Episode 63 — Jake Kerber of Locusic

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Geoff Wood: Welcome to the Welch Avenue Show, episode Number 63!

Our guest today is Jake Kerber, the founder of “Pandora for local music”-startup Locusic.

Before we talk to Jake, I want to remind you that this Sunday is the Iowa Hour at SXSW. It’s our state’s big showcase on the national stage that is that mega-SXSW conference in Austin. If you’ll be in Austin this weekend and you’re listening to this podcast, you are exactly the type of person that should come to the Iowa Hour — details are at iowahour.co.

And now on to episode 63 with Jake Kerber!

Geoff Wood: Jake, welcome back to the Welch Avenue Show. You’ve been on the show a couple of times, yes?

Jake Kerber: Yup.

Geoff Wood: Most recently in our state-of-the-now monster podcast with Ben McDougal. We talked a little bit about Locusic and what you’re building there.

Jake KerberYeah, a couple minutes.

Geoff Wood: I want you to tell folks in general what Locusic is and what you’re up to.

Jake KerberAll right. The high-level pitch that I give people is that it’s Pandora for local bands. It’s basically a music streaming and discovery service for … focused on musicians in a user’s local area. If you log on to Locusic in Des Moines, you’ll hear music from bands that are based out of the Central Iowa area.

Geoff Wood: Are you going to make it?

Jake Kerber: I’m going to make it. I’m shivering…

Geoff Wood: It’s pretty showing here right now, yeah. No, I think that makes sense and the history of Locusic, it started at a start-off weekend, right?

Jake KerberYeah.

Geoff Wood: What year was that?

Jake KerberThat was 2011. It was March, 2011. It’s been a while.

Geoff Wood: Coming up on the 4th anniversary?

Jake Kerber: Coming up in 4 years. Yeah.

Geoff Wood: Yeah, that’s pretty cool. You’ve expanded Locusic to just be in Minneapolis or Des Moines and Minneapolis basically.

Jake Kerber: Pretty much, yeah. Central Iowa and the Minneapolis area, yup.

Geoff Wood: What’s taken so long to go big with this?

Jake KerberRight. People ask me that all the time. Like, “Hey, have you had any more new CDs yet or … ” and it’s not that I can’t or couldn’t, it would be easy to launch a new CD. I just … I don’t want to scale yet until I’m closer to product market fit basically. I want to make sure that there’s real value there, that the users are coming back regularly, that I’m providing a service that people really want, both the bands and the users and the listeners. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense to try and scale at this point, to try and grow it until I’m at that point.

Geoff Wood: How are you getting there?

Jake KerberI’m doing a lot of experiments. I am watching metrics, I’m doing … I’m getting better at watching metrics. Anyways, the key thing I’m focusing on is user retention. If a user signs up for Locusic and they listen to some music in 1 particular month, do they come back the following month? Is there enough there that interests them, that intrigues them to bring them back again? Right now there’s not. I want to make sure that I … I want to keep trying different things and figure out what it is that people really want and I’m doing a lot of customer discovery talking to users and bands and figuring out what it is that they like about Locusic, what it is that they use other music-related services for and trying to figure out where Locusic can fit in the whole music ecosystem.

Geoff Wood: That makes sense. Is there a concern that you’re not growing fast enough to capture the market?

Jake KerberThat would be … I don’t know. That has been a concern in the back of my mind for a while. I don’t really know how to address is though.

Geoff Wood: Really?

Jake KerberYeah.

Geoff Wood: What’s your next step? This has been a side project. You consult full-time, right?

Jake Kerber: Right. That’s a big piece of it. I’ve got a family; wife and kids.

Geoff Wood: Bunch of family.

Jake KerberFull-time consulting business besides Locusic, so yeah, if I could focus 100% of my time on Locusic, that would be wonderful, but it’s just not realistic right now.

Geoff Wood: Do you want to?

Jake Kerber: I would love to, yeah.

Geoff Wood: Yeah. Just the whole not making money part about it, yeah?

Jake KerberYeah, that part of it.

Geoff Wood: Which is a big concern. I don’t know how we address that or you address that.

Jake Kerber: Aside from trying to find some kind of seed investment, that would be about the only way, and most of the advice in that area, at least in the Midwest is make it something first before trying to get money and that’s what I’ve been doing.

Geoff Wood: Do you think there’s a pivot in the future since you’ve been at this and haven’t been able to bring everything together yet?

Jake Kerber: I don’t know. A lot of the things I’m doing are like mini-pivots. It’s been basically just essentially random radio of local bands and some of the things that I have planned will be having significant different types of functionality to the system. I’m not sure. I think it’s just I just need to do more.

Geoff Wood: Pivoting off that question a little bit, is there something … as you’ve been developing this over the years, is there a … Has there been a function of the site where users have really logged on to that that surprised you more than what was in your initial plan or business plan or … 

Jake Kerber: So far not really. The biggest … It’s been pretty much as I expected. I would have liked more traffic I suppose, but people … I expect people to be surprised when they find out how much music there is in a local area and they are. It’s hard for me to come up with something that I’ve really been surprised.

