I recently connected to Zachary and asked him some questions.
What is your first memory of music?
Growing up, my parents always had music playing around the house so you could say I was exposed at a very young age. Anything from classic U2, Bruce Hornsby, and Sade are some of my earliest memories of music.
One of the biggest challenges for musicians, promoters, venues, is getting people to leave their houses, to spend the time, energy and money getting to, and into an event.†What do you think are some things people can do to entice people to get out?
Itís all about the experience. Itís like you just said, how do you get people to leave their houses, travel, take the time and energy, and ultimately spend their hard earned cash on somethingÖ By creating a great experience and going the extra mile to connect with your fans, supporters, patrons, whomever, it will go a long way.
What frustrates you about current live music events?
This isnít a blanket statement that can be used across ALL live music events, but I think weíve seen a huge shift towards people trying to make a quick dollar off of events, especially if you look into the EDM world. People are trying to get in quick, cash out, and they donít really seem to have a focus on creating a lasting positive experience for their patrons. People are being herded around like cattle, charged $7 for a 20oz bottle of water, and at times are mistreated by staff or security. There are often just as many people who have frustrating experiences at live music events, as there are people who have positive ones.
How can promoters persuade people to go out of their front door and attend events?
Show them what kind of experience they will have. Paint a picture for them. So many festivals do a great job with this. If you look at the media created around Lightning in a Bottle for example, you feel like you were there and can fully understand what it would be like even if you haven’t been. This immersive digital experience helps drive the real-world festival experience and ultimately ticket sales.
What other challenges do you see in the music / entertainment industry?
Ensuring artists can be fairly compensated for their creative works. Not relying on algorithms to suggest what you should be listening to but providing more of a human element. Connecting the music community together to foster conversation and sharing of all of the content that gets released daily. Giving up and coming artists a platform to be able to get their music into the ears of the people who want to hear it most. These are all the challenges we are currently working to fix.
What did you do before starting Illumie? Have you organised events, promoted musicians, worked at a venue / label / management company...?
My career in the music business started through an internship with Atlantic Records back in 2007. I was responsible for the marketing and promotion of their Urban division artists which included Lupe Fiasco, DJ Drama, Trey Songz, and FloRida. Because of my IT background, I built up a music site called ImFlashy (it no longer exists, 2008-2014) to give artists an opportunity to breakthrough the noise and share music I was into with friends. I’ve had the opportunity to interview artists like DJ Premier, Paper Diamond, Steve Aoki, Tommy Lee, and others as well. It wasn’t until the last year or two where I really wanted to take the next step and create a platform that gives music lovers the ability to connect and stay up to date with everything that gets released daily while also discovering new music.
What or who gave you the confidence to start your own company? Is it the first company (you) started? When / Why did you start it?
I like creating things from scratch so it was a no-brainer to try and build my own company. I’m an Entrepreneur at heart and have been since I was young so it was a seamless transition for me. illumie will be my third company – before was ImFlashy and then I started a creative agency that focused on digital work: websites, videos, and photos.
What did you learn whilst starting and running your first 2 companies that you applied / are applying to / putting into practice at illumie? What was the name of the creative agency? How far did you go with / What happened to the 2 companies? Why did you move on from them and start a 3rd?
You learn so much when you decide to start & run your own company and there are a lot of things you take with you onto future endeavors. With my first two companies, the staff was primarily made up of friends and I can tell you that running a business with friends is always hard. You have to make decisions that can impact the business or ultimately your friendship in a negative way. Another thing is communication and this is the most important in my opinion and one I've tried to improve on constantly. If you set expectations & communicate effectively with your staff, the results are always much better. My creative agency was called Wava Media (now defunct). At my previous website, ImFlashy, my business partner and I had a lot of differences and once I realized we weren't on the same page, I knew it was in my best interest to move on, move forward, and build something new. The same thing happened with my creative agency - I decided to save my friendships and ultimately sold the company to those friends.
Who else is involved in illumie? How did you meet? Who does what? Who’s been responsible for the design / development of the website?
We have a core team of 5 people involved in the day-to-day operations of illumie and we all connected over our love of music and what we are trying to accomplish for the industry. Our design/development was all done in-house and was a coordinated team effort.
