Road to Seattle: Broadjam

On April 26, 2009, five years ago this week, I arrived in Seattle, ready to start my new job as Online Marketing Manager at GameHouse (part of RealNetworks) on Monday, April 27. This is part two of the story of how I got there(read parts one and two).

Between Capital Newspapers and Broadjam, I took a two week break. Once you’re a profession working adult, there’s absolutely nothing like the in between jobs break. It’s the only time left in your life (except for retirement) when you’ll have time off with absolutely no work obligations to anyone. It’s completely stress free, and this was no different.

When the break was over, I began working for Roy Elkins, the founder of Broadjam. Broadjam has been around for a number of years, and I went it to it with great optimism. Unfortunately, after a few months, I realized that, in my opinion, they premise of the business is an unstable business model.

The premise is this: There are thousands of television shows, movies, documentaries, independent videos, etc. that need music. Sometimes they need a theme song. Sometimes they need to set a mood. Sometimes they need background music. Either way, there’s a huge need for music, and Broadjam exists to fill that need.

What Broadjam tries to do is aggregate as many musicians/bands as possible who will pay Broadjam to submit music to Broadjam’s website so that Broadjam can have a large music library. They then try to promote their existence to video and film producers as a place to find just that perfect song. They can search by genre, mood and a few other ways to basically shop for a soundtrack.

But the way Broadjam is structured, it’s largely dependent on Roy’s contacts (which appears to be somewhat the industry standard). The possibility of any music on Broadjam being discovered relies on how many people in the industry can be convinced to look at his site to find music.

While there, I’d heard cynics say (in site reviews and comments) the site preys upon the dreams of musicians who hope for that big break or a shortcut to being discovered. I think it’s an understandable conclusion, though if you know Roy, you know he’s not only an accomplished musician, but passionate about musicians, as well.

Musicians pay Broadjam to upload their music and then hope Broadjam has a system in place, which they didn’t when I was there, for their music to be found.

Five months into my tenure as Marketing Director there, I could see this wasn’t the job for me. But it took some time.

At the time, Broadjam’s infrastructure was very poor, so it was difficult to isolate and decipher even the most basic metrics. The only real number we ever had to hold on to was that the site had accumulated 85,000 members. That was also posted all over the site. It took me about four months of digging and parsing server logs before I was finally able to make some sense of what was really going on.

What I discovered is that while 85,000 people had created a membership over the 8 year existence of the company (at the time I was there), there were only 5,000 members who had logged in during the past 30 days, and not much more than that the past 60 days.

I believe if you’re going to make a solid business plan, you have to have a good handle on your base metrics so you understand the foundation upon which you’re trying to build. So armed with this new intelligence, I met with my marketing team to share some analytics about where we really are and how we’re going to build upon it.

This news didn’t discourage me. In fact, I was refreshed to have a handle on some information that could help us establish goals and metrics.

When I walked out of the room after sharing the information, Roy called me into his office and fired me.

I’ll never know exactly what his rationale was, but I’ve always suspected it was because I was shining a light on a lot of buried truths while I was there. Either way, it was a good experience.

I used to work with a guy for whom I have great respect, Mike Park, who’s now Manage Principal at Brand P, an offshoot of Planet Propaganda (a successful Madison creative agency). He’s told me many times if you haven’t been fired at least once in your career, you’re not being true to yourself. What he meant was that people who have strong beliefs and convictions and aren’t afraid to speak up, defend them and pursue them often get fired because they have disagreements with their management.

When I discovered the real numbers for Broadjam, I didn’t set out to destroy or hurt the business. I just wanted the team to understand the real numbers so we could build upon them. But for whatever reason, with no warning or suggestion that I was not performing to Roy’s expectations, he let me go.

Fortunately, like with the newspaper, I was way ahead of this. The day before, I was offered a job to work at another Madison start-up called NewTunes. Before I had even gotten home from Broadjam that night, I had accepted the job and started the next day.

My Broadjam experience was over, but I will always consider it one of the more valuable life experiences I’ve had. I’ve never met anyone ever who was anything like Roy Elkins. It gave me some insights into the ego and mentality that goes into being an entrepreneur and gave me some respect for what drives those people. It also gave me new perspective on running your own business and how to behave and treat others.

After he fired me, I wrote Roy a thank you note that I still stand by to this day. He gave me an opportunity, and I learned a great deal in those five short months.

I was part of a lot of things I’d never seen before and have not seen since, and I think it made me a better manager, a better business person and a better person because of it. But I still consider it one half of my start up experience. NewTunes was the other…

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3 Responses to Road to Seattle: Broadjam

  1. Pingback: Road to Seattle: NewTunes | Q Logic

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