We talk in this interview to Rory Kenny (https://www.linkedin.com/in/rorykenny/), who is CEO of JAM – Just Add Music (https://www.justaddmusic.net/) a hidden champion of the Berlin startup scene. JAM is sometimes described as the Instagram of music because you can create music in their app the same way you create a photo in the Instagram app.
Rory gives us some exclusive insights into JAM, including numbers and the company’s intention to raise venture capital. During the interview, Joe and Rory are discussing the missing differentiation between the streaming services like Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music or Apple Music. Rory gives his view on why they are different here.
Rory also gives us a few numbers, why JAM is a hidden champion. They have more than 2 million monthly active users and 15.000 new users are acquired organically to sign up every month. JAM has a “quite large” user base in the USA, but their fastest growing markets are South America, Russia, and India.
Before being hired as CEO of JAM, he was with TripAdvisor, Orange, and other companies. Rory does not fluently speak German but is getting around well in Berlin. He was also the lead singer of a hard rock band in his native Montreal.
Exclusively Rory states in our interview, that JAM is looking for venture capital funding towards the end of the year.
Some data, Rory give us an update after the interview
- Called the “Instagram of music”
- 2.000.000 monthly active users
- Accumulated 10M+ registered members since 2016
- Music Maker JAM organically acquires 15K new registered members per day
Tune in to the interview, in order to learn more.
Joe: Welcome to startuprad.io, your podcast and YouTube blog covering the German startup scene with news, interviews and live events.
Joe: Hello and welcome everybody, this is Joern from startuprad.io here for you this time on an audio-only podcast and I do have Rory as a guest. Hey, how are you doing?
Rory: Hey, how’s it going? Good to meet you.
Joe: Completely my pleasure. You are here today because you are the CEO of…
Rory: Well the company is called Jam, Just Add Music, GMBH based in lovely Berlin.
Joe: Okay, we’ll soon get to what you guys are actually doing, first we’ve been talking quite a lot before we started the recording and you actually ended up from Canada in Berlin. And can you tell us a little bit how you actually ended up there and since we do have a lot of international listeners? How is it for a non-native German speaker to live in Berlin, you like it?
Rory: Yes, yeah it’s great here. So I don’t want to go into a long story but my life but… actually I moved to London from Montreal back in two thousand and four and I planned to stay for one year. But I ended up staying for ten years, I had a great time in London and I work for a startup. I worked at Orange, France Telecom the big mobile operator and I also then end up working at Trip Advisor running the mobile parcel team globally. And that was a great experience to see the growth of mobile and how transformed the business and how did this have to adapt to mobile and also where the audiences were going to choose their usage. That was a great experience, but I was at the…towards the end of that part of my career in London, I was thinking about you know what I want to do in the future. And I’d already started to work on it on a separate project called Label, is actually a different application around fashion and I got the tastes to really kind of delve into more entrepreneurial activities. And while I was doing that I got a call and I end up meeting with the existing founder and the guy running Jam. His name is Jürgen Jaron a great entrepreneur here in Germany and we got to talking and he said that he had a really cool company going on. A great little app that was more to do with music and that he was looking for some people to come into the business and kind of take it from there. Because he’s very busy with other investments and he runs another very big company as well, so I looked at the app which is called Music Maker Jam and I just started to get me very inspired. And it was effectively a way to create music very quickly, very easily in a mobile phone format and then to also share that music with an instant audience globally. So that combination to me was really, really enticing, I’m also historically a past musician so when I was younger from the age of fifteen to about twenty-five I was very serious about my music career. And I play guitars in several bands put out maybe three or four or five records, I toured across Canada, toured across States had a great time doing that. But even when I was younger, I had trouble moving into more digital or so a computerized version of music creation I was always doing it on my guitar. And what I found with the app, music maker jam was that it is very easy to just do digital sequencing and looping and sampling and for me, that was really a period that I could go from being more of a rock guitar guy. And suddenly I get to also do more sort of D.J. club music so that for me was really enticing. I also realized that for a new young person coming into the music industry that they probably access music for the first time, not at a music store. But actually in the app store and probably on an application like Music Maker Jam, where they would get a chance to explore their own tastes, their own influences. Try some music out and share with their friends in a way that would be a very positive experience and a great way to interact with music at an early age. So that was the big appeal for me to join the company and then I also had to make the decision to move from London to Berlin with my (unclear 04:24) family. And we moved here about a year and a half ago and we love it, we think it’s a great city, very friendly people. Obviously has a you know a fantastically deep history and very dynamic cultures that are intertwining here in Berlin. And I think what’s very interesting is that it’s a very positive atmosphere, very much a can-do attitude and why I don’t speak German at all fluently, I’m still learning I do get by no problem. And I feel everyone’s open to it and especially younger generation are very fluent and it really feels like the world is coming more and more coming to Berlin. And Berlin is kind of ticing at attracting the world to come here and you can feel that you know that energy is quite strong and quite impactful.
