S1 Episode 4: Artificial Intelligence in Music
  • Show Notes
  • Episode Transcript

Musiio is a platform that uses AI to automate workflows that can tag, search and playlist large catalogues of music with ease. Counting customers such as Hipgnosis, Vans, Beatstars, just to name a few, they have been able to create large-scale efficiencies in previously highly manual processes around catalog search.

In this episode, we speak with Hazel Savage, co-founder and CEO. Alongside host and Entrepreneur First’s co-founder and Chief Product Officer, Alice Bentinck, Hazel shares how she’s been using AI to drive change in a fragmented industry that’s notoriously difficult to penetrate.

We dive into how she landed on her ideas, talk about her experience around designing company culture, and the importance of selecting the right investor at the right time for the business.

Show notes:

You have to work towards an idea and plan towards a business: She learnt at EF that building a company is a very practical process [2:00], which went beyond her time working at Pandora or Universal Music. As an early stage employee at Shazam, she learnt how to act on gaps in the industry, such as when she built their first Shazam Live Lounge [4:40] based on customer feedback. 

The advantage of EF’s network effects helped her meet her co-founder, whom she would have never met anywhere else : Aron knew what he wanted in a co-founder profile and his complementary skill sets with Hazel (he could build, she could sell), together with aligned experiences, working styles and ambition. At the same time, they have very opposite personalities, but it worked [7:00].  

The music industry has gone through a period of deep centralisation and decentralisation: Now that anyone can upload music online [8:35], large companies are trying to build stability out of this massive fragmentation, and increasingly, companies are struggling with managing more data than ever. This industry is also going through an upswing since the last 5 years, where they are predicted to grow another 40%, back to where it was in the 90s [9:18]. 

Hazel was strategic about her selection of investors, selecting the right people to help her grow her business at the right time: She made a personal choice from the start not to accept investment from strategic customers as this would give her a lot more freedom and who she can sell to [10:50]. Instead, she focused on fundraising from more traditional financial institutions. For her current round, as she wanted to capture a fair valuation of Musiio with people experienced in her industry, she chose to work with players that invest in the music and tech space and whose opinions carried weight [11:40]. 

Your lead investors can add incredible value especially as a first-time founder: Through EF”s Demo Day, she was connected to Paul Santos from Wavemaker Partners [13:00] and he and his team are always there to help her anytime she needs them. In particular, they’ve been incredibly helpful in helping her understand different financing instruments, marketing expectations and the standards, which can be incredibly tough to navigate. 

Hazel shares her advice for anyone keen to build in the creative sector: There’s a big difference between someone who likes music versus someone who likes working in music [14:27], and many first-time entrants don’t realise that.  The music industry is built entirely on trust and networks [14:50], more so than many other industries, which requires a deep and nuanced understanding of how the players in the industry interact. 

Your first customers matter; you don’t have a business if people won’t pay for it: Hazel knew that the tech they were building would work, but she wasn’t 100% sure that people would pay for it [16:50]. They got their first paying customers after a tough first 6 months, and that became a signal in the industry and it just snowballed thereafter [17:57]. As a startup, she also realised she had to ensure her customers felt confident that they could execute. She cited an example in London where she agreed to send 2 of her developers to build it for the client on-site, and that was what got the client to sign on the dotted line as they knew that they’ll have dedicated resources from Musiio [19:00]. 

Hazel used her female founder status in a male-dominated industry to make herself memorable: She has no competitors who are female, which made her stand out [20:55]. She also shares that founders may encounter very aggressive potential investors that end up being detractors, and it’s important to have a filter to brush it off and not let it affect her. 

Founders often balance a line being mildly delusional and being appropriately confident: From investors to other founders, she’s met people who are negative about ideas and are negative about other people’s ideas [24:09]. Being a founder requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, especially if the individual doesn’t have specific insight about the industry. 

In company-building, culture comes from founders: Hazel and her founder have built a close-knit company, but as the tech scales, she is seeing the tech team grow much faster and she and Aron are focused on what things look like at the next stage [30:10]. She believes that it doesn’t matter what she tells people to do, but it’s the behaviour that the teams will model themselves on [31:08]. A good reminder was during the pandemic, when she reminded her teams to take time off, one of her team members pointed out that neither her nor her co-founder had taken time off. And she immediately took action as she realised that they weren’t leading by example [31:57].  

What’s next for Musiio: The company has been profitable this year [32:32], and they plan to address their strategy and get to MRR profitability.