Geoff Wood: How many bands are on the site, on the system right now?

Jake KerberWithin Central Iowa which is basically a 50 mile radius around Des Moines, they’re over 200 bands and I think that’s probably around, I don’t know, 20% of the bands that are actually out there.

Geoff Wood: Are you constantly on-boarding the bands and what’s that process like?

Jake Kerber: Yeah, I am, and I go in spurts just as I feel the need. That process is pretty much either me going up to shows and just talking to bands or just reaching out to them on social media, go to their Facebook page and say, “Hey, Locusic is the thing. You should check it out,” and sometimes they do and it’s typical; sales process thing. A certain percentage do and some just ignore it.

Geoff Wood: Yeah. I think it’s really admirable that you’ve stuck with it. I think a lot of people who had a side project this long have given up on it and not really seen the future. It’s cool that you’re still doing that. What is it that … so you started with the Startup Weekend. Did that team stick with you for any length of time?

Jake KerberNo.

Geoff Wood: No? Okay.

Jake KerberNo, they … It was all pretty … It’s pretty much unanimous among the rest of the team that they just did the Startup Weekend just to try it out and network with people and none of them really had an idea of wanting to build the startup beyond the weekend.

Geoff Wood: Did you win that Startup Weekend?

Jake Kerber: No. I think it was like 3rd.

Geoff Wood: 3rd?

Jake KerberYeah.

Geoff Wood: Okay. I remember that one. That was over at the Des Moines Amplified/Greater Des Moines Partnership building.

Jake KerberYes.

Geoff Wood: Not very … Just interesting that it’s still going. You’re from Minneapolis originally, so that’s why you’re spread up there. 

Jake KerberRight, right.

Geoff Wood: Similar-sized, similar amount of bands in the system up there?

Jake Kerber: The music scene is obviously way larger in Minneapolis but a lot fewer bands on the system in Minneapolis than in Des Moines just because I have more connections in Des Moines.

Geoff Wood: Yeah, so you would almost need someone on the ground, going to shows like you said up there to … 

Jake KerberRight, or just me making a priority of it. I suppose I could probably do a better job of reaching out to Minneapolis bands, but again at this point that’s more of a scaling issue and I’m not really … It’s not really … Scaling isn’t all that important to me right now I guess.

Geoff Wood: Okay. I guess in lots of situations you see people trumpet the idea of needing 2 founders for a team.

Jake KerberRight.

Geoff Wood: Locusic just has 1 founder.

Jake KerberCorrect.

Geoff Wood: Why have you made that decision and do you think it would be different if there were 2 of you?

Jake KerberRight. I’ve definitely heard the same thing and from earlier on in Locusic’s history, I’m actually kind of looked … I’ve thought about looking for co-founders or other people to join the team at that level and it’s been 1 of the … First of all, it’s just difficult to do. I don’t know if it’s … I think it’s more difficult in the Midwest than it would be in say Silicon Valley just because people don’t have that mindset.

Geoff Wood: Sure.

Jake Kerber: Also I have a lot of history doing IT work. I’ve done pretty much all the software development and also the business side of Locusic because I have another business, so I’ve got business experience and software development experience. There’s a struggle, like do I need a co-founder or not? I thought about both ways, do I just … Since I have the abilities, do I just go it my own or do I bring on somebody else? The key benefits to bringing on somebody else would be just someone to share the work and then also to motivate you and get you to keep at it and keep building, like having a partner to go to the gym with.

Geoff Wood: Accountability?

Jake Kerber: Accountability.

Geoff Wood: Yup.

Jake Kerber: Exactly. I just haven’t found anybody that’s the right fit for Locusic. I may be able to think about it more seriously if I did.

Geoff Wood: Yeah. It’s similar with Gravitate. I’ve noticed that as a solo founder, we’re not of a tech startup but it’s this project that there will always be more to it than I can handle. It will take everything that I will give it but it doesn’t feed my family either, so I’ve got to do other things on top of that. I totally get where you’re coming from and sometimes it would be nice … like we were just talking about this past weekend, it would have been great during that weekend to have somebody here but I was not feeling well, so I could not physically be here and there was no one to call and be like, “Hey, can you take this one?” That type of thing.

Jake Kerber: Yeah.

Geoff Wood: It would be nice to have that shared responsibility and accountability. I have a lot of people that work on pieces of what I do but nobody that works wholly with me and at times I’ve thought about that. I don’t really … Not hiring a co-founder, that’s probably the wrong term, but merging up with somebody and I just don’t even know who that be.

Jake Kerber: Oh yeah.

Geoff Wood: I’ve never found somebody that … and courting a co-founder to jump in. Yeah, it’s almost like, “Let’s get married without me already having known you or dated you or anything,” because you’re starting with that commitment and equal commitment…

Jake Kerber: Yeah. A lot of times when new startups … 

Geoff Wood: Chris is laughing over there.

Jake Kerber: … form and they have multiple co-founders, those co-founders have already worked together before. 

Geoff Wood: Yeah.