Joe: The first thing I had in mind when said you are a guitar player musician yourself. Did you actually sing?
Rory: Yes, I was a singer. I was the lead singer for a band called Messina which was a band that was quite popular in Montreal in the late nineteen ninety-eight, nineteen ninety-nine around that time. And we were a self-professed art rock band, so we were very pretentious, very loud bands, very noisy. When I hear that music now, I just…it’s pretty loud for my ears even but it was a great time to be doing music. Montreal is also a music mecca it’s really well known for its music scene and a lot of artists move there from across Canada even from across the world just to play music, it was a quite cheap town to live in. So I had a great time playing music, I really miss it and I really enjoyed it.
Joe: That is very fascinating because I got to admit I love to sing but my wife once asked me to sing not that loudly in the shower because it’s like bothering everybody around me. So I won’t do it in public, like when you talked…when we talked about before so basically music Jam is an app that helps yourself create music, right?
Rory: Yeah, we have a few different ways that has been described by different people. So some people call it the Instagram for music creation and the reason why they may use that kind of metaphor is because you can effectively create music in the same way you create a photo of an Instagram. But also share it directly with not not-ins who are waiting to find out about your next photo, why you want to express. So in Music Maker Jam, you have the same opportunity to create something new which is a track and then to share it with an audience who are either a fan of yours, following you or who may discover you. So we do have many, many people who have… you know again millions of profiles in the application and some people have many followers up to six thousand fans or a thousand fans. And that’s because they have become quite good at creating very compelling music in the application itself and building a following through their style or through their ambition. Or their persistence and by also I think their effort to grow a fan base, it takes effort and so we have quite a few. We call them jammers who are becoming in their own right quite successful and quite famous within the applications itself. Another way to describe the app which I also came up with, which is a way to get it across quickly is to call it kind of like LEGO for music. And Lego, because Lego blocks are so easy to put together and they’ve been built to be interoperable. And we’ve also taken the same approach to how we allow people to create music in the application is that we offer them samples and loops from many, many different genres. From say Detroit techno to Chicago house and we allow them to put those samples together in a way that it all is interoperable. Because we actually put all the samples into different keys and pitches so that when you combine a Chicago house baseline with the Detroit techno keyboard line. The application actually figures out what key it’s in and then auto matches it so that the key is always correct and this… even though that sounds trivial is actually quite hard to do. But it also is an incredibly powerful problem solver for musicians who now no longer need to figure out what key they need to mix their sounds together. So if you are an amateur musician or even very new to music, the last thing you want it to deal with this is the sound of your own music not fitting well together. And because it made interoperable that LEGO for music metaphor kind of works because everything does fit together and no matter what you do, you will come out with something that is a structured piece of music.
Joe: And what do you guys actually do with your soon to be launched app service called Loudly.
