Songkick founder Ian Hogarth on making money in music and east London tech scene trends


The man behind one of east London’s hottest start-ups

Follow me: @GabbyGriffith and @LondonLovesBiz

The music industry is currently going through a very well-documented period of metamorphosis.

The ever-growing trend for downloads has completely altered the way the public consumes music. Traditional revenue streams have been obliterated, and old-school music vendors like HMV have paid the price.

But as we reported back in November, the industry isn’t perishing – just reinventing itself.

What is emerging from the musical chrysalis is a new breed of innovative companies creating value in terms of jobs, developing new technologies and in finding value for record companies and artists.

One such company is Shoreditch-based business Songkick. Pitched as the place for live music on the web, it has the largest database of concerts in the UK and offers personal reminders to users when their favourite bands are playing, and when tickets are about to run out. You can also upload photos and set lists from gigs, and discuss them on the site with other fans.

Songkick describes its mission thus: “We want to put every single concert or festival that’s ever happened online.”

Songkick is one of those few early-stage businesses that everyone on the tech scene seems to agree is headed towards superstardom. To give just one example, Moonfruit founder and doyenne of tech Wendy Tan-White cited Songkick as one of the three London start-ups she’s most excited about.

She told us, “Songkick’s industry credibility is evident in everything it creates – from its engagement with music fans on Facebook and Twitter, to its integration with other music and social media platforms, including iTunes and last.fm.”

It has since become the second largest concert site after Ticketmaster.

With $6m investment in the bag to date, the company has also secured a number of important partnerships with the likes of Spotify, SoundCloud and most recently MTV. Songkick has worked with the music video giant on it’s latest app MTV Music Meter 2.0.

Co-founder Ian Hogarth has become something of a poster boy for the east London tech-scene through his dedication, not only to his own business, but the scene in general.

He and his co-founder Pete Smith launched Silicon Milkroundabout – a highly popular jobs fair to match graduates and developers with UK start-ups – and Hogarth is regularly quoted in the national media on all things “Silicon Roundabout”.

We caught up with the entrepreneur to find out more about the business.

So Ian, how did it all start?

“It started with a very simple idea between my two friends Pete Smith, Michelle You and I. Pete and I knew each other from our time at Cambridge University and I met Michelle while studying Mandarin in Beijing.

“We all really love live music – it’s the point at which as a fan you are closest to the bands – but noticed that many of our friends weren’t going to concerts despite loving them. According to people we spoke to, keeping up with where and when bands were playing was too much hassle.

“We wanted to make this much easier by creating a site that would pro-actively alert you when your favourite bands were playing.”

What did you do once you had the idea?

“I’m quite an impulsive person. I quit my job within 24 hours of the idea but there is a big difference between having an idea and the specific idea with which to launch.

“Luckily we landed a place on Y Combinator – a start-up incubator based in Silicon Valley which provided initial investment and mentoring. Having worked on Songkick for a year or so we launched our first product in 2008.”

Where you ever tempted to stay in the valley and start your company there?

“We were tempted but we never really looked seriously at basing ourselves in the Valley – we needed to be based in a vibrant city with plenty of live music. We thought hard about starting in New York but ended up settling in London.

“London has more concerts than any other city in the world each year and we had already made good inroads on potential investment and hiring staff.”

You’ve raised $6m in total – how did you find the investment process?

“Raising the money has never been central to our story. We’ve been very lucky to find investors [Index Ventures, Alex Zubillaga (former executive VP of digital strategy and business development at Warner Music Group), Daniel Miller (founder of Mute Records) and Dan Porter (co-founder of Ticketweb)] who have become part of the team and really accelerated the mission.

“But getting funds is not the primary challenge, that lies with creating a great and compelling product. Investment will fall into place.”

So what are the revenue streams for Songkick?

“Songkick makes it easy for fans to compare and buy the best ticket offers. The way it works is when someone finds a ticket through Songkick is we get paid a percentage of the ticket value, similar to how a promoter would pay for print or radio ads.

“We have done a bunch of partnerships with other music brands to get our name out to the fans. There are a great deal of places to listen to music now, and we believe that every time you do listen you should have the option to be told when that band are playing.

“We have partnered with YouTube, Spotify, Facebook, SoundCloud and more. It’s always a win-win because artists want their live schedule data to be associated with their recorded music. It encourages people to go and see those bands.

“We are working toward turning a profit but we haven’t announced any dates yet. We are working on driving growth by creating a great consumer experience and through partnerships.”

Last year you nabbed one of Google’s men, Dan Crow, to become your CTO. Have London’s start-ups become a more appealing move for people at the big tech companies?

“I think [London] probably has, but I don’t really think that has been a factor with us. It has been more of a personal dynamic; a lot of it comes down to whether you can enjoy working together. But the stronger the scene is, the stronger the infrastructures are for recruitment.

“Silicon Valley has so much infrastruct
ure around recruitment. London is starting to see more of that. Also the more users we have, the more our name and our products are out there and we become attractive to people.”

Silicon Milkroundabout must be part of that recruitment infrastructure now?

“That is something I’m really proud of actually. Pete and I were in the pub chatting. We were getting totally murdered by Google and the banks in terms of graduate recruitment, with their huge marketing campaigns targeting at graduates we couldn’t stand out and differentiate ourselves.

“We thought, there’s got to be a better way than this – and so Silicon Milkroundabout was born.

“We just got straight into it and organised it. There have been two so far and we have pretty much organised them in our spare time – it could really do with a whole team behind it.”

Has graduate awareness of the tech scene increased?

“I think the spotlight that the government has shone on it has helped in that respect. There has been an increased amount of media attention; reading about it in the Sunday Times creates a broader consciousness that there are cool things happening in east London.”

Working on things like that in your spare time must leave less time for going to concerts?!

“I do go to loads actually! Last year I went to less because there were less that I was interested in. I’m really into rap music – I feel like rap is in a very exciting place at the moment. I’ve got a lot lined up this year that I am fired up about.”

It must be wonderful to work in the area you are very passionate about.

“Yes…but imagine you really like eating sausages and you go to work in a sausage factory – you get to see the gorier side of the industry.

“I’m developing a keen understanding of the challenges that face artists in the music industry, and we are just figuring out how to help get them playing in front of their fans.”

Having been part of the London tech scene for a while now, have you noticed any emerging trends?

“One of the biggest trends is the rise of technology is what we call cultural verticals like music, fashion and art. The technology cluster has grown up alongside the creative industries in Shoreditch and so this is a meaningful trend.

“One thing I think might change is that the VCs are still all in Mayfair. They occasionally hop on the tube over to east London but they are still an hour away.

“I honestly think there is an opportunity for someone to say, ‘Right we’re moving to become the east London VC’, and ally themselves with all of the emerging start-ups. I don’t know why it hasn’t happened yet.

“Stefan Glaenzer [early Last FM investor]is probably the closest person to doing that with Passion Capital, being in Clerkenwell.  But no-one has made the big move yet.”

An exciting prediction Ian and a great idea – let’s watch this space and see if it happens!