[00:00:15] Alice Bentinck: Hello and welcome to The Entrepreneur First Podcast, where we explore stories and thought processes of some of the world’s most ingenious entrepreneurs. My name is Alice Bentinck, and I’m co-founder of EF, and today I’ll be your host. Today, we bring music to your ears. We’re going to give you a sneak peek into how music tech startups are using artificial intelligence to expand their business and keep the melody of the music industry alive.

In this episode, we’re joined by the amazing Hazel Savage. Who is the CEO and Co-founder of Musiio. The Singapore-based startup helps digital music companies curate music tracks efficiently through the use of AI. I’ve been lucky enough to know Hazel for the last couple of years and watch her on her fantastic journey of building Musiio from scratch. Sit back, relax, and enjoy finding out how AI is shaping this creative industry.


At EF we invest in ambitious individuals and enable them to start their own tech startups, but becoming a founder of a company is still an unusual career path. I asked Hazel what inspired her to leap into the world of entrepreneurship?

[00:01:28] Hazel Savage: I have to say actually, I always had it into my head even right back at the days that I was working at Pandora or when I was working at Universal Music. I think I always thought in my head that one day I would start my own company, but that was as far as the planning got. I thought, oh, one day I’ll just have a fantastic idea and I’ll build the company, and then I’ll be a boss. Obviously, it doesn’t really work like that, and doing the EF experience taught me that it’s a more practical process.

It’s not like it’s just magically you’re in a shower and then boom an idea hits you and that’s it. You have to work towards an idea, and you have to plan towards a business. That was always something I thought I might like to do but it was actually Swarnima who used to be on the team in Singapore, who originally called my husband, who works in a very corporate role. He was like, “This isn’t really for me, but have you ever spoken to my wife because this is very much more her wheelhouse.” Swarnima was like, “Oh, yes, please connect me.”

Then I think, less than a week later I was on the programme. Very grateful that I was found via a slightly unusual path and that also the timing was great. I was currently looking for what I was going to do next and even though obviously the concept of an incubator at the time was brand new to me, I had no idea really what one was. The fact that your guy’s office was like just five minutes walk away from where I leave and they were offering me a free coffee, I was like, “Well, I’ll just go.

What’s the worst that can happen? I’m just going to show up if it’s totally weird, I’ll walk home again.” It’s taken it out of my time, big deal. Obviously, it turned out to be great.

[00:03:16] Alice: Good. Well, thank God we were giving out free coffee otherwise who knows what would have happened?

[00:03:21] Hazel: I’m easily swayed.

[00:03:23] Alice: Hazel also gave us an inside about how her past experience working on the music identification app Shazam built up her entrepreneurial skills.

[00:03:31] Hazel: I was an early-stage employee at Shazam. I joined when we were about 25 people and I propped up. It’s probably over 10 years ago now. There’s a couple of things that come to mind when I look back now that I’m like, oh, that was quite clearly founder behavior. I was part of the digital encoding team, which meant I was one of the people responsible for making sure the music got on the system to be recognized.

Then I started to get all of these requests from labels and from a PR agency saying, “Does Shazam do anything in the content space? Do you guys do interviews for like X artist is in town from the US, they’re doing a media tour? Do you guys do anything in this space? I remember I was just getting a few of these requests, so I walked into the CEO’s office one day and said, “We get all these requests, shall we do something?” He was like, “If I give you a budget of 10,000 will you set it up?” and I was like, “Yes.”

That really became the Shazam Live Lounge where we started getting artists to play like acoustic versions of their own songs. We would interview them, and then we would put that content up on the blog. That even just starts a small pattern of identifying that there’s a gap, seeing there being some demand, and then actively working to meet that demand or fill that gap without waiting to be told. That is very much almost exactly what I do now but just on a slightly smaller scale.

[00:05:01] Alice: Hazel didn’t build Musiio alone. She co-founded the startup together with Aron Pettersson, a machine learning expert who’s been creating AI products for more than a decade. I asked her to tell us a bit more about how their partnership has been an integral part of her founding journey?

[00:05:16] Hazel: My co-founder is a guy called Aron Pettersson, Swedish and I bet obviously you met him at EFSG3 in Singapore. Obviously, I’m British, he’s Swedish. We were both already in Singapore when we did the programme. I have to say my finding him was luck, him finding me was calculated. I can’t really take any of the credit for the fantastic partnership that we still have to this day. He actually did the cohort before me. He did EFSG2 and did not find anyone that he wanted to work with.

