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Episode 4: Artificial Intelligence in Music

9 September, 2021

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.

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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.

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