Paul, could you introduce yourself and tell us if you always wanted to become an entrepreneur?
Honestly, I must confess I never thought I would start my own business. During my physics bachelor’s I thought I would be a scientist, while in my spare time I was working out some non-profit music, theatre, and film productions. Then during a gap year in which I took musicology courses I saw myself as a self-made musician, then during my physics master’s I started to see myself more as an inventor before during my business master’s I lost track of what it was that I wanted to do.. In sum, I guess it was my craving for all kinds of different disciplines that would eventually come together perfectly as being an entrepreneur. However, I miss my physics a bit, I nowadays combine work with one of my greatest passions, and I have the honour to work with great people. Beautiful.
What made you and your co-founder decide to begin your start-up, Gigstarter?
Ten years ago, during high school still, Julio (the other founder) and I played together in a rock band. We were one of those 21st century bands that almost never left the studio and spent most of our time recording bad songs. As a band we weren’t entrepreneurial enough to find and manage our own gigs, so we knew for artists how tough and boring it is to find cool gigs. Ten years later, after having a brainstorming session about building an online business, we visited at night a concert in Amsterdam. We were flabbergasted when two totally different types of bands gave a show and as such had difficulties keeping the crowd interested. That night we had an eye-opener: as more venues as well as artists encountered a similar problem. Julio asked me “why not make a platform for live music?”.
So could you tell us a bit more about what Gigstarter does?
At Gigstarter you can find and book musicians for any type of occasion, without a booking fee. At our website we offer an overview of more than a thousand bands, DJs, ensembles, and solo artists from the Netherlands and Belgium. Anyone can look into the database, get a good impression of how each act performs, compare similar musicians, look into reviews by preceding hosts/bookers and get an insight into prices. Once a visitor is interested, he or she can contact the musician directly and without our interference. Artists and bookers can make a deal, have all agreements clearly summarized and either pay on location after the concert or, optionally, through our system. As such, for a booker the website is like an online marketplace for live music. For musicians, Gigstarter is an online live music curriculum and a management software solution in one.
In their dashboard, musicians get an overview of all their gigs, and of all their agreements, which is quite handy once gigs start piling up. Furthermore, musicians can export concerts to their agenda on their profile and will receive a rating and a review by their booker after the gig.
How does the business model work? In other words, how do you make a living out of this?
We don’t charge fees on a booking, and anyone can subscribe for free. We also prefer not to put banners on the website. So what we do is that little by little we introduce cloud software solutions for artists, and later maybe even for professional bookers. Artists become members of the community by paying a membership fee that offers them more possibilities and a three to seven times higher probability of getting concerts. You can compare it to the ‘freemium/premium’ models Spotify or LinkedIn are using.
What were the toughest challenges you guys had to face to get this start-up going, and how did you deal with it?
Our first challenge was filling the database. The next challenge was managing all the subscriptions. Then we had to find new team members. Then we had to find cash. Then we had to change our business model. Then we had to improve the number of website visits. I guess being an entrepreneur is all about dealing with challenges without getting frustrated. A bit like playing a new instrument or doing (team) sports.
You guys are with quite a team already. How do you expand and financially support your staff on such short notice?
We are still investing every day. Both in the further development of our product as well as in our brand. We choose to ‘over invest’ so to speak, so that we can seize a remarkable share of the current and the ‘yet to be created’ live music market. We have all invested plenty of money and time. This co-ownership helps us to keep our ‘burn-rate’ low. And of course we take all the opportunities we can!
It seems you are focusing on the Dutch market. Do you guys ever consider going international?
Sure. We’ve been focussing on the Netherlands the first few years to rethink, change, and then fine-tune our product as much as possible. The Netherlands is a small market with early adopters, so this keeps things relatively easy. Our little country is a good test market, but it is too small for a platform concept like ours. In fact, we’re launching www.gigstarter.es at the end of this summer. Once more countries start using our system, the interchange of artists and international release tours will follow. A cool prospect.
Are there already some musicians that are on the verge of a breakthrough and Gigstarter has provided them with their first series of gigs?
We’ve got some great talents on our website, and some have been booked for cool festivals and have given a concert in famous venues such as Paradiso. The database grows along with us and vice versa. In the beginning, artists’ booking agents were very hesitant and sceptical because they saw us as competition. Now that they see that the (music-) world changes, they start – very cautiously of course – putting their newest groups on our platform as well. Furthermore, celebrated autonomous artists such as the famous Dutch Saxophone player Hans Dulfer or the famous Dutch popular music singer Harry Slinger (Drukwerk) are subscribing themselves as well. Once we go international, the opportunities will increase exponentially.
Do you have some tips for young people who want to make it as musicians or as entrepreneurs?
To me, an entrepreneur is a creator. Just like a scientist, an inventor, or an artist. Leonardo da Vinci is a good example of this. Anyhow, to all for being successful the same arguments hold: Make a plan and don’t stop believing in it. Of course be realistic. Sometimes I see artists without (some sort of) talent, that’s a waste of time and money. If you don’t have a capacity for either thorough self-reflection or you don’t do anything with the feedback that has been given to you, you’re not going to make it. The urban saying “fake it till you make it” and the Nike credo “Just do it” are spot on. Now, it’s unfair in a way, but it’s true that your skills are only about 1/3 of your success. The rest is sex appeal and marketing: “There’s no bizz like showbizz”. Good luck!