My music startup failed multiple times before we got it right. Here’s what I learned.

The following MBW blog comes from Timothy Armoo (pictured). Armoo is the co-founder of successful UK-based marketing agency/network Fanbytes, which specialises in promoting music via Snapchat influencers – and which works closely with the likes of Universal, Warner and Deezer.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

This is a quote attributed to Thomas Edison when he was asked about his unsuccessful attempts to succeed before commercialising the lightbulb. I think this quote can be massively relevant to the world of modern entrepreneurs.

In the case of Fanbytes, as an 18-month-old marketing company that has quickly soared to working with a lot of the world’s largest music brands – backed by prominent investors – we’re reaching a level which some people deem “successful”.

Many people, however, are not aware of the three prior “pivots” that Fanbytes had before its current form.

Well, I call them “pivots” but, let’s be frank, they were failures.

At 23 years old, with little in the way of responsibility, I’m at somewhat of an advantage that I’ve been able to start again where others might not have been able.

These experiences taught me some key lessons I’m happy to pass on to the next wave of startups coming through.

Below I touch on the key things I wished I had known earlier on in the journey of starting Fanbytes. I sincerely hope they are of value to you.

1) Focus on one thing and do it insanely well.

Fanbytes began as a platform to connect artists to their fans through charity contests; at that time our idea was called Bandzie.

As two naive 21 and 20 year olds (my cofounder Ambrose Cooke is a few months older than me ) we stayed up all night emailing managers of indie bands, record labels and even [email protected] in order to get artists signed up on our platform.

No-one replied.

To some degree it was horrifically naive of us to think an email to [email protected] would yield results, but receiving not a single reply was damaging and taught us one thing – the power of focus.

Bandzie was a mishmash of value propositions. Using our platform, artists could host competitions for their fans to win cool experiences with them; Skydiving with your favourite band, that kind of thing.

In order to enter into these competitions, fans bought merchandise – with each purchased item also providing a number of tokens depending on how valuable it was. It was kind of a ‘Kickstarter with experiences’.

The problem was that, when emailing the labels, we were telling them how Bandzie could help them with (i) monetising their fanbases,  (ii) engaging their audiences, (iii) increasing artists’ public perception (through the charity angle) and (iv) obtaining consumer data.

It was almost like we threw every benefit at the wall and hoped one would stick. Sadly, I’ve found this approach to be an impediment to ideas being successful.

At the beginning, your company should focus on one single thing which resonates with your end users. There is so much noise in your customer’s head, with other people vying for their attention, hammering the same unique message/benefit will allow you to stand out from the crowd.

With Fanbytes, we state one clear proposition: to drive engagement for your song or artist with Gen Z.

Everything else – from our creative solutions to our consumer insights function – was secondary to our one key value proposition.

This relentless focus is great.

2) Focus on a very small customer base.

This is similar to the first point, but instead of focusing on the value proposition, this is about focusing on a very small set of customers.

This may seem counterintuitive; surely to build a large business the best thing is to focus on as many people as possible?

Well… no.

In another previous version of Fanbytes, we were a YouTube influencer marketplace enabling brands to connect with influencers.

This business model is commonplace now, however three years ago we were one of the few people in the market doing it. We didn’t grow as quickly as we wanted to, however, and this was due to us trying to cater to the whole market.

In our first few months of that version of our business, we attracted corporate customers ranging from New Look to Go Pro, plus a number of mobile app companies, all from disparate industries.

As a consequence of being split across multiple verticles, we were not able to build authority within a niche market and eventually ended up losing ground to others who had focused on these niches.

Compare this to the ‘new’ Fanbytes: we decided to focus solely on music as a vertical, and even more niche, focus on the major labels. Within a few months of launching (re-launching), we had landed Universal, Warner and Sony as clients.

In doing this, we have built ourselves as a dominant player in the space.

We currently don’t do much in the way of sales into this market as a lot of inbounds comes from referrals to people within the labels telling each other about us. This only happens when you have a tight, unnerving focus on a small subset of customers and making them very happy.

3) Business Plans…

I wish I had known from the start that business plans are rubbish.

One of the only things you can know for certain in any business is that nothing is for certain. Especially in the world of marketing.

As a company we’ve had to contend with Snapchat updates, advertising sentiments changing, GDPR – and that’s just been in the last three months!

When I was younger I used to believe so much in the importance of 3-5 year business plans, believing that if we stuck to them everything would be okay.

In a previous company, I obsessed about a business plan which showed projections of how we’d make millions within the first eight months if 0.01% of the market took on our product; even writing this today makes me cringe!

What I’ve come to realise is that business plans are often not even worth the paper they are written on. Markets change and, due to that, detailed plans for growth beyond six months often seem frivolous.

At Fanbytes we work in six month sprints; anything beyond those six months is ignored. We know the world changes rapidly and this gives us the flexibility to constantly adapt to new things going on in the market whilst also maintaining some sort of direction.

If you’re starting a company now I advise you to do the same  – perhaps it doesn’t need to be six months, it could be even shorter, but realising that long business plans evaporate the moment they come in touch with the market is hopefully a useful insight.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt, however, is to have fun.

Sure, starting your own business can be stressful, but it’s also one of the most exhilarating things you’ll ever do – and you’re going to learn tons.

Enjoy the journey and, hopefully, enjoy the growth!Music Business Worldwide

Related Posts