Jake Kerber: They don’t just form for the purposes of this new startup. I’ve talked to other people too about the need for multiple founders and generally if you’re … The consensus I get from a lot of those people is that if you’re older and you have the experience and you can do all the different things, you don’t really … The importance of having a co-founder isn’t as important. When people talk about startups, they’re usually talking about people in their early 20s forming startups and I definitely am not that. The people that don’t have a lot of experience yet in different areas.

Geoff Wood: Can you talk a little bit about the group that you formed for … 

Jake Kerber: Yes. I wanted to get into that. The other piece of why having a co-founder would be nice is that whole accountability aspect and making sure that you’re actually moving forward on something. What I did is I wanted some of that accountability and I posted out something to the Iowa, the Startup Iowa Facebook Group.

Geoff Wood: Yeah.

Jake Kerber: Yeah, saying, “Hey, who would be interested in joining the group with me to make sure we actually move forward on our startups?” and specifically for part-time founders; people who have a day job like I do, because I think those … If you’re working on your startup full-time, that’s what you’re working on and you know you’re moving forward on it, but if your startup is more of considerably a side project, it’s harder to keep that motivation. There was a lot of interest in that and we did form a group. We’ve met several times. We’re actually meeting this afternoon again. 

There’s about 5 or 6 of us in that 1 particular group and we meet basically stand-up style, like stand-up meeting where we go around the table and say, “This is what I committed to do last week and this is what I’ve gotten done and this is what I intend to do by the next meeting. If I have any specific questions I’d like to pause to the group, “Hey, have you guys run into this problem? How did you solve it?”” That kind of thing. This is meant to be real quick. The hope is that it would be like 15 minutes and that’s it, and then everybody just get back to their work. Basically it just keeps a fire under everyone.

Geoff Wood: How often do you guys meet?

Jake Kerber: We originally were going to meet every week but since then we’ve dialed it back to once every 2 weeks.

Geoff Wood: Okay. Do you meet Google Hangout or what’s the formula?

Jake Kerber: Yeah. Some of us are at Gravitate so we meet in 1 of the rooms and then we also opened up a Google Hangout for the people that can’t meet us here.

Geoff Wood: How’s it going?

Jake Kerber: It’s going really well. Actually the thing I committed to doing the last time, I’ve gotten done and I know what I want to commit to the next time and it’s been helpful. It’s helped me get going maybe a little more faster than I would have otherwise.

Geoff Wood: Are you taking more people for the group or … ?

Jake Kerber: How I want to do it is I don’t want to go any more than 7 people. I think the ideal size of a group is between 3 and 7 people and if we get more than that then we’ll split them off into multiple groups, but there is a Facebook group. I think it’s closed or secret, whichever one that is that’s just about the logistics of managing those different groups so that those people can say, “Okay, we’re going to meet here at this time,” and so anybody is welcome to join that group or send a message to me or … 

Geoff Wood: How should they find it? Message you?

Jake Kerber: Probably message me for now. That should probably be an easier way to find it.

Geoff Wood: Is there a name for the group that they can … 

Jake Kerber: It’s ‘Startup founders support groups’ I think is what it’s called.

Geoff Wood: Okay. Not necessarily people in Iowa. It doesn’t have to be … 

Jake Kerber: It wouldn’t have to be, no.

Geoff Wood: That’s very cool.

Jake Kerber: That whole thing could be a Startup Weekend project on its own or a new startup, just managing a system like that for startup founders to … 

Geoff Wood: Charity Hackathon founders coming up. This is not officially a charity.

Jake Kerber:

Geoff Wood: Yeah, it’s not a for-profit entity I guess. It’s not any entity.

Jake Kerber: It could be.

Geoff Wood: Yeah, that’s true. It could be.

Jake Kerber: Somebody could take that idea… 

Geoff Wood: Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids is coming up… Yeah. No, I think that’s really cool and I’m excited to see long-term how that works out and if there are metrics you can point to of this many people got this amount of work done. I think that would be an interesting guest post or something that’s important for you to write. Kind of people show that, maybe you’re reflective in your own startup and how that’s worked. Short of that, the consulting business, is there anything you want to share about what’s going on there or?

Jake Kerber: I’m actually looking for a new gig right now.

Geoff Wood: You’ve contracted with a lot of the major employers that do contracting here in town?

Jake Kerber: Yeah, in the Des Moines area, yeah. That one’s just wrapping up with it at the end of February so I’m just looking around, seeing what’s next. I’m reaching out a little bit more. I’m seeing if it might be possible to do some remote work from any company anywhere really but … 

Geoff Wood: Very good.

Jake Kerber: We’ll see.

Geoff Wood: All right. If there’s … We’ll wrap up with this. If there’s one thing that folks can do to help you with Locusic at this point, what would our audience be able to do for you?

Jake Kerber: Use the app and give me some feedback.

Geoff Wood: Okay. You can use it wherever you are or just in those 2 markets?

Jake Kerber: You can use it … It’s focused just in those 2 areas but you can always, for now at least, set your home ZIP code to 50309 which is Des Moines and then Locusic always lets you listen to your current location or your home location.

Geoff Wood: Okay. Very cool.

Jake Kerber: Yeah.

Geoff Wood: All right Jake. Thanks for stopping in. Thanks.