John Fiorello founded RecordME with his wife, Karie, in an effort to provide affordable studio recordings of live events to musicians, schools, churches, and live music venues all over the world. With a background in music, A/V design engineering, and touring, Mr. Fiorello invented the very first RecordME appliance, published a paper on the design through Audio Engineering Society, and currently is developing new hardware that will allow remote musicians to participate in live shows through VR/AR/3D gaming platforms. He would love to connect with you on LinkedIn if you send him a direct message.
Please tell us a little bit about your company – what is RecordME all about?
RecordME is all about helping musicians make money making music. As the CD sales disappeared and streaming revenue didn’t keep up, indie musicians have been having a terrible time trying to make music full time. RecordME allows artists to monetize their live shows by providing a high-rez studio mixed and mastered recording of their show they can sell to double the amount of money they’ll make each night so they can focus on their music and give up their day jobs!
Please tell us a little bit about your background and how you started your company?
When my oldest daughter was just starting to play music, I had a chance to attend a concert where I saw hundreds of parents trying to get a recording of the performance through their cell phones. They were missing the show because of the technology, I didn’t have enough space on my phone to record the performance, the distance (and acoustics in the gym) made for a terrible recording, and though I wanted to offer my production companies services, there was no way the school could have afforded us. I wished there was a way we could provide a great recording of the event to all the parents so they could just sit back and enjoy the show and be present in the moment. We searched for a solution for a few months but there wasn’t anything out there… so we asked ourselves if it was something we could build. We spent a few months to put together a prototype and it was awesome. The school loved it, more schools signed up to use it, and we saw the potential it had to help more than just school musicians make money making music.
What are some of the projects you are working on right now?
We pivoted during COVID to add a streaming service to our hardware so artists could perform to live audiences while venues were shut down. Now that we’ve gotten that working, we are in the process of providing a way for the hardware to motion-capture the band and represent their likeness in 3D game video platforms (similar to Fortnite). The biggest difference is that we can make this work for the small, indie musician, school, church, or venue without the high costs only superstars can afford.
Quickly describe what an average working day is like for you?
I’m currently spending most of my day scouring Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram to find great people who want to help us build RecordME. If that’s something you’re interested in and you’re located in the North East of the USA, please send me a message on LinkedIn!
What would you say are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur, and why?
1. Entrepreneurs need to be flexible. Nothing you start ends up the way you imagined it would. You should use the word PIVOT at least once a day because you’re going to constantly need to adjust what you’re doing as you discover what works and what doesn’t work. Don’t be afraid to try new things and fail quickly.
2. You need to be willing to learn from other people. No one comes up with a perfect company from scratch, and along the way you’ll need to interact and learn from mentors who have gone before you. If you think you’ve got a perfect plan that just needs someone to execute it for you, I’d suggest giving up now (or getting involved with some type of startup community so you can learn how to be a good learner).
3. You need to actually get something accomplished. Great ideas are just that, ideas. Ideas without execution are worthless. Your startup will succeed or fail based on the effort you put into it and if you don’t get started, you’ll never find out what doesnt work, you’ll never pivot, and you’ll never fail. If you can’t fail on the regular, you’re not going to be able to build anything of value.
What are your plans for the future, how do you plan to grow this company?
Our goal is to build the worlds first globally distributed recording studio. We want every available engineer on the planet to be able to check into our service, connect to a live event, mix/master/engineer/stream that event, and get paid a great living doing it. While we build that back end, we want to get our hardware into the hands of as many musicians, venues, churches, and schools as possible so they can be producing live events now, especially during the COVID season where social distancing requires an online performance. But we know we can’t grow without great people, which is why I spend so much time looking for good people who love music, want to build something amazing, and want to work in a startup environment!
How are you funded? What is your best advice to entrepreneurs when it comes to raising funds?
We’re totally self-funded and I’d recommend all entrepreneurs figure out how to self-fund for as long as possible. The easiest way to raise money is to not need to raise money, so you might as well figure out how to get paid for your work up front. I run into young (at heart) entrepreneurs all the time that tell me they could do X if they just had someone give them $X. It doesn’t work that way! Build something, anything, the simpelest of MVP’s, get it out there and find people that will pay for it, and then start building it. You can growth hack almost anything if you’re building something people want. Yes, you’ll need to be creative as you develop a roadmap, but if you get involved in a startup community there will be all sorts of mentors out there willing to help guide you.
What were the top 3 mistakes you made starting your business and what did you learn from it?
1. Trade shows are great for the ego, but they can give you a false sense of demand. When we did a show in NYC, every person that came to our booth saw what we were building and they were blown away. Of course, they were! But the people coming to that show that loved what we were doing weren’t actually the people who would be purchasing our product. We ended up sinking a LOT of money into a show and getting a lot of great feedback that ended up not converting into sales. When you’re bootstrapping your finances, you need to focus on creating sales, not building a narrative. I wish we would have saved the money and put it into onboarding new customers.
