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Case Study: Next Big Sound

Page history last edited by Alex White 14 years, 6 months ago


Next Big Sound is online music analytics and insights. We measure the popularity of bands across the major web properties and sell actionable insights around this data to band managers and other industry professionals. We went through the TechStars program this past summer and decided to change our idea on the first day. We had applied with a streaming music destination site that was akin to "fantasy sports for music." All we knew was that the big question of how a band becomes famous still very much excited us. We also knew that we didn't have the luxury of wasting weeks building a product that hadn't been clearly vetted by the market. Thanks to my connections in the industry we corralled a group of 12 band managers and scheduled weekly calls with every single one.

Our initial idea was to generate beautiful PDF reports charting a manager's bands on the various social networking sites. We would email them once a week with graphs that they could print out and study in depth. We started collecting MySpace data for the 70 bands that these managers cumulatively had under management. We put the graphs together by hand, 70 graphs, and began talking about how we could make them all different colors and let each manager customize them exactly how they wanted. When we described what we were doing they told us that they had never seen their band's data visualized like this before and that many of them were already trying to write these numbers down by hand and graph them themselves. They said they were spending an average of six hours a week collecting these numbers by hand and that our automated service would be hugely valuable.  We even sent them these reports on a Wednesday, when the SoundScan sales numbers are released, so they could start correlating their social music activity with hard sales numbers. It was basically a sure bet. We prepped each email, fired them off at 9am and waited for the praise to roll in. Nothing. Not one response! We couldn't believe it.

In my follow-up calls I confirmed with each one that the email came through. I got a lot of: "yea, I think I saw it but haven't had time to check it out." The next week we decided to send plain-text emails stating the Band Name, the total number of new Plays, Views, Fans and Comments and the Percentage Change from the previous week. This time we got a response from every single manager. Things like: "this is awesome!" or "thank you so much!" or "can you add this band to my report?" or "is it OK if I forward this on to the label?" or "will you please cc the band's agent next week" etc.  Turns out that the life of most managers is highly mobile. Every manager on our list had a smart phone and none of them had even opened the PDF when we attached it. From there we refined the plaintext email, making positive changes green and negative changes red, formatting them by band, and providing click-through links to the actual graphs for more in depth analysis. After a couple weeks we finally automated the reports so I didn't have to put them together by hand.

Every other TechStars team was months ahead of us when we dropped our initial idea the first day. The impulse was to go heads down and pump out code to "catch up." Had we not interacted with our customer so frequently we would have spent at least the first month automating the process of creating and sending beautiful PDF charts to managers and industry professionals that would have sat unopened on BlackBerry's around the country. If our plain-text email hadn't gotten a stellar response I'm sure we would have tried something else the next week. Only by listening, building and learning literally week by week were we able to develop a product with substantial market interest (and investor interest as well) less than 3 months after starting with nothing. 

Comments (3)

Holger Dieterich said

at 3:47 am on Jan 31, 2010

thanks for this inspiring story!

Kevin Owocki said

at 12:40 pm on Nov 7, 2009

Great to hear your product/market fit story Alex. Sounds like you guys saved a bunch of time by figuring out that band managers would rather read your data on their berries than open a PDF doc.

Kevin Owocki said

at 12:39 pm on Nov 7, 2009

Great to hear your product/market fit story Alex. Sounds like you guys saved a bunch of time.

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