Howdy State of Searchers. I’d thought I’d bring you something a little different in this post and rather than have me blathering on about SEO and the like, I wanted to delve into the mind of another far more interesting than I. So here it is… an interview with Ralph Cowling, one quarter of the wizard team behind hyped new online music sharing service This is My Jam, along with Matthew Ogle, Hannah Donovan and Andreas Jansson.
The concept is simple, what song is it that you’ve just played 5 times in a row and can’t quite stop yourself from hitting play a sixth time? Share it and find out what others share in return. Harking back to the days of buying ‘singles’, This is My Jam focuses on gems of songs that can be from any era. It’s not about new music, albums or genres of music but about telling friends about THAT song they simply have to listen to. Catching on so far through word of mouth, and automatically pulling in you details through twitter/Facebook, it is a great example of social media at work.
With plaudits from NME, The Next Web, LifeHacker and even The Guardian to name but a few, the site’s popularity has sky rocketed in the 4 months it has existed. Launched back in December, but only going into public beta in February, it truly is a demonstration of what can be achieved by a talented group of people with a great idea but not a lot of capital. Here I ask Ralph to tell us a little more about running the site, from tech to social media via analytics and of course some Jams.
“Firstly, congratulations! You guys have done what so many of us in the industry always ‘mean to’. You got your hair-brained scheme up, live, in the real world and not only that… proving a huge success. Tell us your secrets!”
1. How did you first go about getting the bare bones of the site laid out? Did you do it all yourselves? Did you need outside help – from outsourced development to design consultancy? Did it break the bank?!
We’re a team of four people. I’m mainly a web developer for TIMJ, recently focusing on the front-end a lot more in my day to day workflow. Matt Ogle is product manager and also does a lot of work on general development of our codebase, though these days he’s generally being called a ‘founder’ more than anything! Then there’s Hannah Donovan and Andreas Jansson. Hannah is our designer and Andreas does all of our systems magic. Hannah and Matt both used to work for Last.fm, me and Andreas used to lead technical teams at small agencies. Everyone who works on TIMJ at the moment is permanently locked into it. We didn’t get any outside help, though we are incubated currently by the wonderful folks at The Echo Nest who’ve offered us a great deal of guidance and support over the last few months.
2. Four of you worked together on this from the start. How did you break out decision making? Were they any crucial areas that were difficult to agree on?
We’re all fairly well experienced in our fields, and all have strong opinions on how we’d like to do something, or like to see something realised. Because we’re really into continuous enhancement/deployment of our app, our decision process usually mirrors that. We start off with ideas and ideal versions of how we’d like something to turn out, then we argue the technical, theoretical and philosophical edges of it into a decision that will work in the time we have, but always with the understanding that anything and everything can, and probably will be reworked at some point in the future. There are plans me and Hannah have had since day one that are a bit wild and experimental that we still haven’t had time to implement, but we know we’re going to do them at some point!
3. How long did it take to you to create a product you felt ready to test out on the unsuspecting world? And how long from testing to public beta?
Matt, Hannah and I built up something into a private little alpha in just under a month, with a few close friends and allies playing around with the bare-bones of the idea. Everyone was really keen on it and we were inundated with feedback that’s helped to shape what everyone’s using today. We got out of alpha and into a private beta, using an invite system to get more people in, asking those already signed up to invite others whose music taste would add something to the service, rather than a manic hand waving kind of system by which we asked you to invite everyone you know. We grew quite quickly, hired Andreas to come and keep us sane/stable and progressively moved towards the public beta we have today. All in all we’ve been going about 6 months now.
4. TIMJ has been the called the ‘Pinterest for music’. So did you consider how you were going to promote TIMJ at the beginning or was this more of an afterthought after the product actually existed? Did your use of social media and the spread of the TIMJ’s popularity follow the path you expected it to?
It’s funny that we’re being called the ‘Pintrest for music’, before we were ‘Twitter for music’, ‘Instagram for music’, and even slightly less bleeding edge things like ‘the new myspace’. It’s nice that people understand we’re essentially a social music service, asking you to work a little harder than twitter or facebook at curating something about you, about your interests, and in the process hopefully rewarding you a lot more for doing so. Using authentication with those services helped us get a small social graph together, but we worked hard to make sure you could sign up with your email once we were into public beta, knowing how important it is for a lot of people these days not to be locked into those sites, and also hoping we can provide a platform of our own in the future.
5. If you had to rank the following in order of most helpful to least helpful, how would you rank them?
– Offline friends and pub chats
– Online friends you don’t really know
– Word of mouth
– Other social media
– Startup community
– Online press (specify if possible!)
– Offline press (specify if possible!)
I’m not sure I can rank them all, but I’d say there have been some very helpful moments over the last couple of months. We have really good daily organic growth through people sharing their jams online and talking about the service amongst one another, and our email notifications are good to us, keeping people engaged. In the press, the NME dubbed us ‘The Future of Music Sharing Online’ which sparked a lot of interest and was our first real coverage from a music magazine, whilst Paul Carr gave a really nicely considered write up to our app at Pando Daily. Press helps and always feels rewarding, though we’ve recently started to get a small celebrity community on TIMJ, which helps give us small daily spikes of interest. We’ve been calling it the ‘Edgar Wright effect’ (director of Shaun of the Dead, Spaced etc). He’s been a great advocate and early adopter of the site, whilst being popular enough that one tweet to our site from his account is enough to stress test any new components we’ve launched!
6. Do you measure the performance of the site, e.g. with Google Analytics? How important do you find this?
We do and it is very helpful. We’ve built our own statistics panels and graphs to help measure growth metrics in terms we understand and value, so the main things we’ve been looking for in google analytics is to see how interactions are occurring on the site. If we’ve pushed a new feature and nobody’s using it, we can figure out why by following a user’s path in a visit.
7. Do you set targets, KPIs or milestones for yourselves?
We do, they’re mainly music related. Last week we hit the 200k mark on shared Jams, which made us extremely happy, because we know how great it feels to discover a new piece of music through the site.
8. What are your future plans for TIMJ and its world domination?
We’re working really hard to push some new features to the site, and have just got an internal API underway. We’re in a planning phase with that right now, so we’ll have a roadmap for shipping it to interested developers in the near future. It’ll be great to see apps built from the TIMJ API!
9. Super quick advice to all budding startups. One DO and one DON’T please!
DO: Look for things that are missing online, and provide a simple way to get whatever that is out there.
DON’T: Constantly worry about being perfect or trendy.
10. What’s the site’s most popular ‘liked’ Jam of all time?
I couldn’t possibly reveal the answer to that, but let’s just say it’s been a good year for Gotye.
There it is folks… There’s the proof. You too can make it happen! Don’t forget to head over to This Is My Jam and get involved. And of course, in case you want to know what I’m listening to, here’s My Jam.