How These Friends Bootstrapped A $1M/Year Business Out of Their Love

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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Oskar Eichler, and I’m the CEO and co-founder of Songstats. Songstats is a group of music lovers, ultimate frisbee players, and close friends that came together in Bali, Indonesia with the shared vision of building a cross-platform music data analytics app for artists and record labels.

As a DJ and music producer myself, we built Songstats from the artist level up to present key performance metrics that help further the careers of musicians in a clean and simple design.

Songstats is a SaaS platform that aggregates insights across 14 different music services, including Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Shazam, and more.

Today we have more than 6,000 customers that are subscribed to Songstats to receive actionable insights and power their business, and we’re approaching $1 million in annual recurring revenue.

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I was born in Germany, grew up in Belgium, and at age 16, joined the TUMKolleg, an accelerator program for gifted students by the Technical University of Munich, that allowed me to study at the university whilst still in high school. During this time I discovered my passion for electronic music and started uploading mixtapes to my first YouTube channel, which grew to over 1 million subscribers in just under 2 years.

After graduating, I went to travel for 11 months across South America, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Shortly after traveling, I moved to China to take a role as a label manager and resident DJ in Shanghai. Here I founded my first company at age 19 in Hong Kong called Arcane, which grew to become the largest music licensing network for DJs on YouTube – connecting labels and artists to enable them to upload and monetize mixtapes on the platform.

In 2015 I moved to Bali and first connected with my Songstats co-founders Evan Sacks and Jacob Merlin through the dance music platform 1001Tracklists. 1001Tracklists is a DJ tracklist database that monitors all of the songs played by DJs in live performances, mixtapes, and radio shows. The site has a very engaged user community that helps to add and edit tracklists and is an excellent resource for music discovery.

I was interested in the data on 1001Tracklists to provide tracklist information for the DJ sets we had in our licensing network. Evan and Jacob, best friends from the University of Virginia, were living together in Washington, DC, and were actively getting involved in the business development of 1001Tracklists, later becoming CEO and CMO of the business.

After the successful exit and sale of Arcane in 2017, we joined forces to embark on an extension of the 1001Tracklists brand, which is how we came up with the concept of “1001Tracklists for Artists.”

The initial idea centered around the intrinsic value of the 1001Tracklists data to artists and record labels. We aimed to notify producers right away when influential DJs play their music on big festival stages. For example, if David Guetta played a song at Tomorrowland, this is an outstanding achievement and an opportunity to promote the release further.

As we started to build the MVP for the platform, it quickly became apparent that only 1001Tracklists as a data source would not be enough to keep users engaged, so we started to envision a much bigger idea – providing cross-platform music analytics across Spotify, Beatport, SoundCloud, Apple Music, and other streaming services and download stores, all in one place.

Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

We started building the initial version of the platform under the name 1001Trackstats in late 2016 and launched the first beta version by the end of 2017.

songstats

At that time, we paid a contracted development company to build the product for us. It was a difficult situation, as we were burning through cash, and development could have been faster and more in alignment with our vision.

At the end of the year, we had onboarded a handful of customers after pushing the platform through our networks, but we also knew that we needed more time to be ready to go to market.

In early 2018, we hired Evan and Jacob’s connections from school, Jack Crawford-Brown, and also from the University of Virginia. They were all close friends from having played ultimate frisbee on their university team.

Jack had previously worked as an app developer for an acquired handicraft tutorials startup called Craftsy. At that time, he was traveling in Southeast Asia, and without much convincing, he moved to Bali to lead the mobile app development for 1001Trackstats.

Jack then started to rewrite the entire front end of the platform to build the web and mobile versions in parallel using one shared codebase. While this meant that it would take us a while before we could build out new features, we knew that it was the right decision and would enable us to scale the platform once we laid a stronger foundation.

Grow a team of friends that you trust, that you have a strong personal connection with, and that share a similar vision and excitement about your product.

We eventually scouted another developer named Garrett Simpson when he showed up at an ultimate frisbee game in Bali. He happened to be a former SolarCity and Tesla employee between jobs that were on a sabbatical in the country. By this time, the decision was clear to bring our entire development team in-house and stop paying for the outside contractor. At the end of 2018, we were coming closer to our vision from a functional standpoint, though one restriction remained…

The initial backend was built on top of 1001Tracklists, and fully dependent on the 1001Tracklists database. This meant that we only had access to electronic music tracks, and it required a lot of manual work to support our customers and ensure that we had their full track catalogs.

To solve this dependency, Jack and I created a concept we call ‘The Tunnel’ – a mechanism for importing track information from all data sources to create a universal concept of a track within our system. To this date, this algorithm is the foundation of our entire data pipeline. It gets smarter over time and has proven to reliably solve any metadata discrepancies between data sources.

By the end of 2019, we had everything up and running smoothly and finally felt that the platform was ready to scale. At this point, we’d burnt through nearly $400,000 and only had about 200 customers. We were getting a bit nervous and considered seeking outside investment or a strategic partnership.

Our technology was solid, though we were lacking customers and marketing. After much consideration, we decided to keep pushing forward without any outside funding – we believed in our product and knew that we needed a proper launch to go to market.

