Young People in Business: Friends launch new music app
What do you get when four friends share a love of soca music?
The result speaks for itself with the creation of Radial, a music app connecting Caribbean music lovers around the world.
Their journey to this stage was years in the making, says the team behind Radial.
Andre Thomas, CEO and founder of the app, says he met co-founder Abay Israel while the two studied at Morehouse College in Atlanta in 2003.
Thomas, a former student of Presentation College, was studying computer science and mathematics, while Israel studied economics and mathematics.
When Israel introduced Thomas to his brother, Kit, the power of three combined and would be matched by their fourth and final partner, Phoumano, who met the group in 2013 in Seattle.
Puma Thongsithavong, a mobile developer, has a wealth of experience, having worked with Fortune 500 companies like the Boeing Company, Walt Disney and Starbucks, and was able to help the team’s plans come to fruition.
It is said necessity is the mother of invention, and in this case, the saying proves true.
Thomas said when he returned to Trinidad and Tobago he had trouble finding an app which allowed him to stream music from his mobile phone.
“I spoke to Abay, who remained in the United States, about an idea to build our own ‘Pandora’. Abay though shared a different but related issue, the fact that Caribbean people abroad had a tough time connecting to home and finding the hottest music each year was a constant problem.”
“And since no one was trying to solve these problems at the time, we decided to do it ourselves. We brought Kit on board and he brought another and just as important perspective.”
“Artists and musicians in the Caribbean want to increase their outreach, and therefore their revenue streams, both at home and outside of the Caribbean and navigate a particularly challenging political climate.”
“With all those things on the tables, we partnered with top producers like Anson Soverall, collaborated with local rappers like Chromatics, and teamed up with Trini developers Anderson Homer and Nkosi Henry to create the first version of Radial in 2009.”
No growth without setbacks
Thomas is no stranger to the start-up process, having previously tried to launch a media company which did not succeed. The lessons learned however were invaluable to the creation of Radial.
The group learned that no matter how prepared or knowledgeable their team is, challenges will arise and setbacks will happen.
“Back in 2009 was a particularly hard time for us since the music and technology landscape were quite different from now.”
“We had no money, everything was paid for and done with our own sweat and tears. Do you remember Blackberry? Well at the time everyone had one and we decided that since it was the most popular smartphone on the market we had to focus on that.”
“After we spent months building it and thousands in research and development, the combination of the slow 2G network, and limited Blackberry functionality made the app almost unusable – so we scrapped it.”
“That was a tough pill to swallow and the enthusiasm that we initially all felt about the project literally died. This was a really dark time for Radial as a whole while individually we were all doing well.”
However, the group rallied through.
“We dissolved the initial company, refocused our energies and faced the reality that we were going to experience many more failures, criticisms, and rejections if we were serious about take our dream to the world.”
“Andre still saw the potential of Radial…behind the scenes a basic version of Radial for Android was created right when Digicel brought 4G to market.”
“I demoed it to Abay immediately that enthusiasm came right back. Through sheer force of will we pushed through different obstacles to get to the point where we are at now.”
Abay says the team is now backed by some Silicon Valley capital with well-known company Backstage Capital, with founder Arlan Hamilton.
The team adds that there are still some challenges in the backend, but they are constantly testing, adapting and re-testing to ensure the final product is sound.
Kit says the feedback from users has been encouraging so far.
“People love it. People abroad, locally, DJs, artists, promoters. Everyone. We are constantly getting requests for new features and capabilities.”
“People want more music, more playlists, more ways to connect to Caribbean events around them. Our friends in Jamaica have been asking us when we are planning to come over to the black, gold and green side. It’s great!”
Puma says so far the biggest complaint is that the app is not yet available for download on Android, but that will soon be fixed.
“If our greatest complaint is that we are not on Android yet, I think that means we are doing something right. Oh, and we are listening and hoping to address that complaint soon. Keep the feedback coming.”
Thomas says the team is the only Caribbean company to win Technoir 2.0 and they were also voted best in show at the HRA Expo.
“That’s the type of feedback that keeps us pushing forward,” Thomas says.
Persistence is key
The team has sound advice for other entrepreneurs looking to venture into a new business.
“Be persistent and consistent. Show up every day and make sure you have everything in place for when that opportunity is presented to you. If you do this, you’ll be most capable to capitalise on being in the right place at the right time.”
Andre said he has a thing where he says “Best of hard work” instead of “Best of luck”.
“The amount of hard work that goes on behind the ‘luck’ that you think some people were granted is astounding. Keep pushing!”
Thomas says the team used failure to help spur the project’s next phase of growth.
“Failure is part of growth. Embrace it now and move forward. Do not be afraid to start and make mistakes. Learn from them and stay focused.”
“Often fear paralyzes us to the point of inaction however what lies on the other side of fear is absolute bliss."
"Do not expect to get it right the first time and while you may feel the pressure to make things perfect, that’s not how the startups operates at the moment. Build it. Measure it. Iterate on it. Quickly! Do not wait for someone else to make your dream a priority.”
Learn to value feedback, don’t take criticisms personally
Thomas says feedback on the product is critical to improving it.
“Your users are your greatest assets; listen to them. With Radial, it is their company just as much as it is ours. Get your product out there and get feedback as soon as possible. Even though we initially built Radial to scratch our own itches, we perform user interviews constantly.”
“If something is working, then you double down on it. If something isn’t working, either iterate or get rid of it. Do not take it too personally if someone does not like what you are doing – LISTEN to what they are saying before just automatically trying to defend your position.”
Abay adds that a strong team is also key.
“Build an amazing team around you with people who are willing to share your dream and go the distance with you. It’s important to find the right team that’ll help drive and challenge each other.”
The group says although Radial is a media app, the company’s strength lies in its data mining capacity.
“We normally position Radial as a media company but behind the scenes, we are a data analytics company. We have large amounts of data that we either use to provide insights to our partners or bring additional value to our listeners through machine learning.”
The team says they recently started working with Lab TT run by Dr Patrick Hosein, a team based out of the University of the West Indies.
“As much as we went abroad to study, the talent here in Trinidad is technically astounding,” Thomas says.
The team has also partnered with online radio services and integrated their service into the app and if users like this, they’ll build on that as well.
Thomas says there’s more in the works.
“There are some other really exciting stuff that’s coming. Without saying too much, here are two little sneak peeks that we think people may enjoy: android and user videos mixed with music. Take that as you may,” he hinted.
The team says their main goal remains, which is to use music to help people connect, especially at Carnival time.
“Radial connects people within the Caribbean to Caribbean people in the diaspora that live in the US, UK and Europe and then people who have no connection to the Caribbean whatsoever but love our music.”
The group's friendship, partnership and future remains strong, stable and positive, come what may.
Thomas is also encouraging others to join their team: “If any of this motivates you as a designer, artist, producer, Brand, Corporation, developer and you share the same vision send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org this is our culture, let’s push it together.”
Congrats and good luck to you Andre, Abay, Kit, and Puma!
For more information visit the app on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pg/RadialMusic