Rory: Yeah, I mean loudly is really exciting for us. When we…when I joined the company you know the biggest question I had or that I wanted to try and solve or also that also got me very excited was the question I posed myself was you know what does a world look like. Or what is an experience look like that goes beyond music streaming? And you know I thought about that for a long time, had many discussions here internally with my colleagues and my collaborators and my… And Gabriel Hacker who is also the CPO of the business. We spoke as well with many musicians and other people in the music industry and what I kind of became aware of is that. It’s sort of like how either I would like to experience music or even how other people will probably want to as well. Is that when I go into a music experience portal, I want to do a lot of things, I want to be able to see photos, I want to see videos, I also want to hear the music of course. But I also want to be able to chat and meet other people, I want to kind of have a place where a lot of things are happening together. That’s not focused on one business model and not restricted and I think you know when I think back to My Space. As beautiful as it was and even though it had its own kind of historical curve and demise but it was an exciting thing when I started. It was kind of a free-flowing place and a lot of things were happening and you really had a sense that you’re in a place where you are able to express freely as an individual. And able to meet people who are like-minded but also you’re able to have this kind of scattered or wide variance of media accessible to you. Whether it’s the music, mp3 or whether it’s a photo or a video or text or a social connection. And so you know that demise has happened a long time ago but the rise of streaming sites which I think it’s been a fantastic thing for… you know for I think for fans who get to experience music differently. Is that it’s been very focused on one of the business model which has been… it’s not necessarily a weakness but it means that the fan experience is limited because the business needs to prove itself through the streaming model. And what I saw was this huge opportunity that if we didn’t focus on the stream model, we could focus on everything else around it and that’s what our ambition is, is that we will launch Loudly very soon. It is still I would say it, the kind of MVP stage but the opportunity to grow it and to develop features very quickly and to get fans really excited about a new kind of experience is very, very realistic and that we think we can definitely achieve that. And the ambition is there, the vision is there, we have the right D.N.A. and the company so that’s a very exciting thing and I think it’s going to pop for us pretty soon.
Joe: And you’ve been talking about other streaming services. You are headquartered in Berlin and Wide elephant room is right now Sound Cloud who is going through very tough time. What would you say is the main difference between you and a guy from Sound Cloud?
Rory: Sound Cloud is… I think it was an amazing thing as well. I think you know when it came up and when I discovered it myself, I was shocked to how simple an idea was but how viral and what a great need to tap into it. Essentially people wanted to discover all kinds of music and they wanted somewhere to put it and the fans could find it. And there’s ways to really break down the barriers and the gateways that do exist in this industry and I think it really is an amazing thing and I think it’s easy for the media to deride it. And to be cynical about it, but I think it did an amazing… it achieved a huge amount of run away and it really opened up the discussion and the experience of music on the Internet. I don’t want to talk too much about Sound Cloud because I don’t work there. But our vision is really different, I think also we have different D.N.A. in this company, so if I talk about our company and what the D.N.A. is within our team. It’s like we have all of us are kind of ex-musicians to some extent. We have a music producer studio in this building where we actually pump out our own music that our users then use to sample and to mix. So we have… we actually have music creation happening here like down the hallway, I interact with our music producer on a daily basis. We have a video guy here who creates videos that we launched on YouTube pretty much on a daily basis. So we actually have a video production studio in the building and we really love it here, we think it’s a great thing to use and we know that people love video and they want to watch more of it. So we really want to tap into that, we have people who are ex-music labels and music festivals here so our content managers are working on Spotify playlist. Their working on reaching out to artists again, to come into our company and release their music through us. And then we have graphic designers who are again ex-music industry pop culture (unclear 14:20) who create amazing, beautiful graphic imagery to you know again to kind of relate to our music audience. So I think we have a very different D.N.A. that I’ve ever witnessed compared to other tech companies, however, we’re also extremely tech and data-driven. We have a team of about twelve developers and we have a you know Chief Product Officer, and we have a data analyst. So we have the kind of combination, I see us as more of a hybrid and maybe that reflects my own personality, I’m very much a hybrid kind of guy as well. Right brain, left brain I like to use an eagle force and I think we’re that kind of company and so we’re starting from different place. And our goal is I think to reach a different kind of experience for the fans and again we don’t have the same pressure to lock in a streaming model that somehow pays off. Which we all know is extremely difficult to pay off in the long term unless there’s huge investment. So I feel like the problems that we face are more like how do you build a music experience without getting into lots of industry model? I think that’s a great thing to solve because it actually forces you to look at other creative avenues to develop your business and to develop your fan base. And that’s what we’re really all about, is how do we that in a different way and I think to be different today is so important because every streaming service I’ve seen is all trying to replicate each other. So in my mind, it’s actually becoming a commodity, there’s no differentiation and even if you differentiate the content you can do that to some point. But you still feel like the majority of the content is the same, so the experience is no different. So really it’s you know which one will go beyond that and really delivers something unique and that’s yet to be seen. But I know that what we can do here for Loudly is deliver something unique and different on day one. So that’s what gets me excited about launching a new experience in this category of music industry which is a tough one but being different from day one.