He came in with a very determined mindset into EF3. He’d been through all of the lists of cohort members. He knew exactly what he wanted, which was somebody who worked on the sales and marketing side. He didn’t need them to be technical. He’s a very deeply technical individual, a very experienced developer, full start AI, you name it. He had a very, very clear profile that he could build anything but he needed someone that could sell it so he found me that way.

In the first week, we got to go for coffee with a few people so he invited me for coffee twice in the first week. I was just like, “What a friendly guy like oh, this is so nice. I love the EF community.” Then I’m like the second time having a coffee was like, “Do you want to work together?” and I was like, “Sure, let’s give it a go” I was still very blasé but we got on straight away. I think we are both at very similar ages, we’re both 38 now and so we were 35 at the time. We’ve got about the same years of experience, relatively similar, same corporate background, a similar startup.

We were very aligned in terms of working styles and ambition. It fit very well, very early on. We are literally where we thought of yin and yang. We’re very opposite personality types, but it just works. We had a good time together. I feel very lucky. I always say from the EF experience, the two things that I got out of it that would mean I would recommend it to anyone, is I met my co-founder who I would never have met anywhere else. I got my first investor and that ultimately led to the success of a seed round. For those two incredibly valuable things, I wouldn’t have got those on my own.

[00:07:38] Alice: From listening to music through cassettes to streaming songs online, technology has revolutionized the music industry. Hazel explains how this industry has become such a fragmented sector.

[00:07:48] Hazel: The industry itself obviously has gone through a massive change in terms of back when I very first started working in a records store. I was stacking shelves with CDs and cassettes because that’s how old I am. The industry was almost going through a golden age because it sold everything on vinyl, then they sold it all on cassettes, then they sold all again on CD. They were just selling, sell, sell, sell. They were making insane amounts of money. It was all very centralized in this few labels got to decide what was going to be big.

They put it on the radio. They print it on a CD and put it in stores, and that was how the industry worked. Now the industry is much more fragmented. Anyone could upload music online, but really to me, that’s an opportunity. The large music companies have been figuring out how to build a stable income out of the chaos. Then companies like myself have decided to come in and either address the challenge of there’s more data than ever, how do we manage that? The industry is more fragmented than ever.

How do we add value from that perspective? It’s great because the last five years plus, we’ve seen an upswing, the industry is making more and more money, year on year. I think it’s predicted to grow about another 40% in the next five to six years. Even then it’s only back up to where it was in the ’90s so where is the growth margin on top of that? It’s a hugely growing industry so I’m excited.

[00:09:20] Alice: Musiio tech company is reshaping the industry by using different innovative approaches to empower musicians and their listeners. If you’re new to the sector, how do you access seed funding? Hazel talks us through how she accessed early-stage VCs to fund their route to product-market fit.

[00:09:34] Hazel: There’s generally never a shortage of people that want to invest in Musiio and that which I feel very grateful for obviously. We’ve been oversubscribed almost every time that we’ve raised money. It is generally triggered by press and by almost create like a FOMO like an experiential thing around how many people have heard of the company versus how many people want to invest in it.

I think from that perspective, we had an article out in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago. As soon as that article came out, we had an influx of people saying, “Are you raising? Is there investment happening? Can we be involved?” That’s something where balancing the inbound versus outbound. Also, as well as a company, we get approached very frequently by our customers and the major labels of the industry to invest. I made the personal choice to not take investment from what I would consider strategic customers.

That’s because I prefer to go with the more traditional financial institutions because it gives us a lot more freedom in terms of what we build, and who we sell to. I’ve also stayed away from that. That’s just a personal decision that I made. With the latest round, I have to say as well, we didn’t actually particularly need the cash, which sounds like a weird thing to say. We didn’t really need the money. Obviously, the only round I’d done prior to that was the seed round. When we did the seed round investment, as I mentioned before, we had no customers.

We were pre-revenue. I’ve really felt that one thing that we needed to do strategically as a business was, have a valuation that more closely matched the value of the actual business. It set that expectation. I wanted to work with a couple of more strategic players, people who invest in the music tech space, whose opinions could be considered solid in terms of whether we’re a valuable business. I wanted to get that 10 million USD valuation up from three and a half million USD back when we did our seed round. As I say, I took a token amount of money to be able to set that in stone.

