Meet the Founders: ARIA Week festivities included a look at the world of Aussie tech startups
In the hive of activity in the run-up to tonight’s ARIA Awards was the UMA-hosted Start Me Up panel in partnership with the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP).
It drew together four founders – hosted by Stephen Hunt, managing director of UMA’s emerging technology and media – and looked at the positives and challenges.
They were MAP director Campbell Walshe, Nura co-founder Luke Campbell, Tremolo director Pav Chudiak, and Jaxsta CEO & co-founder Jacqui Louez Schoorl.
LUKE CAMPBELL – NURA
Luke Campbell who co-founded Nura in 2015, is a medical doctor interested in the science of hearing.
Ten years ago, he started work on headphones which automatically adapt the user’s hearing.
Hearing is different in each person.
He said, “Two people standing at a concert will hear a song differently. It’s the normal variation between two individuals.
“Nura headphones have sensors built in which automatically work out the frequency of sound you hear well and not so well, and automatically retune themselves to give you the most out of your music.”
It’s hard to describe it, he admits, but the sound you get is “deeper and different”.
Someone said to him that it sounds like every instrument has been EQ’d individually.
Campbell’s advice is not to think of your startup a company “but an idea instead. It’s a group of young motivated people united by their passion for music.
“They’re working to give you audio experiences to deepen our connection with music.”
MAP was supportive in creating the personalised headphone, and a $1 million Kickstarter campaign led the company…sorry, idea … to refine the product and marketing approach.
PAV CHUDIAK – TREMOLO
To Pav Chudiak, the first thing to learn about a startup is to simplify what it is you’re trying to do.
In his case, he’d been playing in covers bands in Melbourne and knew the problem: bands not paid enough, venues and customers not knowing how to find acts.
He had the solution in 2008 but it took six years for him to put it in action.
Over six months of discussion, he got the feeling he could not tell people what he was trying to do.
“I’m just going around in circles,” he told his girlfriend despondently.
She replied, straight to the point, “Aren’t you making it easy for people to find the right music for their event?”
Immediately after things began to move for Tremolo. Chudiak and his co-founders sensed they had to go past defining the product to quickly working out “if there was a market, and that validation was important.”
They spoke to 100 bookers and venues. Nine out of 10 times they talked what they were looking for in a band.
A year later Tremolo made $50,000. Startup programs like Velocity and Second Law generated ideas that introduced changed on the platform. Revenue doubled.
In terms of a business model, it was important to identify the competition and to price yourself properly.
Getting advice was also important, he said, but good advice. You need to trust your own instinct and knowledge of the industry you’re passionate about.
For instance, there was pressure from some quarters for Tremolo to start generating a constant revenue from artists.
The team was reluctant because that’s not what the platform had been set up for.
But they were willing to listen. They tried options: subscription, $1 a month, commission-based. None worked.
Optimising their website for SEO saw traffic move, and Tremolo went from 16 artists to 100 in six months.
At all times “own your space,” Chudiak emphasises. With music, trends change, and it is important to ensure their acts instep.
JACQUI LOUEZ SCHOORl – JAXSTA
Jaxsta is the world’s largest database of music information, the sort of details once found the sleeves of vinyl albums.
Who played the drums, who wrote the songs? who produced? who engineered? where was it mastered?
Jacqui Louez Schoorl started out at Nine Network when it screened MTV with Richard Wilkins.
From there it was to Fox Studios and Star Wars, and then to EMI Records.
What she calls her “aha!” moment came when she realised that unlike the film and TV industries which had all the information detailed via IMBD, the music industry didn’t – and it was getting more scarce as everything went digital.
Her primary advice is not to procrastinate. She had her “aha!” moment in 2006 but didn’t do anything until 2013. It took the passing of her father to get her moving.
She was no entrepreneur, nor was she a technical officer. She didn’t know how to write codes. She’d go to startup sessions and she’d be the only woman there.
“It was terrifying,” she recalled. “But rather than let that define me, I started to create panels on a word document on what my homepage would look like.
“You found out what the industry wanted, Coffee with friends led to introductions to some of the biggest music (spaces) in the world.
“I had 269 meetings in the first two years, before any funding.”
Jaxsta now has 16 staff members, and advisers in New York, London and Los Angeles.
Jaxsta, currently in beta, has 65 million pieces of metadata and set to launch in January 2019.
Since they received funding almost three years ago, she and her team have done over 2,500 industry presentations.
“It wasn’t a walk in the park. This was without a doubt, with the exception of giving my father’s eulogy, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
“It has taken absolute persistence, phenomenal dedication, belief, drive, passion, a significant amount of sacrifice and a mountain of hard work. “
CAMPBELL WALSHE – MELBOURNE ACCELERATOR PROGRAM
Campbell Walshe was an entrepreneur for ten years, trying different things “and mostly failing at it.”
A few years ago at a forum, he and a stranger reached for the same Danish bun at the snack table. They had a slight argument over it. Later they made up and started talking.
Three years later the stranger, a doctor, co-founded one of his startups.
The MedTech startup CNSDose – which found solutions to find the right medication to treat depression – was part of Accelerator and considered one of the most outstanding teams to come through the program
He and his new found friend flew a month later to Silicon Valley for a conference where they secured their first customer.
In three months they raised $1 million.
Nine months later they launched in the US partnering with a number of hospital systems.
“It was the right time and the right people, who came together to create something amazing.
“We’ve since raised over $6 million. “
Walshe is now a director of MAP. It launched in 2012 as the second accelerator program in Australia, and the second affiliated with a university (University of Melbourne).
The connection with the university is to guide the next generation of founders and entrepreneurs.
It has supported over 100 startups, “who have raised over $70 million in funding, generated over $100 million in revenue, and created over 1000 new jobs.”
The broader alliance with Universal Music Australia was to make a greater and more global impact.
“We can’t do it on our own, the founders can’t do it on their own and we need innovative exciting companies like Universal Music to play a major part in finding and helping and mentoring the next startups.”
The way MAP works is that the founder gets $20,000, it doesn’t take equity, and it gives five months of intensive coaching and access to networking
Networking is everything, Walshe says.
“No matter how good your idea is or how good your team is, or how big the problem you’’re solving, you can’t d it alone. It’s impossible.
“You need other people to help you, guide you, advice you.
The great thing about the startup community is the willingness of people to give you advice and help for free
“It’s unlike any other community that I have been involved in. The culture of giving back is incredible.
“When you have a problem, and you seek out people there are lots of people willing to contribute to help you get to the next stage.”