Joe: That’s very interesting what you said because it matches up pretty much my observations that all the streaming services are more or less alike and you’re there different. Which I really like about the idea and when we talk before and one of the reasons you’re here today is you’re actually a kind of a hidden champion. You have like two million monthly active users. And right now as we are recording this beginning of April twenty-eighteen you have fifteen thousand members signing up each day?
Rory: Yeah that’s correct. Yeah, I think what’s amazing is that we have this huge velocity of fifteen thousand new members coming into the app on a daily basis. And that’s driven primarily through organic search, referral, word of mouth, and discovery, somehow people are finding our application in the app store. And we have a very high rating so people feel comfortable downloading us and installing us and exploring what the company’s all about. And what the service does and because of that we have this huge velocity of new people coming in every day and again it’s really all pre-advertising. We spend no money except for a few tests here and there on trying to acquire our user base, we don’t… we’re very much a pre-acquisition phase. And it’s really just organic growth, we’re also global so the beauty is that we have quite a large base in the USA, which is phenomenal for a European company having to spend no money. But at the same time what I find exciting is that we have very fast growing markets in Russia, India, and South America and of course because music is a huge global appeal to huge phenomena. Everybody wants to be a part of it and I think that interesting music is driving the interest in our company, so we just got a lot of people who come to the App Store. Who type in create music as a keyword term and we’re usually in most territories, the number one result as an app for creating music. So we’re getting a lot of velocity for people coming into the app and now our goal is to extend that and deliver them more things that they like to do.
Joe: When you’ve been talking about your fan base, I was actually smiling because I do believe there’s a lot of digital interest if you wouldn’t mind calling it so from those countries. Because it’s the same with us, we also have a big user base, listener base up there in the United States. And also we see more and more interest coming from many interesting emerging markets. Especially (unclear 18:48) and Brazil they are the number one traffic source for our YouTube blog right now which is also pretty cool. And talking a little bit about… you said about the business model you right now don’t rely on funding on subscription. How are you guys actually funded? What keeps your company running?
Rory: So we’re already making approximately one million dollars per year. So we have an in-app purchase model right now in the Music Maker Jam whereby we sell music mix packs to our audience base. And we release about maybe two of those packs a week and then our base, our spender base anyway spends between fifty cents to two ninety-nine dollars in the app to download that mix pack. And then remix it and then share it with their audiences, so that’s already an inbuilt model that we have in place. And then we continue to support that and it makes us approximately a million dollars a year and we’re also funded by our investment vehicle which is called Bellevue Investments GmbH & Co. Which is owned by Jürgen Jaron who is also the founder of the business originally and so we are in a very comfortable situation whereby we’re effectively corporate financed through that vehicle. And while we don’t actually… we’re not heavily in the red at all it’s that we have a very manageable cost base at the moment. But we do take the money to basically increase our product team so we’re really investing all the money into product. So we’ve actually doubled our engineering team recently, They’ve also you know invest a bit more into our creative team as well but none of that money goes towards say user acquisition at this time, so it’s really not… Like it’s really just purely a team cost that we’re spending on and we do have ambitions to raise funds but at the moment we’re pretty comfortable. And we don’t have to, so I think when we you know when we see how Loudly works out and how things pick up there. Then we may begin the process to speak to a few VC’s and to see you know what kind of situation are we looking at? How much money we should be raising? And then we’ll get to that point probably at some point in Q four of this year we’ll start opening the doors for those conversations.