Describe the process of launching the business.

At the beginning of 2020, we decided to rebrand our platform to Songstats, a name more encompassing of the broader music industry and not just confined to electronic music. We transitioned into a dark user interface, made everything about the platform sleeker to make data feel cool, came up with a new logo design and branding elements, and by April 2020 it was time to launch.

Since we had been developing the platform for a while and started to gain some momentum before the switch to Songstats, we were cautiously optimistic about the launch. But also we put our heads down pretty intensely for the months leading up to the launch to try to nail it and get as much exposure as possible right from the outset.

And it worked! Within a few months, we had reached the breakeven point on profit, and that took a lot of pressure off as we knew that we could continue building from there and getting more and more people to discover what Songstats could do.

songstats

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Since the launch in April 2020, we’ve effectively leveraged a lot of automated email and social media marketing. We started our newsletter and blog called the Songstats Lab and are reaching out to prospective customers to inform them about highlights of their recent releases.

The Songstats Lab has become a great medium for us to publish product updates, marketing guides, and industry insights. We average around one post every two weeks and try to make them as valuable and informative as possible. By providing detailed insights as well as interesting takeaways, we not just explain the meaning behind certain data points, but also give tips and tricks on how to influence them. One of our first articles was a deep dive into the Spotify Popularity Index, and how this metric provides a unique insight into the Spotify algorithm. It was so well received that it ranked #1 in the Google search results and to this date drives a lot of traffic to our site.

Naturally, we try to get as many people as possible to discover Songstats, knowing that some will be interested to try the paid version of the platform right away while others might need to see Songstats multiple times before converting into a subscriber.

We’ve also focused heavily on the onboarding experience, running a series of automated and manual checks to ensure that each profile is ready as soon as someone subscribes. We reach out to every new customer individually to welcome them and provide them with an easy point of contact for any questions or concerns.

Songstats – Music Data Analytics for Artists & Labels

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We’re really happy with where Songstats is today, and we frequently receive rave reviews from our customers. We’re currently monitoring 14 different music services to provide an all-encompassing view into an artist’s or label’s performance.

In 2021 we started offering our Songstats API, which allows enterprise customers and other tech companies to access our raw data for business applications via a collection of streamlined endpoints.

We’re also really excited about where we’re headed. In 2023 we’re planning to enhance our features and are building a set of marketing tools to capture new opportunities for artists and labels that arise from the music data we are collecting. We’re aiming to increase the reach of our marketing efforts, as we’re very confident in the value that we can provide and want to show Songstats to as many people in the music industry as we can.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Probably the most important factor that contributed to the successful launch of Songstats was our ability to be cost-effective. As a bootstrapped startup, it is important to reduce costs wherever possible and to think outside the box to stay within budget.

We never had the luxury to throw money at problems, so critical thinking and reasoning from first principles have always been our strengths. We host all of our servers ourselves, run our proxy network, and wrote our email delivery system to save on costs and not to pay for crazy Amazon Web Services bills.

Covid hit at an interesting time for us concerning the impending launch of Songstats. Though it introduced a lot of uncertainty, we didn’t want to get lost in isolation and spend all day looking at worrying news, but instead, focused on using this time effectively to get a head start and build an app that provides value and some form of aspiration to artists.

Looking back, the timing of the launch of Songstats was quite lucky. Everyone was stuck at home, artists couldn’t tour anymore, releasing music became more important again, and everyone desperately needed some positive feedback for the music they put out.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

For communication, we use WhatsApp and Slack. One service that we highly recommend is Ferdium, a great productivity tool that keeps all of your messaging services in one app. For task management and CRM, we use Trello.

Our tech stack combines React / React Native for the front, sitting on top of a Rails backend and a PostgreSQL database.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I love being subscribed to Medium and receiving daily newsletters about interesting articles spanning from tech to design, to productivity and the music industry.

I watch many YouTube videos, draw inspiration from keynotes of major tech companies, and stay pretty up-to-date on Twitter.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

We took some chances, and we had some cash to work with that enabled us to stay bootstrapped.

We recognize that other founders might not have this privilege and need outside funding to start their businesses, but we highly recommend staying bootstrapped if possible. For us, it’s really important to have the level of control that we have over our business and to be able to make all of the decisions ourselves and build the features we want without needing to satisfy some immediate financial interests of another party.

Grow a team of friends that you trust, that you have a strong personal connection with, and that share a similar vision and excitement about your product. We’re incredibly happy with the team we have built – it’s small, but we are all super-talented, self-driven individuals that challenge each other every day. After running Arcane all by myself, this was a change of mindset: Faster alone, further together. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of certain responsibilities, but that’s exactly what allows you to excel even further.

Be cost-effective, even if you have some funding, and make sure that the foundation of your business is solid! It took us years to get all the pieces together, but now we have a product that provides value to real people.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are currently looking to hire a senior front-end developer that can lead both the React Native mobile app as well as the React web application. If you feel inspired by what we do and think you can provide value and be a great fit for our team, please reach out to [email protected].

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!


 

Oskar Eichler,
Founder of Songstats

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