Michael Breidenbruecker Founders Secrets - Review by Ed Rex

Guest post by Ed Rex

Saying the music industry has seen some changes over the last ten years is like saying the banks had a bit of a setback in 2007. When Coldplay started writing music, record labels ruled the world, being on Top of the Pops was the height of success and music was something you bought; now, a mere 5 albums later, the labels lie in ruins, popularity is measured in YouTube views and music is as close to being declared a universal human right as it's ever been, so unlikely does it look that it will ever be paid for again. And Michael Breidenbruecker, the latest speaker at TechHub's Founders Secrets, has been on the front line of this revolution.

As the co-founder of Last.fm and, more recently, the founder of RjDj, he was always going to fill the events space at Campus fairly rapidly. He started off with a demonstration of the RjDj iPhone app, filling the room with music that reacted to his movements in real time, and followed up with a short talk about the history of his two companies. The rest of the evening was spent answering questions on everything from the finer points of audio programming to his native Austrian mountains, which, he assured us, aren't as good as London for startups.

He had some great tales of the early days of Last.fm up his sleeve. They were working on Last.fm for five years before they really knew it was a success, and during that time lived lives that won't have sounded unfamiliar to lots of people in the room: they ran out of money, moved the office into Michael's flat, realised they had nowhere to sleep, and so, in true hacker fashion, put up tents on his balcony. If anything, this was a good thing for the business; 'it meant everyone got in to work early', Michael pointed out.

He also had some great insights about how to handle things as your company grows, and some words of warning, too; for instance, to take user feedback with a pinch of salt. On one occasion, someone wrote to them to congratulate them on the great music recommendations Last.fm was producing; but upon investigation, it turned out their system had crashed and they'd been doling out random songs. People hear what they want to hear.

The idea for RjDj, he explained, actually came to him before that for Last.fm; but the iPhone was no more than a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye, so Michael, having written a prototype of the software, had to strap together a laptop and a couple of microphones and embark on a run around London to try it out. Realising he was a few years too early for this technology, he thought, 'if I couldn't personalise the song, I'd personalise the sequence of songs.' And so Last.fm was born.

Michael's got some really exciting ideas about the way the music industry might go, and that was fascinating to hear for the music startups in the room - but his general words of wisdom about how to (and sometimes how not to) run a startup were invaluable for everyone there. Keep the Founders Secrets coming.

(I wrote an article about Michael in The Spectator - check it out here.)

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