I think that’s maybe a slightly unusual approach. I think I just made it up, which I feel like I do with everything related to building a company. I never did it before. I just kind of like, “I think I’ll do it this way.”

[00:11:59] Alice: For first-time founders, understanding startup financing can be tricky. For Haze, Musiio’s angel investors served as her mentors and continue to help them understand this space.

[00:12:09] Hazel: We’re very lucky to have a couple of really savvy businessmen in the round angel investors, high-net-worth individuals who run other large companies. They generally understand, finance very well, different instruments, different logistical ways that you can do business. Reading contracts, understanding what’s there in the market and what standard. That’s one place that I would go to for advice. Then we’ve also been very lucky, obviously with our lead investor Wavemaker Partners, I cannot speak highly enough about them.

They’ve just been fantastic. I’ve had absolutely no issues. They’re awesome. Anytime I need them, they’re right there. I worked still very, very closely with the analyst that did our original deal, Melissa, and with Paul Santos, who’s on our board. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve got good people, and then our legal team as well. It’s like an all-female legal team in Singapore, that we work with. If I ever just need one-off advice or one-off contracts, and we’ve got a really great legal team as well.

I pick and choose, depends on what I need help with, and who I might go to, to get that answer. Luckily we’ve surrounded ourselves with good people.

[00:13:24] Alice: Like every creative sector, the music industry also comes with its own list of challenges and complications, which can often destabilize those working within it. Hazel has been in this sector and market for more than a decade, and understands these demands intimately. I asked her to share her tips on how to navigate these obstacles.

[00:13:42] Hazel: I’m not going to lie, Alice, when other people tell me they’re working on a music tech idea, my heart sinks. I think I certainly dashed a few hopes of more recent cohorts because the minute someone comes along with a music tech idea, people are like, “Oh, you should call Hazel.” I would say 90% of the time, I have to point them to the other companies that are already doing this thing, or the legislation that means it’s illegal, or the companies that build it themselves. It’s a super, super tough space to be in.

As you point out, there’s a world of difference between, I like music and I should work in music. Everyone likes music, most people in the whole world, but working in the music industry is very different to enjoying the output and being a fan. That’s one of the biggest challenges to address. The industry is incredibly nuanced, and you do have to have a deep understanding of the parts that work together, and also the players. It’s bizarrely more so than most of the industries built entirely on trust and networks.

One of our investors who’s an incredibly smart business guy incredibly savvy, he came in our seed rounds when we were at EF, a couple of months ago, he said, “Your customers don’t make any sense.” He’s like, “I can never tell who’s going to sign, and who’s not going to sign. Your customers do not make logical decisions.” I was like, “That’s true. They make decisions based on whether they liked me as a person. They make decisions based on what they think their bosses are going to approve.”

It’s not enough in the music industry to show that A plus B equals C, therefore you should make this decision. That’s not how decisions get made in this industry, unfortunately. Being able to spot the gaps, and then being able to sell to those people is where we found our niche.

[00:15:39] Alice: As an investor, one of the challenges that I see with music tech startups, is it is often hard to get people to pay for their products. Hazel, told us a bit more about how Musiio retains and gains new customers.

[00:15:51] Hazel: I bizarrely never doubted that it would work. I just thought, “I’m just going to keep moving ahead.” It will be obvious to me when it does work and what it doesn’t. I always felt like we were just taking every box as we went, it felt like the attraction was becoming accumulative and not more dispersed. I always, always had faith that the idea was good, that my co-founder could build the tech, and that this was a product that the industry needs. The one tip that I did have was right around the point is, I always believed the tech was good.

I always believed the tech was needed, but I wasn’t 100% sure that people would pay for it. That’s a different question again. We have products that we’ve built now that could revolutionize the industry. That doesn’t mean that they’ll sell, there’s a gap in music with those two things. I remember it was when we’d obviously done demo day, we’ve moved to raising the seed round. We’ve closed the seed round with Wavemaker Partners in Singapore. Then from the minute we closed the rounds, for the next six months, I didn’t make a single sale.

We were pre-revenue when we raised. That was without a doubt, the worst six months of being a founder that I’ve ever had because that was there in my head. I had three deals that were close, but not signed. I just thought as we were getting into like March, April, May of 2019, I was like, “What if we get to December, and I still haven’t sold anything?” What does that look like? That was my biggest fear because I still thought the product was good. I still thought the tech was good, but if people won’t pay for it, you don’t have a business.