Could you go into more detail? Did you all meet at the same time? How did the germ of the idea of illumie come about? Did you go looking for the rest of the 5 members? Who does what / what skills and experience did you each bring to the illumie project?
My co-Founder and I met in Chicago through a mutual group of friends. She had the same passion for music and technology that I did and so we immediately began to discuss the industry, what's missing, and how we see it evolving. The rest is history and we ultimately came together to build illumie. Our Art Director happens to be my brother who is also a Graphic Designer for Nike so it was a no brainer to get him involved. Our Director of Marketing came to us from Universal Music Group here in Los Angeles. He shared our same vision and wanted to lend a hand however he could so we brought him on board and he's been a great asset to us. Last but not least, our developer Maciek we had to seek out.
The idea of illumie came to us once we realized that all of our friends were trying to share and discuss music through email. Email is no place for that we thought so we decided to build something better for music lovers all over the world who are in the same position as us. One community for people to be able to share, discuss, and connect with one another.
What do you enjoy most about starting and running your own company?
The excitement. Your future is in your hands and not in the hands of someone else. You have to be willing to wear many hats and constantly change and adapt – every day isn’t the same as the day prior and that is thrilling.
What are your biggest challenges starting, managing and growing the company?
There are so many challenges when you start your own company, especially unforeseen challenges. You have to research, have a lot of patience, tenacity, and really a passion for what you are doing because if you aren’t passionate about it, you will crash and burn. The challenges come in phases too – you have your challenges putting the pieces of the company together. Once the puzzle is together you have challenges keeping it together and making sure it runs smoothly. Growth requires additional capital so that you can market appropriately, deploy new features, and continue to provide a great experience for users.
What have you done to grow / market / promote the company? Or have you let your customers / clients do it for you?
So far our growth has been through organic methods. This includes word of mouth, creating exclusive content with artists, events, and festivals. We also just launched our college campus Brand Ambassador program at several universities across the States in order to give college students a better music experience than what they are used to.
How have you funded it so far?
We are entirely bootstrapped thus far but are seeking additional capital to progress to our next step.
What do you do for musicians?
As a musician, your goal is to get your music in front of as many people as possible - people who enjoy the same kind of music that you create. Often times this can be difficult and most musicians have to resort to emailing websites and blogs where their messages fall on deaf ears and go ignored. We didn’t like this process because we felt that the decision shouldn’t be in the gatekeepers hand, it should be in the hand of the people. illumie gives artists the opportunity to share their music with the community, which then gets categorized based on the type of music it is.
This way, our users who have selected those genres within their music preferences will see it and have the chance to discover something new. No middleman deciding the musicians’ fate. Not only can they share their music, but it also allows them to connect with other music lovers like themselves and build new relationships.
Who are you thinking about most when developing the company - musicians or fans?
Both. They go hand in hand and each side of the spectrum can benefit from utilizing our service.
What did you learn in 2015? What are you learning at the moment? What have you yet to learn?
We have learned so much since the launch of our beta in June 2015. How people are utilizing the platform, what they want to have in terms of future features, what they’re not using, etc. It’s been a great experience so far and it really has allowed us to connect with our audience and involve them in the process of shaping the platform.
Who has used illumie most effectively?
Music lovers have used our service most effectively thus far. It allows them to stay up to date with what’s happening in the music world based on their specific tastes and alleviates the pain of having to spend a lot of time browsing website after website.
What impact do you think / hope illumie will have on the music industry?
Our mission is two fold: help music lovers be able to stay up to date with music content that aligns with their specific tastes while being able to share their findings with friends. The other side of our mission is to be able to give musicians a simple and effective platform to get their music in front of the people who want it the most. We are creating a digital experience and giving fans the opportunity to really connect on a deeper level with musicians and people in the industry.
What do you hope to achieve in 2016 / in the next 3 years?
This year our goal is to refine the platform and jump into the mobile space. If we’re talking long term, illumie will be the platform that connects music lovers and musicians together with a focus on the entire experience they wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere.
What would or who could help you to reach and exceed your goals?
Anyone who agrees with our mission and what we’re trying to accomplish. Music lovers or musicians, if you are interested in learning more, give us a shout. We are building this for the music communities that exist all over the world.