Case Studies

Posted on March 19, 2015

MusicSpoke

The Big Plate: What’s on your plate?

Jennifer (Co founder) MusicSpoke: We recently returned from a national conference in Salt Lake City where MusicSpoke was enthusiastically received by the choral community. The American Choral Directors Association has a national conference biennially. We knew that it would be important for MusicSpoke to have a strong presence at this convention in order to solidify our standing in the choral music world. We were blown away by how many people came to our booth because they heard about us online, read the blog, or were referred to us by other musicians. Kurt and I were non-stop talking to people for 4 days straight. We made great connections with attendees and other vendors, and strengthened our relationships with existing ACDA members. We were one of the vendor hits of the conference. It was exhausting but exhilarating!

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In the booth with some of the MusicSpoke composers

TBP: How did MusicSpoke get started?

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Jennifer: The idea for MusicSpoke came when Kurt was attending the last national ACDA conference in Dallas, TX in 2013. I only ever updated his website when he went to conferences and I was going to add e-commerce to his website so we could sell his self-published scores. I started looking at other composer websites out there and they were all terrible! Composers aren’t coders, marketers, or designers. They are musicians. First I thought I would just make a killing selling web services to composers. Then I started to think about the larger problem. With each composer having a separate website and catalog of works, there would be no centralized, searchable database to find music in a particular genre across composers. So instead of just solving the problem for my husband, I decided to solve it for all the composers out there.

TBP: I know that you founded Argyle Octopus. Are there any differences or challenges you’ve had when co founding MusicSpoke. What makes the two businesses different?

Jennifer: They are very different. With Argyle Octopus, I woke up one day with an entrepreneurial seizure, quit my job, and incorporated 4 days later. I decided I had to give it a go, and the worse thing that could happen was that I would just have to get a job. I spent 9 hours a day networking and meeting with people and then spent 10 hours at night making proofs and emailing customers. It was grueling and lonely. After about 5 months of shear force, I had built up enough clientele that it was time to think about building a business. I knew I needed help but I didn’t know what that looked like. So I turned to the SCC Entrepreneurship Center and joined their Business Incubator Program. It was a life (and business) saver. It was still grueling and lonely at times, but I found guidance from the staff and comradery with the other incubator tenants. Eventually I was able to hire employees and start working on my business instead of in it.

With MusicSpoke, I started with an actual problem to solve. I sought out guidance and mentors right away. It was through these relationships that we applied for and were accepted into the NMotion Accelerator Program in 2014. Talk about life changing! We were able to take 3 different starting points, validate the path to begin, and launch in 52 days with a working MVP! This was not just about being your own boss, but about actually reaching out to potential customers, asking them what they needed to solve their problems, and then giving it to them. I won’t say there is a right or wrong way to build a business, but I will say that there is an easier way. Starting with customers first and giving them what they want is much easier than pounding the pavement trying to drum up business!

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As it turns out, having Argyle Octopus in place has been a huge bonus for MusicSpoke. We have a built-in, highly-functioning marketing team that takes care of the majority of the graphics, marketing materials, content creation, and social media posts for MusicSpoke. This frees up my time for other founder tasks. When we went to our first trade show as MusicSpoke, it was pretty cool to be an Argyle Octopus customer! The team took my ideas and vision way beyond anything I had imagined and really made the brand shine. Customers regularly compliment us on our branding and consistency throughout all of our marketing collateral, and that is thanks to the Argyle Octopus team. Shout outs to Leyna, Hannah, and Aliana!

TBP: How has starting MusicSpoke in an accelerator made it the startup it is today and how has it helped you as an entrepreneur grow?

Jennifer: As I mentioned before, starting with a problem to solve instead of a product to sell makes more sense in today’s startup climate. Through the NMotion Accelerator, we learned about customer validation, customer development, and product market fit. And then we actually did it. It wasn’t just academic exercises. We had to do it in order to get to demo day with a solution to demo! It was a very intense program with long days and nights, tons of experiential learning, and more information than anyone could possibly absorb. I like to say I got my Harvard MBA in 100 days!

For me personally, it forced me to step outside of Argyle Octopus for 100 days and focus solely on MusicSpoke. Before NMotion, I probably only spent an hour or two a day on MusicSpoke and the rest of my time on Argyle Octopus. It was definitely the catalyst I needed to get in gear and move from the “talking about it” phase to the “doing it phase.”
My husband and cofounder, Kurt Knecht, is a musician and educator. He was not previously part of the business world. NMotion gave him the opportunity to learn very quickly the things he needed to know to be my business partner in this venture.

TBP: So how does MusicSpoke work? Can anyone upload music scores and can anyone purchase them?

Jennifer: Right now our focus with MusicSpoke is start with well known composers and high-quality music that conductors are already searching out. This strategy will lead to a greater reputation for the site and a higher adoption rate for additional composers. Eventually, we will open it up to full long-tail model where anyone can share their original content. Anyone is welcome (and encouraged) to purchase any time!

TBP: Last question – Why “spoke”?

Jennifer: Names are a funny thing. We spent months trying out different names and searching for matching URLs. It was really important to me to have a domain name that was the same name as the company name. It turns out the word “score” has multiple connocations and most use of those URLs were already parked for sports things. We kept coming back to the idea of a central hub for composers, conductors, and performers. I think it was just one of those middle of the night things where I sat up in bed and yelled, “MusicSpoke”! Plus it has additional implications like, “The music spoke to me.”

Follow MusicSpoke on Twitter, Facebook, and visit the site at musicspoke.com