Robert Hatcher’s passion for music led him to a new stage to perform: pitch competitions. The Georgia State MBA student is pursuing grad school while simultaneously building his startup, Soundcollide.
“Entrepreneurship means creating your own lane, to either create value for yourself or to provide value for others,” shares Hatcher.
The one-year-old Soundcollide, a collaborative online studio that allows artists to record and create music together from different locations in real time, has won over $20,000 through pitch competitions — and recently garnered acceptances to both the competitive “It Takes A Village” scholarship program at Atlanta Tech Village and Comcast NBCUniversal’s accelerator program, The Farm.
Hatcher shares his insights on securing these valuable funding and mentorship opportunities, as well as the startup’s move into the emerging field of blockchain within the music tech industry.
What problem are you solving with Soundcollide?
I used to write music, and many of my friends are artists. From those personal experiences, I realized that getting together to collaborate when creating music always presented its own difficulties, whether it was because someone’s on the other side of town, there’s traffic, whatever the case may be. I began researching to see if the technology was even possible to create an online recording studio for real-time collaboration.
For the artist, it allows more of an ownership. It’s essentially a two-sided marketplace… it creates more independence and control to ultimately produce music faster and more efficiently by minimizing the logistics involved. Then we’re actually going to partner with music studios, our assumption being that it will create a new revenue stream for them to work with not only the people that can come to their physical location but those online.
What impact does this present on the intellectual property side of music production?
When artists record on our platform, we ask users whether it’s a “work for hire” or a “co-collaboration” to reduce stealing in the studio and protect artists’ work. We then take the data from the collaborative sessions of every action, noting who made what changes. They then have the option to a complete a split sheet, which is a document that outlines the percentage of ownership. We take that information and put it on the blockchain to create that proof of existence, so that if anyone attempts to steal a record from another user, you can refer to the original agreement.
Who are your competitors and how do you stand out from them?
I don’t have any direct competitors. There’s a lot of indirect competitors that can evolve to do what I do. In the digital rights management space, there are about five key companies that are growing and sprouting. We’re all different though, simply because the technology is so new and unfamiliar, and therefore, all of our approaches of using blockchain as a capability to record and manage are different. Whether you want to use ethereum, bitcoin, smart contracts, they’re all new and volatile, so we must figure out which technologies are most viable for the consumer.
What challenges have you encountered in pitch competitions?
There are not a ton of investors in the music tech space, so therefore there isn’t a ton of domain knowledge from the judges. Judges have approached me saying, “I loved the pitch, but I just don’t understand the industry.” It can be frustrating when you spend so much time explaining the industry that you’ve limited the amount of time to actually focus on your value proposition. There have been times where I’ve been passed up for a bio-tech company, for example, simply because that particular industry is more familiar to judges.
How have you maneuvered around those difficulties?
I’ve been told, “It’s not their job to know it. It’s your job to communicate it.” It can be difficult to explain an industry thoroughly with a limited amount of time, but if you practice communicating, you will be a more effective speaker for judges to better understand your industry.
How does pitching as a pre-launch startup affect your presentation in competitions?
It is difficult to compete against founders that have a tangible outcome versus me speaking about estimations. What I really try to focus on is not necessarily having that tangible product or service but highlighting the business development side. As a pre-launch, we have these partnerships in place and other things of that nature to prove our market demand without even having customers.
What advice can you offer to others that are hesitant to pitch as a pre-launch startup?
Pitch as soon as possible. An idea can change over time, but that experience pitching will help you to better communicate those ideas and pivots. Even in a pre-mature stage, there is still that possibility of securing funding to bring those ideas to fruition as you prepare to launch.
Despite all the other funding options, why should founders participate in pitch competitions?
Not only are you getting the opportunity to practice communicating your value proposition, you can earn money to help fund those entrepreneurial ambitions. Secondly, it’s viable way to raise money for your company. There is ton of competition for grant money and other sources of funding. With pitch competitions, it’s free money without having to take out loans or give away equity.
How is your location in Atlanta important to your startup story?
Atlanta is the best garden to nurture this kind of venture. If you look at the largest successes in the music tech industry, they come from Sweden — like Spotify and Soundcloud. Atlanta is the current music capital, so it makes sense to create a music platform that can actually lead innovation and help artists to gain independence and generate revenue. I feel that there’s no better environment in the world than Atlanta to create this.
What are your goals for the next six months?
In the next six months we’ll being testing different pricing strategies to see what incentivizes music artists, our consumer.
Lexie Newhouse is the Social Media Coordinator at Georgia State University’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute.