For the 5th Cohort of The Mentor Network, we wanted to look to our founders to learn more about them as individuals, as well as their entrepreneurial journey. Besides, they have some great wisdom and experience to share!
First up, we have Jennifer Rosenblatt, CEO and Cofounder of MusicSpoke! Jennifer came to us from Lincoln and she has certainly been busy! Besides being accepted into the 5th Cohort of The Mentor Network, she’s a 2017 Pipeline Fellow, part of the 6th cohort of ScaleUP! Kansas City, has presented on the 1MCKC stage … twice, pitched on the Powderkeg KC (Verge) stage, is mentioned as one of 2017’s Top 10 Under-the-Radar Startups, and was just announced as one of the LaunchKC Top 20 finalists!
What did you do before you were the Founder of your startup?
Prior to (and concurrent with) founding MusicSpoke in 2014, I started a marketing services company in 2011. We specialized in design, printing, and promotional products for startups and SMBs. I started the marketing company because I was tired of working for bad bosses, so I quit my job and incorporated 2 weeks later. I had built the business from sheer force of will and quickly learned that I had no idea what I was doing running a company. I joined a business incubator program and learned about entrepreneurship, hiring a team, and creating processes. Eventually we went on to win SBA and a Chamber awards and I sold that business in 2016. I learned how to build a business the hard way and every lesson I learned along the way has made me a better founder for MusicSpoke.
Why this startup? A.k.a. what is your ‘why’?
My husband and cofounder, Kurt Knecht, is a composer. He was fortunate to get some of his choral music published in his 20’s. “Published composer” sounded really cool and we thought fame and fortune surely must follow. But it wasn’t the case. You see, traditional publishers take copyrights away from composers so they no longer own or control their original works. Traditional publishers only pay composers 4-10% royalties on the music they sell and there is no way to know who is purchasing and performing their music. Kurt even has a best-selling piece that has sold over 75,000 copies and has never received a royalty check larger than $2000.
Flash forward 20 years and we have things like the internet, ecommerce, and digital printing. Kurt was heading to a national conference in 2013 to promote his works and I decided to add ecommerce to his website. We’d already started to self-publish some of his music since I had the design and printing skills. When I started to look at other composers’ websites to see what they were doing, I realized they were mostly terrible. Composers are not designers, coders, or marketers. They are artists. As I thought through the problem more fully, I realized that even if every composer had the perfect, ecommerce capable website there would still be no way to search across composers for specific styles of music. There were large distributors online that aggregated the content from all the traditional publishers but there was no centralized database related to self-published music. So, the idea of MusicSpoke as a centralized hub for self-published sheet music was born.
What was your first milestone/win that let you know that you were on the right track to build this business?
In 2014 we applied and were accepted into the NMotion accelerator program in Lincoln, Nebraska. We had a logo, business card, and splash page. We were accepted based on the merits of our idea and the strength of the founding team (entrepreneur + industry insider). It was in the summer of 2014 during NMotion that we learned about Lean Startup methodology and customer development (a.k.a. How to build a business the easier way. It’s still not easy, but it’s not as hard as brute force like my previous company.). We validated our idea, built, and launched 54 days into the program. I built the first iteration of our platform on WordPress and we launched with 16 composers and 72 scores. We got to Demo Day with a working product, real customers, and about $400 in sales.
In a marketplace, there is always the chicken and egg problem. Do you build up the seller side or the buyer side first? Once we launched, the music community saw what we built was solving a real problem, and we have regularly had a waiting list for composers to join our platform. The buyers follow because we have exclusive content from top composers that are in high demand.
Why did The Mentor Network stand out to you as a positive program to be involved with?
After moving to Kansas City, we knew we wanted to be part of the Sprint Accelerator network. The team is so knowledgeable, connected, and friendly. They have great programs for all founders and are willing to help with pitch practice and making connections.
The Mentor Network was our opportunity to work with corporate partners that have expertise beyond our current reach.
When you are in the choral-sheet-music-tech-startup world, there are not a ton of corporate partners that naturally jump out. Realizing that digital marketing and sales are the same across industries, we were paired with a marketing expert from Sprint.
What have your big wins been so far within The Mentor Network?
Our mentor, Jason Harper, has been amazing from the start. As a musician and marketer, he gets what we are doing. We meet every 2 weeks for about 2 hours. He has brought us experts from music to ecommerce to UI/UX. He is currently helping us refine our digital marketing strategy so we can push our growth faster. It’s still early, but I expect great results by the end of the program.
How do you maintain sanity in this crazy, insane startup world?
I am a terrible person to answer this question. I don’t really have hobbies or daily sanity practices. I like to swim, play cards, and spend time with friends and family. I do have a great tribe of female founders who all support each other. I think it is important for founders to accept themselves and not constantly be comparing their personal practices with other founders. Yes, we can all learn from each other and improve ourselves, but we don’t need to beat ourselves up over not being like so-and-so. We have enough pressures as it is.
I heard a great talk on processes recently that emphasized the fact that we all have a finite amount of time every week. As founders, in order to maintain our sanity, we must create processes around our core business engine and delegate the work. And you haven’t delegated the work until you delegate the issue processing that goes with it.
KC has so many resources and people to help entrepreneurs. What are we still missing? What gaps do you think we need to fill?
Seed funding under $1M 😉
Regarding the KC startup ecosystem, what has been your favorite service/resource that you would like to share with other founders to take advantage of?
KC SourceLink: They have a ton of programming for every type of business at every level. They have a great newsletter to keep you informed of community events and programs. There is something for everyone there.
KC Startup Foundation (Village Square): Who doesn’t read Startland News every day? These are great people whose mission it is to connect startups with people and resources in the community. Second Fridays are a great way to meet other founders in a fun, relaxed way. Go volunteer for a MECA challenge and give back to your community.
Sprint Accelerator: Free Coworking Wednesdays, tons of programming for startups, great people who help you make connections, and The Mentor Network!
I’m also a Kauffman junkie so I love 1 Million Cups and everything they produce at https://www.entrepreneurship.org/.
If you could go back to the day you started this journey and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?
Build a SaaS model first, then add a marketplace. Marketplaces are hard they usually take longer to achieve the same sort of traction as a SaaS (software as a service) model. I would counsel anyone thinking about a marketplace to figure out a complimentary SaaS product, generate your recurring revenue, then add a marketplace once you have the user base in place. Super easy, right?
Also published on Medium.