Joe: Did you tell this to anyone before our interview that you’re looking to maybe raise money?
Rory: Not publicly, no.
Joe: So that sounds pretty interesting. So that was actually the world premiere of a hidden champion like you guys actually publicly stating for the first time that you are looking for or may look for internal… external investment sources. Which I do believe is pretty cool and guys remember you heard it first on Startuprad.io. When you guys are actually going to launch Loudly? You already have a fixed date in mind?
Rory: Yeah, we have a fixed date but you know in the tech world things always move depending on you know developer rollout and bug fixing. But our (crosstalk 21:55).
Joe: I really know that. (Crosstalk 21:58).
Rory: So our target date at the moment is I think approximately May tenth, you know it may change a little bit. But what we’re launching with is a pretty cool experience that enables us to a, the first thing is to migrate our audiences from Music Maker Jam into Loudly. So effectively we’ll have an audience that sits on both the Jam, you know the studio app which allows you to make music and then that same audience will also sit on Loudly. So we actually get immediately a very big audience on the app, but that I think is important because we don’t want to start from scratch, I have no one in there. So we’ll have a lot of people in there, the second thing is that we have created a new feature which is called Kruse, it allows people to self-organize into teams or groups. And to release music or content or photos or videos even under one brand and we did that because I discovered that in the current app Music Maker Jam that a lot of people were actually self-organizing on different apps. On chat apps like Kick and WhatsApp and they were actually releasing music under little brand names. So they were actually creating their own little groups, but not in the applications so for me that was a really interesting thing. And I thought if we could do that in the new app then it would be really appealing for them to get self-organize there. So we have a lot of different cool hooks that we’re using to get people to come over and to make them sticky and… But also the idea around Kruse is also a way for people who are young. Who love to be together to interact one of the more effectively and to kind of like say listen we’re a crew about hip hop or we’re a crew from Berlin or we’re a crew from Rio. Or you know we’re a crew about… we’re like a mega fan to this artist and they can just get organized in whichever way they want to. They can do it in the app itself and they can release content and media and they can also build the following, so it’s a really cool experience that I’ve not seen on any other really apps really. I think Facebook have these things where we can create groups in the big events but ours is really focused around kind of music culture. So I think it’s what makes a bit different, so that’s really cool and we’ll see how that plays out. I’m expecting to see a lot of variance or variation and I hope to see a lot of dynamic kind of Kruse develop. We’re not just music-focused but also maybe role into design and photography maybe their into…They’re maybe dedicated towards you know one artist or band they like. So kind of like a mega fan group, I think that’s kind of cool too, so we’re really excited about how that’s going to play out and that… We should probably see the beginnings of that happen certainly in the first months of launch we’ll see how they start to behave in the app.
Joe: Well that’s a lot of things you have planned for the few two guys. The only thing that’s left for me to say would be best of luck. Everybody who would like to reach out we’ll have your LinkedIn profile link in the interview. So all potential investors know how to get straight to you, right?
Rory: That’s great.
Joe: Awesome and of course we’ll have a lot of links to just that music, Loudly and all the other stuff. If you’re listening to this in your podcast app go to www.startuprad.io and have a look at the show notes if you’re listening to this in either Facebook, YouTube or somewhere else. Or Sound Cloud just go down in the show notes and have a look, you’ll find all the links there. Rory, it was a pleasure having you here and hope to hear back from you when there’s some update on your situation with Music Jam or Loudly. Or raising capital or something else.
Rory: Thank you, the pleasure was mine. Thanks so much.
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