Being the smartest person in the room is almost always the last position you want to find yourself in. Surround yourself with people who fill gaps in your knowledge and inspire you. No super successful product was ever designed and deployed by a single person — it’s always the sum of many parts, and is almost always better off for it.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Simons. Simons is the co-founder and CEO of Vampr — often billed as the ‘LinkedIn for Creatives’. Prior to starting Vampr, Josh was a successful songwriter and indie record label manager with over 10 million streams writing for artists such as Travis Scott and with his own band Buchanan, who have global touring experience with Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban. Josh holds a Bachelor of Business with a Major in Advertising.
Thank you so much for joining us Josh! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Well I’ll skip the school years, because frankly most of us would love to do that. I kind of forged my way into the entertainment industry when I dropped out of school at age 17 by calling the accounts department at my high school, asking them to refund fees for the year. Convincing my parents to use their newfound cash buffer to fund a feature film was a little trickier, but we got there in the end, and this creative soul, for better or worse, was properly born.
Whilst I didn’t stick with film it was only a couple of years later that my band Buchanan ‘broke’ in Australia, where we enjoyed a fairly successful career. I met my Vampr co-founder Baz Palmer on that journey — he actually signed me to my first record deal and we made an album together which topped the Australian iTunes charts and toured around the country for a couple of years. Jumping ahead this would lead me to tours with Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood, and songwriting for #1 hip hop artists including Travis Scott and Allan Kingdom.
All of this prepared me rather well for starting up and running Vampr, which is now the largest social-professional network for musicians and music industry professionals in the world.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I was living in London at the time — after finding considerable success in Australia I was frustrated with how long it was taking to replicate the same formula overseas. I found that success was largely determined by the people you surrounded yourself with, however as an industry, music had a bit of an issue with cost-effective networking. It took too much money and time investing in yourself and being at the right events and places to meet people who may or may not want to collaborate with you. That’s when I called my now-co-founder Baz, out of frustration, and said, “hey, why isn’t there a Tinder-like application for bands?” The rest is history.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Not a week has gone by since we started this company where a challenge of some sort hasn’t taken considerable energy or time to address or solve. During our various capital raising periods there have definitely been times where the idea of not doing this job anymore has seemed more appealing than pushing forward. However, and by virtue of doing this interview, it’s safe to say that one ultimately finds the drive to carry on and keep moving forward. I never take that for granted. It’s a real commodity to be born with a personality type which can withstand that kind of pressure — it’s definitely not a role suited for everyone.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Well it’s funny I mention capital raising as we have just closed the longest round in our company’s history, with a combination of crowdfunding and institutional capital. This round didn’t come easy and I think that’s a symptom of the space we operate in. No one has ‘nailed’ social-professional creative networking since MySpace, and this is largely to do with the freemium model which is almost a necessity in this sector. Having said that, with the round now closed and fully subscribed, we’re in an exciting position to make good on the promises we made to all our stakeholders by improving the platform and its functionality and ultimately giving young creatives more tools to network and collaborate with than which previously existed.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Outsourcing marketing — particularly PR — was a costly learning curve. Let’s just say we hired several expensive duds. Thankfully it didn’t take too many iffy contracts before we would prioritize the development of an in-house process which is now among the strongest assets of the company. On the development side, I’m sure my team would accuse me of putting too much emphasis on making the user experience as ‘gooey’ as possible. It’s something I still do — if you lack a smooth user experience, generally speaking, you run the risk of hurting user adoption and retention rates.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our biggest commodity is the size of our userbase. We’re now in the process of evolving the platform from a one-to-one professional network to a more open social network akin to LinkedIn or Facebook, however I’m not convinced that if we started there we would have ever found a userbase at all. Somewhat by luck I think our idea of creating a very simple stripped back tool/service was instrumental in kick-starting what has now become a rather large community of creatives. Now that we’re in the position of servicing this audience we can do things and deliver features that we may not have been trusted with straight out of the gate — things like newsfeeds and collaborative tools. It’s going to be a very exciting year testing and deploying these various new features and important updates.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Prioritize finding good people. If a company is the sum of people, product and process, then people is surely the most important category. As a founder there may be a tendency to get your hands dirty and ‘touch’ every aspect of the business. This is necessary in many ways, however if your product or service starts gaining traction and attention it doesn’t take long before it becomes necessary to have people around you which you can depend upon to lead on tasks and push things forward whilst you’re busy driving the business and selling the vision.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I will forever be grateful for my co-founder, Baz Palmer. Yes, he used to be my boss and label head, however we’ve always had a special and resilient working relationship — occasional brawls and all — which has endured for over 10 years and is fairly remarkable for a couple of blokes several decades apart in age.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
We currently enjoy a total userbase of about half a million users with approximately 25% active in any given month. Our proprietary growth engine is incredibly effective in predicting how many new users we might acquire in any given period with an ad spend of X. My focus recently has been in mapping out ways we can improve the product, with a view to increase retention so that when we deploy our premium tier, Vampr Pro, in Q3 2020 we see folks not only spending more time on the platform but ultimately seeing value in subscribing and signing up for additional features which will help them in their creative journey.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
As I alluded to, we’ve been building out a subscription tier which is super exciting. It will allow users to boost their awareness amongst peers, buy more real estate with additional content on their profiles, and provide more control over their creative destiny. Beyond that we’ve been trialing highly contextual ad campaigns with other music companies which has provided a steady cash flow for the company and allowed us the freedom to work on these additional premium features.
We’re also looking at ancillary revenue streams. We have a massive userbase of fledgling artists and an even bigger database of content they’ve created and linked to on Vampr. What are the interesting and exciting things we can do with this catalogue, which might bring value to both the user and to Vampr? These are the questions which are getting me most motivated and fired up in 2020!
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Solve a problem which you want solved for yourself. I wouldn’t have made Vampr if I wasn’t struggling to find like-minded musicians and collaborators — and it just so happens there were hundreds of thousands, and millions of others we have yet to reach, who face and faced similar challenges. It keeps things authentic, which helps when trying to find your audience.
- Build lean and fast. You don’t need to start with your end product. Understand your core service. Don’t undervalue research because it will help distill your thinking and refine your vision. Then you will be in a position to test your product in the market and learn early-on whether there is an appetite for it or not.
- Don’t undervalue the importance of building a team and in finding a great co-founder or partners. Hopefully I’ve highlighted why over the course of this interview!
- Being the smartest person in the room is almost always the last position you want to find yourself in. Surround yourself with people who fill gaps in your knowledge and inspire you. No super successful product was ever designed and deployed by a single person — it’s always the sum of many parts, and is almost always better off for it.
- Let data drive decisions but not at the expense of your gut instinct. If you have proper domain experience in the field with which you operate there is almost certainly value in your insight, which when combined with your passion as a founder will provide the requisite fuel to light your idea on fire — in the best way possible!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Not dissimilar from the Vampr movement, I have witnessed a common thread in every project I have ever had the fortune of being part of, that there is great power and immense reward in connecting people, enabling folks to execute on their vision and dreams. I suppose social networks do this in some respect, so perhaps I’m late to the party. And if that’s the case, then I’d simply love to start a farm one day which cares for and preserves endangered species in particular, and hopefully inspire a few others to follow in those footsteps.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I don’t actively maintain any personal social media accounts however you can follow Vampr at:
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!