ mode which is usually connected to a stereo.

This is a new social music experience — polling the interests, preferences of the people in the same room and creating a social and mobile jukebox on the spot—be it a car, venue or school. Anyone can become a DJ, as long as they either pay for that mode or collect enough points to unlock the advanced feature.

What is fun for guests in a DJ session is that they can vote songs up and down and even “kill” a song that nobody likes. If that person who is being skipped wants to challenge, s/he can save the song for a few extra points, keeping the song in “play”.

Now that you’ve developed an HTML 5 version of your App, you’ve opened up the flood gates in terms of the amount of users that can use your application. Are there any limitations to using HTML 5 vs objective-c (iphone) or java (android)?

Not when it comes to all major web and mobile platforms. That is the beauty of this software. We can make AudioVroom available to a very wide range of platforms as long as they have a web browser that supports html5.

While there are many books written on how to launch products, we would love to know what you guys have found to be the 3 most important questions to ask before a sprint and development cycle?

That is a thoughtful question and I think I am going to answer this with something’s I think all young developers should think about. Agile does not mean fast and loose. That said, I would add these three core concepts:

A) Identify as many unknowns and known unknowns as you can, as early as you can. Research everything related to the history of your industry/product. Sometimes what trips you up is “not what you know, but what you know for sure, that just ain’t so.”

B) Don’t start your sprint half hearted. Draft detailed specification for your product and API’s up front, it does not need to be fancy, but keep a note book and just pour over it until you really “own it”. Then go to C).

C) Team momentum and moral: Be a leader. Knowing your product better than anyone else really goes a long way to earning your teams respect (see A & B above). However, a sign of real leadership is assigning responsibility and ownership of entire portions of your stack to trusted team members. Hording information is generally bad for moral. That said, if your idea is patent worthy or otherwise secretive, segregate who knows what and place your “secret sauce” into a discreet layer of the stack, exposing it to the other layers, thru a message bus and private API’s. This effectively walls off your IP, while allowing for the openness and trust every team needs to maintain momentum and moral. And believe me, if your project is of any scale, you’re going to need as much momentum and moral as you can muster to get you through the tough, scary bits, when you realize you did not spend enough time doing A or B.


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