Music, media and entertainment startups battle it out at TechPitch 4.5
You only have to visit the App Store or Google Play to see exactly how difficult founding a tech startup is in 2017. App marketplaces have made it ridiculously easy for anyone to make and sell their hard work, but the downside of this is that the whole world pretty much took Apple and Google up on their offer. You could have the best creation in the world, but unless you get noticed, you’ll struggle to prove it.
Creativity is not a problem, though, as TechPitch 4.5 proved yet again. The premise is simple: eight tech startups have three minutes to pitch their product to a team of hotshot judges and an audience of potential investors and journalists. In the end, the audience votes on their favourites and the winners (both audience and panel) receive a bottle of wine and plenty of exposure to keep growing. Pitchers and investors then go eat pizza, drink beer and hopefully take their business to the next level.
I was in the audience last night for the Music, Media and Entertainment event, while Dennis’ (Alphr’s parent company) digital development director Paul Hood was on the judging panel. As it turned out, our pick of the pitches was in perfect sync.
First up was Book a Budget Studio being pitched by Loraa White. The business model, if it weren’t immediately obvious from the name, involves taking the pain out of studio booking – both for musicians and the owners of the space. Currently, White views this as a “nightmare process,” but has real belief in her new venture: “I already know how you get a brand to the top of Google and I plan to do it again,” she says, before getting cut off by the cruelty of the three-minute timer.
Mixtape Madness were next to pick up the microphone. The business, which seeks to help urban and grime artists get spotted and recognised, has seen impressive growth over the last year, with a 67% rise in streams. On YouTube alone, the business has racked up 117 million views and clocked 180,000 subscribers. The company is, Kwabz Ayim explains, “trusted tastemakers within our niche”.
Sonarworks’ Helmut Bems gave an incredibly polished presentation – you could tell this wasn’t his first rodeo. The business aims to improve people’s headphone experience with software that automatically gets the best out of your hardware and adapts to your hearing levels. “Eighty per cent of the problem comes from the headphone,” explains Bems. “The user depends on how much hearing damage he or she has at that point.” The company is seeking €3 million to upscale development, and hire a sales team to talk to streaming companies about improving their sound quality on a person-by-person basis.
Next up was The Rattle, which aims to build a number of shared spaces for musicians and engineers throughout the UK. “There are very few places to go,” explains Chris Howard during his pitch. “If you’re an artist, you don’t go to WeWork, because it’s soul-destroying, and if you’re an engineer you don’t go to WeWork because there are no artists.” Their first answer is a 6,000ft2 space in London’s Tobacco Dock. Members would be hand-picked based on “wow factor” and professionalism and would pay £200 to £400 for the space: “We deliberately picked a price point that is a third to a half of what they spend already, but it’s enough for them to take it seriously,” Howard explains. The rest of the revenue would be made up via brands who would pay £1,000 to £5,000 per month to see the future of the music.
The next presenter was Mike Coyle from Tonik: a company looking to make musical instruments more creative and fun. The first proof of this is Pulse, a prototype of a device that attaches to an acoustic guitar and adds effects without a pedal or amp. The aim was to raise money for a Kickstarter campaign that Coyle believes will easily raise in excess of $2 million if done correctly.
Next up: United Games. Andrew Mehta, a former GameSpot sub-editor, wants to revolutionise games journalism by selling user-generated content – something he believes is “far more relevant that what is currently being offered”. I wasn’t really sold on this, despite a trial agreement for a print magazine in CeX – trying to curate a magazine without formal structures or direction to a print schedule sounds like a stretch. Not even getting into the question of writers work being sold as a physical product.
Vocsta Ltd also plans to tap into the talent of the general public, but in a very different way. Founder Lorraine Wright believes that the way to “separate good talent from the great” is via X Factor-style singing competitions, constantly happening online via smartphone auditions. It’s “about leveraging the power of social networks to explore and fund new talent,” she explains. Each stage will be themed: “There might be a movie week, or you might have a challenge week where you have to go onto the street and record a duet with a random person,” she explains. It would be monetised by the ability to invest in acts – if they make it, you’ll get a share of their revenue for three years from record sales and performances. “There would have to be watertight contracts in place,” Wright acknowledges, but to me the biggest problem is getting a big enough audience to make it worthwhile – not to mention the perpetual problem of people rigging the vote for their own amusement.
Finally, there was WARM – or the World Airplay Radio Monitor. Presented by Jesper Skibsby, the company uses exclusively licensed audio-fingerprint-recognition technology to track when a song is played on radio stations around the world. Not only does this allow artists to collect missing revenues, but it also gives them a way to geotarget fans and plan radio promotions.
All pitches done, the audience voted. I usually have terrible form with these things, but on this occasion I was in perfect sync with the judges: we both picked Sonarworks as the best pitch of the evening. Behind Sonarworks, the judges picked The Rattle and WARM as the ones to watch. The audience vote was similar, with The Rattle leapfrogging Sonarworks to claim first place.
Pitching over, the judges, investors and startup representatives went to eat pizza and talk turkey for an hour before heading home. Although winning the judge’s marks was one thing, securing cold, hard investment remains the real prize.
TechPitch 4.5 events happen almost every month. To find out about upcoming events, visit 4pt5.co.uk.