Startup Spotlight: AudioCommonMay 29, 2016
This week we speak with Phil Cohen, Co-Founder & CEO of AudioCommon. Phil tells us how he and Co-Founder Chris came up with the idea to create a platform that would segment pieces of a song to enable users to single out the vocal track, guitar track, bass or drum track. He also talks to us about why being a startup founder is like being in the US Air Force Academy. He should know – he’s done both!
GH: What is AudioCommon?
Phil: AudioCommon is changing the way people listen to music; and, in doing so, is bringing an important new revenue stream to artists and the larger Music Industry. We feel that it’s the biggest thing to come along in music tech since the advent of stereo (two-channel music). Through AudioCommon, people can literally touch the different pieces of a song; for example, to hear the individual vocal track, guitar track, bass track, drum track, etc. This functionality unlocks a world of use-cases, and has allowed us to garner an amazing amount of engagement via the platform.
Phil: Shortly after coming home from Afghanistan with the military, I moved to the Boston area and went into a recording studio to record a bunch of songs that I had written. A new friend of mine, Chris Dorsey, went into the studio with me; and, during our time in the studio, we ran into a litany of issues that wasted a bunch of our time and money. After talking with a bunch of indie artists on the Boston scene, we knew we weren’t alone. I went off to MIT for grad school, and—on the side—Chris and I started developing a platform that would fix some of these issues. We on-boarded thousands of users, but started hearing some recurring feedback from our user-base: They loved what we were doing, and were using our platform a great deal, but their real pain-point had to do with fan engagement. Hearing this, we turned our private collaboration platform into a public sharing platform with a few simple modifications. This changed everything for us; and it all had to do with listening to the customer.
GH: How did you build your team?
Phil: When we built the initial iteration of our team, I was still a grad student at MIT. As alluded to before, Chris (my direct business partner) and I met before heading to grad school, as we became friends due to a mutual passion for playing music; but the MIT environment was excellent for building the initial nucleus of our team.
GH: What is your company philosophy driving your company culture?
Phil: Our team is made up of people who are passionate about music and who are willing to make sacrifices for something that is bigger than themselves. Everyone on the team knows what we’re working to accomplish, and everyone is empowered to do what he or she feels is necessary to achieve our goals. I really care about my teammates—I love them like family; and I think they’d say the same about me. All of this stuff drives our culture.
GH: Startup life is full of failures and ‘make it work’ moments – can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?
Phil: I think it’d be very hard to pick one “failure,” as there’s so much failure involved in starting a company. You just need to get used to living within the failure. The sooner you get comfortable with this, the better you’ll be. I liken it to my first year at the US Air Force Academy. Every day during your entire first year, you fail—every single day. On top of it, you’re ridiculed in front of your peer group in ways that are hard to describe. Many people leave during their first year at the Academy. In fact, roughly 20% of our class left, even after going through the grueling application process and the grueling presidential/congressional nomination process just to walk through the Academy’s doors. At some point during the day-to-day “failure” you realize that you’re in this together; you’re in this with the people who are around you—your peers, your teammates. You bond with your teammates and learn to work with them; and you figure out the game: While you’re walking down the road toward your mission, these “failures” are not really failures at all—they’re stepping stones. For fear that this metaphor may not make my point (or may sound too cheesy) let me say this: If you keep your eye on your goal (your mission; and, on a bigger level, your vision), you will never fail unless you throw in the towel and quit.
Phil: We learned a lot. We are relentless in listening to our users. As such, we are always iterating and growing with our user-base. As mentioned before, our shift from private collaboration platform to public sharing platform was primarily because of our users.
GH: What has the Boston ecosystem provided you?
Phil: MIT. I am a proud MIT grad, and a proud MIT guest lecturer. The friendships I’ve forged through the MIT community have been amazing.
GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?
Phil: Overall, I think it’s a pretty good ecosystem. Let’s be honest—the startup life is hard, and I’m not sure that any ecosystem has found the perfect answer (even Silicon Valley), but Boston is pretty good.
GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
Phil: I’ve found that the majority of people you meet in this world are pretenders. They talk a lot, they have a lot of advice; but they’ve never really taken a chance—they’ve never really moved forward with something that they’re passionate about. I’ve taken some advice from people like this, and the majority of this advice is crap; and it will often propel you back into society’s little mold of “This is what your professional career should look like.” Here’s my advice: Find the real fighters—the people who are principled; the people who are passionate about a cause and take action to achieve their goals. Life is short. I’ve seen it first-hand in difficult and uncertain environments like Afghanistan. I don’t have time for pretenders; so I’ve got the rest of my life for the people and causes I love.