There’s great buzz now about Music Gateway, a game-changing project collaboration platform that brings together musicians worldwide to create music. Here, its visionary founder Jon Skinner offers some insights about his company, entrepreneurship, and how to manage musicians.
JF: What inspired the creation of Music Gateway?
JS: Very simply, it was through my personal experiences during my 26-year career that inspired me to create a business focused platform to meet the needs of music industry professionals. The main issues people face are obtaining work opportunities, how best to develop their own projects effectively and getting connected with the right professionals. The industry is rife with barriers that hinder progression and stop access and connections to the right professionals. I experienced these issues myself and decided to address this problem with the creation of Music Gateway.
How does the current product match or vary from your original conception of it? If it’s different, what was the path of its evolution, and where do you see it going from here?
It has changed from my original business plan; I actually wrote a 26-page document over 3 days very quickly. I had the whole concept in my mind and just translated it down into a business plan. That was four and half years ago, and I originally parked the concept due to a lack of resource and finance to invest. I drew a line in the sand in January 2011 and decided to self invest in the core development of the website. One of the first things I did was read a book called Rework, which I highly recommend. In fact, I would say that it’s essential to read if you are starting your own business, especially in tech and software.
Without going into detail, I would say Music Gateway is currently at 50% of the original concept; all the bells and whistles will come later.
Even though we only launched 7 weeks ago, we already have 60% of a new site design completed. It’s important you don’t stand still. You have to keep moving.
We aim to add more project types, matching other industry services with clients and driving as much opportunity to our users as possible. This is our core goal for the first year, since launch. 2014 will be a massive year for the company and will launch the new site design, additional features, and fully responsive access for mobile and iPad devices.
What advice do you have about creating a software startup?
Keep it simple; too often people get carried away with feature after feature. People don’t want to be confused. If you get a reaction of, “Wow, that’s so simple why didn’t I think of that” then you should be on the right track. With any tech project, if the lead developer tells you it will take 2 months to complete something, it will take 4 months, and it still may not be fully ready in time.
Focus on the core function and purpose of the product and what it is that will engage the customer. Extra features can be added over time, but if you don’t get to the trading point quickly and you keep putting back the launch date, then you’re burning costs every month and potential competition can come into the market place.
Lock down your PHASE 1 requirements for launch, and don’t budge on these unless it’s fundamental. So, stay focused on your core goal. Make sure you start your marketing and pre-launch campaigns as early as possible. Data and who you know in your sector is most important, so get networking and use LinkedIn to build your connections.
As an entrepreneur, how do you decide whether/when to bring in investors?
If you can self fund, do it and be as resourceful as possible. Give opportunities to people for work experience, and empower them and give them responsibility over aspects of the business, maybe the social media, blogging, pre-marketing etc.
Get professional advice! In the UK, the government has a free scheme for startup companies to receive business consultancy advice [Editor's Note: Analogous to SCORE or the Executive Service Corps. in the U.S.], and these professionals can make a huge difference checking your business model, your forecasts, and improving your pitch or deck to investors.
Most startups look at family and friends who may wish to be involved in a business first, but I recommend that regardless of who it is, get a shareholders’ agreement signed through a solicitor, even if it may seem a little expensive. A shareholders agreement, for those who don’t know, states what the responsibilities, liabilities, and of course share allocation between the parties are. One thing that people forget about is what the hell happens if someone in the business walks away or throws in the towel? This is commonly known as a “bad leaver,” and it’s important to know what happens when the shit hits the fan, or god forbid, someone gets run over by a bus. Get your arse covered, basically!
Your next port of call is private angel investors. They normally look at risky startup businesses with a 10-fold return on their investment with an exit after a 3 to 5 year period. In the UK, there are many tax breaks for investors, so if your business qualifies, then you need to include this in your presentation.
Once you launch and get traction with revenue and your customer base, that’s when you can look at further angel investment or approach VC companies, but here’s the important aspect to looking at any investment! The longer you can do it yourself and get more traction, the less you will have to give away and the more money you will be able to raise. So, if you can do it yourself, keep it in-house, and in the long run you will benefit more.
What tips do you have for hiring people to work on a music project?
Take your time to clearly describe what your goal is, what it is you need to get done, and to what timescale.
Within Music Gateway, when you create a project, define the skills you require—for example, a producer, guitarist, songwriter, etc., and in what music genres. You can upload music and embed video, which is essential if you want people to fully understand your project needs.
Use reference points from other music. It’s much better to ask potential workers to listen to something, than just describing it with only words.
What about tips for delegating work and making sure people deliver what we need?
Communication is key to any form of management, but don’t micro-manage people; that will just piss them off. The aim is to motivate and empower, and if things go wrong, deal with it! Things will go wrong from time to time. We are human and we make mistakes. Big deal. Bottom line is not to see problems and only see solutions to problems, and then fix them quickly. Learn from your mistakes or change procedures if there’s a clear loophole.
Who is the best manager you ever witnessed, and why? Can you give an example of their genius?
Good question. I’ve been working for myself since I was 21 and I’m now 43, so I have not been managed by many people. I have however taken inspiration from a lot of different people I’ve co-worked with, too many to name. One of the most important things I have learnt is that you just can’t do it all yourself. You need good people around you to help you achieve your goals. It’s all common sense stuff: treat your workers as you would like to be treated yourself, make the tea and coffee, don’t put yourself on a pedestal. It’s important not to get too friendly either; it’s a balancing act as a manager, as the saying goes, “Don’t mix business with pleasure.”
Once you define what it is that makes a person tick, tap into that aspect and reward them for their hard work, and set them goals, which act as a benchmark to reward. Not everyone is money focused. In fact, most people with aspirations only see money as a byproduct of success. Being successful and getting job satisfaction is more important than a paycheck (as long as people’s overheads are covered). The worst type of person you can have in your team is someone just looking to collect a paycheck at the end of the month, as they will bring others around them down to their level. Get rid quickly.
What are the biggest mistakes you see musicians making in the projects they manage? How do you recommend that they avoid the common pitfalls?
Not knowing their own strengths and weaknesses. Once you understand this, you know what people you need to bring into your project to make it as best as possible. Everyone is an A&R person these days; by default, you should be your worst critic.
One core issue I see time and time again is people not understanding the music business. Whilst we are being creative and it is still an art, we are creating a product that can be sold, placed, or monetized, so you do have to know your marketplace. If you are selling fruit at a market and everyone is buying apples, then you would be stupid not to sell the best apples you can get your hands on. Whatever is unique about your apples will attract customers, and in music terms, what is unique about your project will attract fans.
In summary, know your marketplace, don’t copy, getting inspiration from others is essential, be unique, and collaborate and work with other professionals. Regardless of your role or standing in the industry, you should treat it as a business. Otherwise, you won’t survive with a full-time career in the industry.
How do you define “success?”
Success is relative to your own personal goals. It doesn’t matter what others think because what’s important is that you are happy and satisfied with what you have achieved. Being successful should be bite sized; you can have a successful day or week but overall have an unsuccessful month, if you get my point. As a general rule, success can mean being admired and respected by your peers but that doesn’t mean you have to be rich.
On a personal note, I currently own and operate 3 companies and have previously had a business with an annual turnover of just under 1 million, but I still feel I haven’t fulfilled my long term goals or my full potential as a business man. I now consider myself on a personal crusade to help an industry that I love combined with a fair business platform that will build a secure financial future for my kids. A family changes everything.