Matthew: What mentor or individual has had a significant impact in your professional development? That’s one question. The second part to that is, has there been an individual, besides your co-founder, who has really played a pivotal role in mentoring you with launching 955 Dreams?
Kiran: Of course, you stand on the shoulders of giants, right? That’s what they say. There are a lot of people. I lived in Chicago for the first four years of my career after I graduated from school in Pittsburgh. I was lucky because Chicago has this entrepreneurial community that really looks out for each other. They’re very helpful, they’re very supportive even though your ideas may be half-assed and you yourself may be, literally a new kid on the block.
I had the tremendous opportunity to actually interact with Dick Costolo when he ran FeedBurner there. To show you how dumb I am, I never really joined his company, even though I was made an offer to. That’s the extent of how smart I am. Dick, Dan Malvin, these guys in Chicago, I think they really looked out for me. That’s given me a lot of confidence over the last five or six years. Even when I moved out here to California, they introduced me to a lot of people.
Understanding who those people are that will actually listen to you through your rambling, I think, is important for me. Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures has also been somebody like that, always willing to pick up the phone and discuss what I’ve been working on or look at some software that I’ve written and provide valuable feedback.
Since I’ve moved to California, there’s Sanjay Shirole who’s really helped a lot. He comes to the office every now and then. He’ll help us with some of the modeling on the business side of things. That’s been extremely helpful. We’ve been funded by Mitch Kapor and Dave McClure, and both those guys are just stand-up guys. Mitch is quite busy but his interactions with us have been extremely profound in helping us scale to the next level.
With Dave, you get this guy who’s completely way over the top, but if you actually spend 15 or 20 minutes listening to his advice on how you can scale your company or how you can go and get to mass adoption in the consumer space, he’s helped this business grow so much in the last three or four months, I can’t even describe it.
Matthew: When you were looking to start this company did you know you wanted to start it or was there some sort of epiphany or ‘a-ha’ moment that inspired you to start it?
Kiran: There was. I started High Five Labs in 2009. We built a lot of good products, a lot of products that were relatively successful in the app store. We had two App of the Week’s in one year which is pretty rare. But there was no direction. There were a lot of part-time people and I was the only full-time person there. I was doing it with friends and I really enjoyed myself, but I felt like we were just doing whatever it took to get to half a million in revenue. And we were doing that, but that really was not the goal that I was looking for.
There needed to be a fundamental problem that needed to be solved or a fundamental question that needed to be answered. I think that 955 Dreams, with the music category and the education category, that was the ‘a-ha’ moment. The ‘a-ha’ moment was not that we had built something spectacular but that there was a question, and that question would drive us for the next ten years or five years.
That’s where we’re at today right now. That’s why we started the company.
Matthew: When you were looking for a co-founder, how did you go about that? What qualities were you looking for?
Kiran: It’s interesting; this is some other stuff that you learn. There was another co-founder. There’s TJ, myself and Kyle Oba, and Kyle helped us with a lot stuff in the beginning, but we fundamentally disagreed on the scale of this opportunity and how much this company needs to grow and how fast, so Kyle’s gone on to do better things. So the three of us really started the company but he has decided to kind of, take his skills elsewhere and do something by himself.
Matthew: When you guys came together what types of skill sets were you looking for?
Kiran: Kyle and I are primarily technologists. I’m more a product manager, though, I come up with some of the concepts and ask some of the questions. All of us did at that point, in the beginning. We’re a tight team in the sense that there’s a product person, there’s a technical person, there’s also another half-baked technical person in me, that I can code.
TJ walked into the door and when I met her the first time it was just this incredible energy that she brings to the table in terms of design. For us, that’s critical. Our apps have to behave and interact in a meaningful manner. I’m not talking about the shades of the colors and the little pixel details. Those are just a given. We don’t even talk about those. We don’t ship products until it is perfect.
But the rest of it, how users will interact with that product, how they will touch some parts of the screen, how the applications behave, and after that, how that interaction is perceived by the user, TJ brings that to table. When we talk about all of this, it’s in this giant hole. It’s not about that there’s one tiny feature and how that would interact. We talk about, “Okay, this feature is here. What does it do to the overall experience?” Then after that, once the experience has ended, we talk about, “Okay, what did you feel about the experience?”
That is incredible. That’s the thing that is 955 Dreams. And now we’ve added more people who are like that. Now we’re going to be seven people who ask the same question. Can you imagine what we’re going to build? It is really, I think, fantastic.
Matthew: If you had to give advice to people in our audience who are interested in starting a company, becoming a founder, what do you think some of the key elements are?
Kiran: Obsess about the product. Obsess about the product. That is the one and only true lesson that I’ve learned. That’s all there is to it. You need to have an obsessive personality about the product and nobody else gives a shit. Nobody else gives a shit but you and the people in the room. If you do not care, nobody else gives a shit. I don’t know if that’s clear enough, you know?
Matthew: It’s pretty clear.
Kiran: It’s as simple as that. There isn’t any magic to it.
Matthew: You hit upon it a little bit, but what’s your big vision for 955 Dreams, and how do you hope it will change the world?
Kiran: We hope that with the more products that we release, we’ll bring about a fundamental change in consumer behaviour where people will start to appreciate the work done by artists again, musicians and bands, and having done that, we hope to add a source of incremental revenue to the recording industry which has been suffering a lot over the last five to ten years.
We’re going for a fundamental change in how people interact with these devices and how people consume music. That’s it. All the other apps are incidental.
Matthew: What are the next steps?
Kiran: The next steps are to execute on a really full pipeline. We’ve got a massive pipeline of products. Some of them are self-published titles, others are titles that we are going to publish with artists, big and small. We’ve also got a product that aids in music discovery that’s also in the pipeline. We just have to execute all our products and see where that takes us.
Matthew: Excellent. Well, Kiran, it’s been a pleasure having you on FounderLY. We hope you’ll be a guest on our show again. We’re rooting for your success. Thank you for sharing your story.
Kiran: Thank you.
Matthew: For those of us in our audience who would like to learn more about the History of Jazz app and newer apps coming, you can visit HYPERLINK “http://www.955Dreams.com” www.955Dreams.com.
Kiran: That’s good.
Matthew: Thanks a lot.