Luckily, of the three initial clients that I was chasing at the time, all three signed, within 48 hours of each other. Then it was on to being my co-founder’s problem because he had to deliver three products at the same time. It did snowball from there. There’s also an element in the music industry of trust. Once you have some deals, other people go, “Oh, okay, so you have deals. We’ll now do a deal as well.” It’s really just grown from that. Those six months were terrifying when I thought, “I still think it’s a good product and it could be, but that doesn’t mean the timing’s right or the people will pay for it.”

I credit Paul Santos at Wavemaker with helping me make my first sale. I remember when we first started selling, we were trying to put something together that scaled, we were trying to put something together that was replicable. I also remember when I had these deals dangling over the line, we went for our quarterly catch-up with Paul. Paul was like, “What do you think you’d have to say, or add to this contract that would just get an instant yes.” What would that look like?

I went back and I said, “With this particular client, obviously it’s dirt cheap. It’s a immediate opt-out for them, but it’s a four-year lock-in for us.” They were still pen hovering over it. I said, “I’ll send two developers to London and we’ll build it on-site for you.” As soon as I said that they were like, “Signed. Done.” Now, they didn’t have to worry about how they were going to resource it, where that tech talent was going to come from on their side. That was it. That was what it took to get over the line. Obviously, we’ve done that again.

Obviously, that definitely doesn’t scale that you send her a free team halfway around the world to build it for someone, but it got them to say yes. I credit Paul Santos with giving me that piece of advice. That kind of move was important. There was lots of other things about it that we loved as well because this client has got one of the nicest offices in central London I’ve ever seen. It was aspirational as well. I could see even Aron, and our other developer, they were just loving working out of this office. They had a little event, “On while we were there, they gave us all these goodie bags.”

Just such great memories of the company and such a great team-building event, probably wouldn’t have got that over the line without Paul Santos’ advice. That made a big difference to me as a founder.

[00:19:56] Alice: Another challenge for Hazel in the music industry is gender inequality. It continues to be a male-dominated sector. Being a woman entrepreneur in this industry, I asked Hazel to tell us a bit more about how she deals with gender discrimination.

[00:20:09] Hazel: I don’t know if it’s made a difference because I have no lived comparison, but I also don’t mind being known as a female founder. In fact, more than anything, I’m actually quite proud that it is a little bit more difficult, but I did it anyway. Especially music being a very male-dominated industry, tech being a very male-dominated industry. I feel like even all the competitors we have in the market, nobody else has a female founder. That’s a nice little point of difference. I use it to my advantage. When our advantage is, what press can we get and how can we be memorable?

I’ve even heard people in the US say, “Oh, have you heard of Musiio?” “Oh, yes, that’s that woman.” I like it. Hey, if that just makes me more memorable, and they know that I’m over here, and I’m doing something, then that works for me. Then I’m just really grateful as well. When we were raising money, I never had any issue with any kind of sexism or inappropriate comments. I know I’ve heard horrific stories as other female founders raising. Either people are terrified of me, also okay. Or I just only met good people.

I have to say as well, on top of that, I did a call with somebody in the investment space in America last week, and I really didn’t like the guy at all. That’s the other thing that I’m taking note of, it’s just using my own instincts to decide who is and isn’t a good person. I spoke with this guy, and he was just really blowing smoke. He was like, “Oh, if you haven’t raised from this investor or that investor, it’s totally, totally not worth it. No one’s going to pay this for that. I don’t think you’re ever going to do this, and I don’t think you’re ever going to do that.”

Frankly, if I had $1, for everyone who told me that I wasn’t going to be successful, and we weren’t going to go anywhere, I would have a lot of dollars. I also find this a special talent in just ignoring a lot of people and not believing in what those people say. I just don’t let it affect me, brush it off.

[00:22:19] Alice: As a founder, you do have to have this filter. I think it could be quite a powerful filter, because largely, you’re dealing with asymmetric information, right? This guy thinks he knows what he’s talking about. He thinks he knows all about you and your company. Actually, you have a bunch of information that he doesn’t understand or doesn’t know about that proves him wrong, and it’s your choice as to whether to share it or not. I always think the hard thing about being a founder is you’re always balancing this line between being mildly delusional and being appropriately confident.

It’s a fine line to balance, but when you meet somebody who believes you’re delusional, actually, that’s often the time to come in with the overconfidence, “Actually, I think you’re wrong.”