2. SCORE doesn’t do this as much now, but when we got started, they really pushed us to build a traditional business plan. It ended up being a huge waste of time and energy. Startups are all about ideas that you get out of the building to test and refine. They’re not traditional businesses with known parameters that will tell you if you will succeed or not (like starting a car wash or a pizzeria). Don’t worry about building a business plan, instead just do a bunch of customer interviews, 100 at least, and find out if there are people that need what you’re building and are willing to pay for it. Once you start to talk to more than 30 people, you’ll find out where you’ve missed the mark and you’ll pivot and start building the thing people actually want which is typically not what you started off imagining.
3. We chased shiny distractions. When you’re early on in your startup, people give you all sorts of ideas and you see all sorts of markets you can chase. This usually means you don’t have a great understanding of who your customer is or what pain point you’re solving. If you have too many potential customer segments, you’ll get distracted and you’ll probably jump from one to the next as you encounter roadblocks that cause you to question your latest customer archetype. Focus early on really understanding who the target customer is, adjust that archetype as you do your 100+ customer interviews and find out what the real pain points are, and then focus on that one customer until you have revenue. Then you can look at expanding to the next customer segment. The more segments you try to reach, the more distracted you’ll be, and you don’t want to find yourself chasing customers.
How do you go about marketing your business and what has been the most successful form of marketing for you?
We’re still trying to figure this out. We’ve spent time marketing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. We’ve found that each service requires a different spin based on the different types of communities they attract. When we first started, we’d put together an ad and share it across services. Now, we come up with an idea, then tailor the idea for each service. We’ve seen much better engagement with this method. Also, I’d suggest starting with just one service and building an audience there before adding a second or third service. Start with the one that has your most likely customers and ignore the rest until you’re ready to hire someone that will just do your marketing for you.
What was the best business advice you have ever received and who gave you this advice?
The best business advice I’ve ever received cam from my dad, via my mom, who said “You know what your father says… ‘Nothing is impossible, it just hasn’t been done yet.'” Every time I come up against a barrier or problem that looks unsolvable, I remember what my dad said and then start the work of figuring out how to solve the problem. There’s always a solution, there’s always a way around an obstacle, and with enough time to creatively thing about solutions, you’ll eventually find it.
Say I was starting my own version of RecordME what advice do you have for me?
Please, do it because you love music, love musicians, and want to see them succeed. Too many companies in the music industry exist to take advantage of artists and make money off them. We see this over and over again as the largest artists realize they still don’t own their masters (Prince or Kanye or Swift come to mind). The music industry is changing and we can make it more fair for the young and independent artists if we exist to help them. We’re a supporter of the value-for-value model where artists are directly supported by their fans and if you can make technology that can make that relationship work, you’re going to do well for artists, venues, labels, and the industry as a whole.
What are the top 3 online tools and resources you’re currently using to grow your company?
1. Every startup should create a free account with Udacity and take Steve Blanks’ course on the Business Model Canvas. It’s free, modules are broken up into 5 minute videos, and it will be the BEST help you can get without participating in a mentorship program or accelerator.
2. Use LinkedIn to connect with startup mentors and take advantage of their office hours. There are so many people willing to help you with your business IF you reach out and you’re respectful of their time and feedback.
3. Subscribe to several newsletters in your vertical so you can stay up to date on what’s going on in your industry. You can then take segments of each newsletter to respond with your thoughts on the news and use it as content for your social media posts.
What’s your definition of success?
If we can help musicians make enough money that they can quit their day job, we’ve done our job. If we can help a musician focus on making music without having to give away the rights to their music, we’ve done our job. If we can connect fans in a meaningful way where they feel like their directly supporting the artists they love, we’ve done our job!
What are three books or courses you recommend for entrepreneurs?
1. I mentioned it before, but I’ll mention it again. Steve Blank on The Business Model Canvas. It’s a must-watch (and free with Udacity). I don’t recommend the book (ain’t nobody got time for that).
2. The founders dilemma. You don’t need to read it thouroughly (and you don’t need to read the footnotes), but a solid skim should get you familiar with the idea of balancing founder control with growth/income that every startup needs to understand as early as possible.
3. When I teach a basic business course at the local community college, I have my students read the book Angel by Jason Calacanis. It’s a fun and easy read that gives a good perspective of what’s going on in the minds of investors as they look at your startup. If you’re thinking about raising money, you should definitely take the time for the quick read.
If you had the chance to start your career over again what would you do differently?
I would spend more time doing customer interviews! You really don’t know if what you’re building is what people want until you talk to 100+ people. Anything less than that and you’re just channeling inner bias. Don’t let yourself lie to yourself about how awesome what you are building is. Let other people tell you, let other people guide you, and let other people tell you what their pain points are so you can solve them. It’s always better to be working on fixing their problems than it is to have a great solution nobody wants.
What is your favorite entrepreneurship quote?
Ideas are worthless, execution is key.