Happiness, Business(?) and Monetisation or how we learned to stop worrying and love our startup.
‘So how are you going to make money?’
Our good friend Jon sits across from us with his elbows resting on the table and both palms open, fingers splayed; pleading with us to help him understand what’s up with this ‘business’ of ours. We’re starting to get really tired of this question, mostly because we don’t actually have an answer for it. Not a straight forward one anyway.
‘Strumm is the place to share your guitar collection and discover those of your friends and our awesome community.’
We run a website for guitar geeks to share their gear. It’s free to join, free to use and it’s lots of fun! Our high concept pitch is :
‘It’s like Facebook for Guitarists’.
We had originally decided to develop a classified site for musical instruments. Easy to build, run and make money from. We were unhappy with what was currently available online and thought we could do a better, fairer job of it and everyone would love us and use our site instead of eBay. Grand ideas indeed.
We are indebted to Laurence McCahill and Carlos Saba at The Happy Startup School and Spook Studio. We made the easy decision of working with them on our ‘grand ideas’ after a workshop where we sat down and dismantled our (incredibly well planned and documented) business model and assumptions. They asked us to simply test the idea of the classified site with musicians locally. Was there a really a problem that needed to be solved? Did people want an alternative? To cut a long story short, after much research we found that most people were happy with the current options online and we realised that if we built the site we would be swimming in a blood-red, shark infested sea of competition and not the calm blue waters of originality and success.
After we’d picked ourselves up off the floor of despair, Laurence asked us:
‘What are you passionate about? What do you love? Find it and do it.’
We love guitars!
We play them, listen to others play them, read about them and collect them. It is our hobby. When we went out on our discovery mission to find a new problem to solve for guitarists we found that everyone loves looking at guitars and finding out about other peoples gear.
Go and stand in a guitar shop on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll understand what we’re talking about. More than half the people there are just staring at the racks, dribbling. Forums are chock full of advice and discussion about guitars, amps and pedals and some people are ending their posts with a written description of what is in their collection. We thought:
‘Wouldn’t it be cool if people had a dedicated place to show their gear and see other peoples and chat about it?’
And that’s basically what we built.
A fun, snob free environment where the guitar is the star not the ego. A place where like-minded, passionate Riffmeisters (our members) can profile their collection and discover those of the other members on the site. We ask that members are respectful of each other and that this is not a place for a flame war; rather that you can ‘Awesome’ what you find awesome and just ignore that which you don’t.
Happy is the New Rich
In the very early days of the build and launch of the site, we had briefly talked about how Strumm might make money. We realised that before we could properly think about that we actually had to know whether we had a ‘thing’ or not: whether we had a viable product.
Unofficially, a social network is not really a ‘thing’ until you have 1000 members — a number which we are still way off. 1000 members is considered a sweet point which might be reason enough for investors, advertisers and collaborators to start to show interest and during our meetings it was a case of ‘we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it’. 9 out of 10 startups fail. We felt our time and thoughts were better spent learning from the project and making sure users were getting the best experience possible. Our focus was on growth, trouble shooting and just plain ol’ learning our craft.
Thing is, it’s really good fun and we are really happy doing it. Nothing quite makes you realise how much you love working on something until you discover you are happy to work for free.
As members of the Happy Startup School we subscribe to a few key philosophies in starting our own ‘thing’:
• Passion and purpose go a long way
• We are obsessive about a positive customer experience
• Honesty, Authenticity and Transparency
• Building a happy team and creating positive working cultures
It’s not that money isn’t important, it’s just that we want to be happy at work and be able to rest our heads on the pillow at night in good conscience. Passion, happiness and excitement is something that is missing from our working lives at the moment and we’ve looked ahead to the next 20 years and not seen much room for improvement. It’s hard to keep going when you know that what’s coming ain’t that wicked. Passion for guitars and guitarists is the driving force at Strumm and we can’t get enough of chatting with our Riffmeisters and ogling their gear, we just wish we could do it all the time and for that we will need to make a living from Strumm eventually.
Are we a business?
‘Business: an organisation concerned with trade of goods and/or services to consumers’
Technically, we’re not a business. Sometimes this makes it hard, even for us, to understand what we’re doing. We want it to be our work but we don’t live off what we’re doing. Neither is it a hobby. In the darkness and confusion this working model creates, the one thing we are sure of is that we are having fun and that our Riffmeisters are having fun too. We receive tweets and emails everyday from people excited to be part of our ‘cool pages’ and ‘awesome site’. When we meet people and go to events we sometimes wonder whether we are working or playing.
Our head says, ‘Now be serious, think about the opportunities here: network, promote, get a foot in the door…’
Our heart is saying ‘Woah! That is a sweet axe, let’s hear how it plays!’
We consider ourselves quite ordinary people. We’re not rich or privileged: we’re not connected and we’re certainly not experienced. We just wanted to try to start something. Initially, we struggled with building Strumm because we were worried we would spend lots of money on it and get really excited and then never find a way of monetising.
When we approached our accountant with our idea we thought he’d be livid but he seemed ecstatic and said, ‘This is brilliant! Whatever you do don’t monetise, just grow it really big!’ Whaaat?!
It’s been difficult to find a sure footing in the way we are doing things. There have been a few staple books on our shelves that help us find a path when we are feeling panicky.
‘Delivering Happiness’ by Tony Hsieh
Tony is the CEO of Zappos, an online clothing and shoe shop. He writes about passion, purpose and profits and how by concentrating on the happiness of those around you, you can increase your own. Companies that value their customers and seek to make them happy more often than not achieve more success than companies that don’t.
‘Purple Cow’ by Seth Godin
This book is a bit of a giggle but really makes you stop and think about why we should build something remarkable. One of our core values is Fun. When we interviewed guitarists no-one seemed to be having much fun online which was strange because there was a lot of love and passion for playing guitar and exploring gear. Seth’s advice is not to play it too safe, work the niche and be passionate.
‘Running Lean’ by Ash Maurya
Strumm was built using a lean canvas. This means that instead of spending months strategising and planning, we asked people if they had a problem that needed solving, released a beta site and tested our minimum viable product with small, fast iterations. This way of building something limits risk and maximises our efforts for speed, learning and focus.
We were recently told that a project like this rarely gets started on less than £200-300,000. We definitely haven’t spent anything like that starting Strumm but being told that makes it feel all the more important to remember than the only reason we are growing is because we are focussing on passion and not profits.
Hopefully, what we’ve written here has gone some way to explaining why we’re not talking brass tacks. We have faith that good opportunities, in line with our core values will present themselves but we’re not prepared to strategise the hell out of it and kill the very thing that made us want to start Strumm in the first place…
…our love for awesome, awesome, awesome guitars!