StartUp Spotlight: Fretish

May 13, 2018

StartUp Spotlight: Fretish

May 13, 2018

Meet Sam Tharp – CEO and Founder of Fretish, an on-demand music instrument sharing platform!

GH: What is Fretish?

Fretish is a music instrument sharing platform which lets people rent out their guitars and gear to other players.

GH: What was your Eureka moment: how did Fretish get started?

I felt the “Eureka” moment when I came up with the name for Fretish.  It’s very common to see social media pictures and videos of guitars with hashtags like #guitarporn or #gearporn.  Fretish is a nod to the desire of guitarists to view beautiful instruments, but now, through this sharing platform, they actually get to touch and play these guitars.  I believe the Fretish brand will lead the next generation of music instrument consumption.

Having said that, the idea for Fretish came from months of contemplating the recent history of digital marketplaces, the sharing economy and then posing to myself a number of likely sectors to next be disrupted by these business models.  Because I’ve played and collected guitars for over 30 years – plus I have deep experience in building and operating digital marketplaces – the music instrument space appealed to me. I treated the second half of 2017 like a research project: setting internal milestones and validating assumptions.  By late December I was pleased to see that I had achieved most of the milestones I had set for Fretish. So, for 2018 and beyond, I decided to go “all in”.

GH: How did you build/are thinking of building your team?

Presently, I rely on a team of contractors with subject matter expertise in a range of areas, including but not limited to: Ruby on Rails development, video production, legal and music instrument sales.  Once I secure seed funding, I intend to build a core team of full-time employees in software development, music instrument sourcing (sales/business development), customer experience and marketing (with particular emphasis on influencer, content and inbound marketing).  I also plan to leverage the wonderful pool of intern talent from places like Berklee College of Music, Boston University and MIT.

GH: What is your company philosophy driving your company culture?

Respect, honesty, encouragement, trust and discovery are the principles upon which Fretish is based.  They are necessary components to running a successful peer-to-peer music instrument marketplace. And, in a nice case of symmetry, they also apply when working to become a great musician.

GH: Startup life is full of failures and ‘make it work’ moments – can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?

I personally choose to live by this apocryphal Thomas Edison quote: “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.”  But, to directly answer your question, I’ve done a lot of “discovering” in the past 9 months. Here are just a few examples:

  1. How to NOT get a music retailer to partner with you.  Start by telling them their website is dated.
  2. How to NOT get a “social influencer” to promote your brand.  Inform his/her talent agent that you want to start with a single sponsored post to prove they can generate results.
  3. How to NOT give a successful funding pitch.  Take 3 ½ minutes in a scheduled 4 minute pitch to talk about your background.

And the way I bounced back from all of these “discoveries” is that I take greater care and effort to script myself before speaking with an audience, rehearse my delivery and continually ask myself “WIIF’em – what’s in it for them?”.

GH: What did you learn from your first customers?

Early adopters of Fretish reminded me how newly registered users can be your most vocal and effective advocates.  The concept of trying new or vintage instruments from other musicians is exciting, so I regularly get asked by new users how they can help grow Fretish.  Some of it is self-interest (e.g., I want more and more instruments to choose from), but a lot of the motivation is simply the desire to build out a new community of like-minded artists.

GH: What has the Boston ecosystem provided you?

The Capital Network has been an excellent resource for connecting me with mentors, advisors and prospective investors. Outside GC and Patent GC offer cost-effective legal help in starting a company as well as patent/trademark issues. And all of the additional subject matter experts that I mentioned previously are Boston-based.

GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?

Boston’s early stage investors are noted for their interest in FinTech, BioTech, SaaS and B2B companies.  That’s not Fretish. We’re a music tech, consumer-oriented startup. So, to find mentors and investors with experience investing in or operating B2C music companies is possible, but challenging.


GH: What’s the best piece of advice you were given along the way?

Best advice, in no particular order:

If you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice.


When connecting with mentors/advisors/potential investors, offer to add them to your monthly progress reports.

GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?

Moving to Back Bay. Being centrally located has increased the quality and frequency of my engagements with the early stage community. I have greater access to resources and reduced commute time.

GH: What does the future hold for Fretish?

In March 2018, Fretish was accepted into the Project Music Portfolio music tech accelerator program in Nashville.  With this connection to “Music City”, we will continue to expand our footprint to serve musicians across the country until we realize millions of registered users, instruments listed and transactions – disrupting the $6+B music instrument market and delivering a big, beautiful liquidity event.

Learn more about Fretish!

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