building and incentivizing your team: a story of planned serendipity
We’re a few short days away from launching Moodsnap in private beta, and as I sit here reflecting back on the journey from idea conception to now having a functioning (and dare I say compelling) application, I can’t help but feel grateful for the team that made it all possible. I want to share with you how I put together a team of four people, who specialize in four distinct and much needed roles, and whom have created a great deal of shared value with minimal financial risk up front.
I am a non-technical experience creator. I am a team leader and a talent developer. I am an idea guy. For everything that I am not, I needed to find and incentivize the right people to join me on this journey of experimentation, passion, fun, and commitment around a shared vision.
Music is my lifeblood. It’s the soundtrack to my experiences, the connection to countless memories, and the fabric of new memories waiting to be sewn.
When I finished the Babson Summer Venture program last year, I had a working proof of concept Facebook App called “Expressionality”, and a work-for-hire programmer. Expressionality, in its infancy, was meant to be a niche “music dating” app for people who highly value sharing compatible music taste with their partners. I learned a tremendous amount through testing this MVP, most of all, that I no longer found the concept terribly compelling. I had uncovered valuable insights through the process and realized there was significant white space in mood and activity-based music discovery. After a couple ideation sessions, conversations, and a bit of market research, I pivoted and began working on what we will soon unveil as “Moodsnap”, an image-based music discovery app that seamlessly connects you to music that matches your taste in any situation. At the time however, I still only had one work-for-hire developer. I needed a team.
I knew there was a burgeoning music-tech scene in the Boston area but there was no centralized place or regular group for like-minded enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, programmers, technologists, and artists of all kinds, to meet, learn, demo and teach. Rather than try to comb the internet trying to find a needle in a haystack, I decided to create a situation where people would come to me. I went on Meetup.com, paid the $25 registration fee, and launched the Boston Music Technology Group. Within the first three days, we had 40 members, and after the first month we had over 120. I held our first meetup in Somerville with app demos from the community, planned speakers, and featured presenters. It was at this first event that I met two of my co-founders.
Only weeks later, I went down to NYC to attend a similar music-techster meetup event and beforehand took time to peruse the RSVP list of attendees to see if anyone might fit the bill for a role on my team as the UX specialist. One particular person’s profile leapt off the screen and I dropped him a note to introduce myself. Fast forward a month later and he officially became my third co-founder. My final co-founder was the programmer who had developed Expressionality a year before and whom I had developed a strong relationship with through the Babson community.
What I had done was found people who shared a passion for music, a thirst to explore and learn, and whom valued being on the ground floor of a new enterprise in which they had a large degree of influence in it’s shape, it’s mission, the creative process, and if things go well, it’s success. By taking action to assume a leadership role in the music-tech community, I created opportunities to attract the very people whom I needed to turn my start up vision into reality.
To have a strong and united team, it’s important that everyone believes in the reason you’re doing what you’re setting out to do. You want interests to be aligned in value creation and everyone to have skin in the game. That way, motivation is both intrinsic and extrinsic, and as a result can be limitless. I structured this alignment by issuing equity to each co-founder, and in so doing, paved a long runway for which our most precious resource (our time), would be bountiful.
From a financial standpoint, I knew how much bootstrapped capital I wanted to invest to get the MVP off the ground. It wasn’t nearly enough, nor would it have made sense, to pay each person an upfront fee simply to build the first version of the app. Software or applications are never finished – they require constant programming, design and user experience improvements. Having a working app with traction in the marketplace would only be the beginning of incurred costs. A committed team was the only way to structure for the venture’s success while mitigating personal financial risk at this proof-of-concept stage.
Our strategic goal is to validate Moodsnap quickly, cheaply, and then use early success metrics to attract Angel capital. With each co-founder being compensated through equity, we have built in time to iterate, market test, validate and invalidate assumptions, and create demonstrative value, at merely the cost of our time. It’s going to be a wild ride, and there’s a big upside for us all if we succeed. I for one can’t wait to see how it plays out.