[00:22:59] Hazel: Also, then for me, it depends, because you just reminded me of a moment when, it must have been when we were funded, or we’d finished EF, but I was back in the EF office in Singapore, and one of the new cohorts was in. I saw someone I knew, so I walked up to the table, and they were sat with a guy that I didn’t know. This guy, I wouldn’t name him even if I could remember his name. He was just a guy from one of the current cohorts but a Western guy in Singapore. He just looked at me, and went, “What do you do?”

I was like, “Oh we’re an AI company for music and we’ve built an AI that can listen to audio,” and he went, “Well, that’s never going to work.” I just went, “Bye.” I walked off because I was like, “I don’t care who this is.” Who’s this guy? What’s his opinion? I don’t know what he does. I don’t know what he knows. Pretty sure he didn’t get funded or build a company. There are so many people who, with knowing almost nothing about you, will tell you that it’s a rubbish idea. I didn’t even bother to stand there and argue with him, I just went, “Oh, nice to meet you,” and walked off, because it was a waste of my time, man, don’t need it.

[00:24:05] Alice: If there’s anything I’ve learned over the last 10 years of being in and around startups, the easy thing is to be critical. You could like give me an idea and I will shred it, it’s super easy. The hard thing is to see why it will work, both as a founder and as an investor. That’s the real saying, “Oh, here’s a pile of mess. I can see opportunity here. I can see possibility.” You’re right, people who are very negative about ideas, particularly on EF, and negative about other people’s ideas, they don’t succeed.

Nobody wants to co-found with them. Often they can’t come up with an idea because they see the holes in everything. You have to suspend your disbelief.

[00:24:41] Hazel: How true. As I say, especially if an individual doesn’t have specific information about my industry, then that opinion’s even further down the chain, as far as I’m concerned. How interesting to hear about such a universal experience as well.

[00:24:59] Alice: At EF, we’re always keen to discuss an entrepreneur’s ambition and help them make it into a reality. Through this journey, we watch every founder grow and learn a ton of lessons. I was keen to find out what Hazel learned while building Musiio. I also asked her if there was anything she would do differently as part of this journey.

[00:25:16] Hazel: I don’t have a lot of regrets. There’s not very many things I look back and go, “Wow, I was so far off the mark with that one. To the point where I wish I could change what I’d done. I probably wouldn’t actually change anything I’d done. However, there have been a few instances where slight tweaks might have been helpful. If I’ve got to micromanage myself, which I feel is my right in the purpose of this question. I’ve made a few hires that work great. I hired a customer success individual, and I hired them remotely, during COVID, and that was not a successful choice.

They did not have enough access to me to be successful, so I very, very quickly turned on a dime, and I let them go after a month, but with the acknowledgment that it really probably wasn’t their fault. I made the wrong choice in how to operationally assign this role. Also, the fact that they were remote meant it wasn’t going to work. Also, I’ve realised that should have been an internal promotion hire, not an external hire. Again, very, very granular, but if I could have saved that person the bother. There’s no animosity there with them, they understand my decision.

I don’t like to mess people around or put anyone at a disadvantage, I take that part of the job very seriously. There’s something that I learned the hard way. Then in other cases, as well, I think we’ve had this feedback from our team members quite a few times, that Aron and I are a little bit too soft on everyone. We always talk about this theoretical third co-founder that we wish we had who’s a real taskmaster, they run a tight ship. Me and Aron are pretty easygoing, and we’ve even had interns when we do exit interviews with them, and they’re like, “Oh, you guys could be stricter.

There are no rules. You guys could probably lay down the lore a bit.” It’s just not who we are. Maybe some people would benefit from a little bit more structure. I think as well people that I’ve had to let go in the past, didn’t get let go as quickly as they should have done because I give people maybe too many chances. Then at the same time, I’m not sure that I would want to be any other way, but there you go. If I’m going to criticize myself, those would be where I could be at. I’m not a very typical CEO in that respect.

[00:27:55] Alice: It’s so interesting, the culture point, and it’s quite reminded that the culture comes from the founders. You can’t fake it, you can’t be the person that you’re not just to create a certain kind of culture. Me and my co-founder, Matt, one of the tiny examples of seeing this in action at EF is that our office in London was always just such a tech, just stuff everywhere, it was so messy. We’d always be like, “Team, this office is a mess. Investors are coming in, can you clean it up,” and they’d be like, “Guys, have you looked at your desks?”

