Working with entrepreneurs all day every day produces a certain fixation with what is most important to their survival. Unfourtunately, what is best for the business may not (in the short run) be what is best for its founders. Constantly, with existing operating businesses, there is the challenge of how much to compensate the owners and be fair about it. With start-ups, the goal is to get to the place that one can get paid at all.
Recently, I ran across the story of Vinyl Me, Please. This new business is seeking to capitalize on the revived appreciation of vinyl records. While the number of records sold nationally has increased each of the past five years andby over 17% in 2012, the co-founders are trying to realize the benefit of the trend in their own business and wallets. They still are not earning a living from their efforts, though the prospects of doing so are better than at any prior point.
Jeff Cornwall at Belmont University writes that, “The niche that Vinyl Me, Please fills is to bring new and interesting music to a new generation of vinyl record enthusiasts. Each month the subscribers to Vinyl Me, Please are sent a brand new, hand-wrapped vinyl album from a relatively undiscovered artist. In addition to the monthly vinyl record, subscribers are assigned a personal music consultant who gets to know their musical tastes and preferences. Every month the consultant creates a personalized playlist specific to each subscriber. Vinyl Me, Please brings together in one service what today’s young music enthusiasts want. Their customers love the sound of vinyl, they like to interact on social media with friends about new music to try, and they like the surprise factor they get from services like Pandora.”
As a daily user of Pandora (and demographic that grew up with LPs), I can truly appreciate this business concept. Interesting to every new venture is how to make the most of market trends to create customer experiences that are profitably delivered and fun to pursue. Cornwall observes of the Vinyl Me Please business model that, “although they have identified what their market wants, their model has proven to be a challenge to scale to a large enough size to pay the founders a consistent salary. They need to grow to at least 700 subscribers to reach this important milestone.”
He goes on to provide an account of his interaction with one of the co-founders, Matt Fiedler, and what he feels needs to occur next in their business development:
“The biggest challenge we face is keeping the personal touch,” says Fiedler. “We think this is what makes the experience unique to a lot of people and is something we’re going to have to fight through in order to achieve true scalability. We need to find a way to maintain a personal touch but be able to bring a massive number of customers into the system without it straining the resources of the company.”
They have recognized that it will not be possible to continue to hand wrap the albums as the business grows. They also are looking at ways to make the personal consulting more efficient.
“We have plans to set up an internal database that allows us to categorize and sort music to create a more efficient process around creating playlists,” explains Fiedler. “We are also looking at rolling out a playlist-only offering that will help us capture more users and, at the same time, start paying our consultants without dipping into the revenue that comes in from standard, full-membership subscribers.”
This commentary demonstrates the need for business launches to be very iterative, flexible, and responsive. Finding some group who will purchase your product or services is not enough; sustainability comes with staying attuned to original and ensuing target market needs.