I wouldn’t be sitting at our desks, there’d be so much stuff of ours on them and so much rubbish everywhere. It’s a tiny example, but unless you’re role modeling it, it’s very, very hard for anyone else in the company to do it. I think, ultimately being an authentic leader is far more important than trying to tick any particular box about what you think a leader should be. Hazel and Musiio have both come a long way since she joined EF and founded the company. I was eager to find out how Musiio’s management has evolved since its early days.

[00:28:52] Hazel: We run a pretty tight ship, and I’m pretty hands-on with all of the customers and all of the sales. I think tech’s much harder because the tech is the majority of our business, it’s a much bigger team. They have to work much more closely together to create the same level of impact. Versus me and my commercial director, we have our own clients, we have our deals, we check in once a week, we’re good. It’s also not necessarily totally equal between the co-founders.

I feel like hiring good people, though, and we’ve had a lot of people who’ve been with us for the full three years. I think we’ve had one person resign ever, so we don’t really have a lot of turnover. We’ve got a very close-knit loyal team, which is great, and I like to think, “Oh, that’s probably because we are the soft founders.” It’s certainly more difficult on the tech side with a bigger team. We are focused on what that looks like at the next stage? How do you scale that up? I totally agree in terms of culture coming from the founders.

That was going to be another one of my insights, which is, it also doesn’t necessarily matter too much. Again, what you say was like the messy desk. I would like to say I have the world’s messiest desk. My old boss at Pandora said it looked like a jumble sale or like a thrift store because I just pile stuff up. If there’s space, I’ll pile stuff up. My co-founder, Aron, is the exact opposite. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen someone clean their desk with antiseptic on a daily basis, but here it is. You could eat your lunch off my co-founder’s desk. We’re exact opposites in that respect.

As I say, it doesn’t matter what we tell people to do. It’s our behavior that they modeled themselves on. We had another insight on this, which was, we noticed during the pandemic no one’s taking their leave partly because there’s nowhere to go. We were really proactive. “Come on guys, make sure you take your leave. We do roll it over, but make sure you’re taking lots of rest and lots of breaks,” and then still nobody did it. Then we reminded people again in the next all-hands, “Don’t forget to take your leave.”

Then our designer came up to us and she said, “I know you keep saying to take our leave, but you guys never take leave.” I was like, “Oh, good, cool.” I went in the afternoon and I booked a week off for me and I booked a week off for Aron. It turned out that we weren’t leading by example. As much as I really did want people to actually take their leave, they still didn’t feel comfortable because they didn’t see us doing it. You often don’t realize quite how much impact you’re having with your behavior as well.

[00:31:47] Alice: Musiio has a promising future ahead, but like every founder, Hazel believes in constant improvement. I asked her to share her future vision for the company and what she hopes to achieve.

[00:31:57] Hazel: I’m really excited. The thing I’m focused on is a relatively short-term goal, as in by the end of the year, this year, so December 2021. We’ve currently had the last few months have been profitable, which is great. We had a few profitable months last year, but my goal by December this year is I want profitability via MRR. We still do quite a lot of one-off deals and they can be quite chunky, $100,000 here, $100,000 there, but I want that monthly recurring revenue to be covering all costs.

I think I will get there by December this year and then we’ll still have the one-offs on top of that, which is fantastic. That is my short-term goal within the next five, six months. Then, next year I’ll be readdressing the strategy. What does it look like to get towards series A? What are the next products that we want to bring to market? We’ve got some stuff in the back pocket but for the rest of this year, we’re really determinedly focused on selling our search technology and getting to that MRR profitability.

Although it’s funny because the investors have been on and on and on at me about monthly recurring. I’d be like, “Yes, but we were profitable.” They’re like, “Yes, but it’s not monthly recurring.” Then when I sent the investor a pull-out last month, I got all these text messages, “Yay, profitable.” I was like, “But it’s not MRR, guys. That was the thing we were focusing on.” That’s my own personal goal for now.

[00:33:21] Alice: That brings us to the end of this episode of The Entrepreneur First Podcast. I hope you enjoyed listening to Hazel’s insights and tips on how to enter the world of music tech startups. Tune in next time, where I’ll be talking to Grant Arons of FabricNano and Peyman Salehian from the Allozymes about the future of bioproduction. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.

For more information about Entrepreneur First, visit our website at joinef.com.

Thanks to Cofruition for consulting on and producing the podcast. Thank you for listening.

Catch you in the next episode.