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Greif Student Takes Startup to SXSWTakes Matching-Making Site for Musicians to Student CompetitionMarch 7, 2014 • by News at Marshall
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For most college students, March Madness means basketball.
For USC students and musicians Vincent Fong and Thomas Honeyman, it means business.
Fong and Honeyman co-founded FindMySong.com, a start-up formed by USC students and alumni that has been selected for this year's "Student Startup Madness," an entrepreneurship tournament at Austin's South By Southwest festival. The competition gives student start-ups the chance to pitch their ideas to investors, make connections and learn more about evolving technologies.
SXSW, as it’s better known, has always been an accelerator for tech as well as music. That makes it the perfect launching pad for FindMySong, designed to be a kind of Match.com for musicians. You can set up and search out profiles based on skills and experience; after finding your new drummer or trying out a new singer, you can upload music samples to the site and work on new songs together.
The "Student Startup Madness" competition pits enterprising college students against one another for the chance to pitch their idea to investors. Whether they win or not, Fong said it'll be a crucial opportunity to network.
"South By Southwest is a really unique opportunity because the music and film part of it is really up our alley," said Fong, a student at the USC Marshall School of Business and Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. "So we're not just going to this competition, we're going to the whole event."
Fong is CEO of FindMySong while Honeyman serves as COO, overseeing much of the day-to-day management of the start-up's work. Both said SXSW can be essential for meeting new investors – and in terms of major musical artists, partners. It's also a chance to find out how technology is changing long before consumers know about it.
"If you read what's happening online, you're trailing what's going on," Honeyman said. "Here, you see what's really coming out so you can capitalize on the trends."
Fong originated the idea for the company in his freshman year, initially conceptualizing a site that was essentially a crowd-sourced "name that tune" for music fans. It was a hit among his friends, but proved to be an essential learning experience: How do you convince investors that your idea will make money?
The skepticism they faced forced Fong, Honeyman and their collaborators back to the drawing board. Fong is a violinist and fan of electronic music; Honeyman was formerly a popular music student at the USC Thornton School before switching to cognitive science. They noticed a unique problem for L.A. musicians: there were swarms of artists to connect with in the city, including on campus. But many bands struggled to find players of the same skill, or with the same musical interests. Craigslist is one go-to solution – Fong used it to try to recruit a producer for an electronic music project, but found it was a crapshoot.
"We wanted a platform for people to find other musicians, but took it a step further," Fong said.
Like a LinkedIn for musicians, FindMySong's profiles can include a range of skills, so you can find a drummer who's also a keyboardist, or a singer with some experience working with headlining artists. You can find open projects to join and contribute to, manage ongoing projects and even set up split sheets.
Both Fong and Honeyman said that USC is attuned especially to entrepreneurship, and the support they've received from the university has been invaluable.
"USC is unique in how open students are, networking and making connections," Honeyman said. Entertainment is all about connections, and we're right in the heart of L.A."
For all members of their team, the start-up process has been a learning experience like no other. Besides figuring out how to conceptualize a great business idea, pitch it to investors and test a live website, they had to figure out how to deal with a unique problem among start-ups: how to work with each other throughout most of a day, seven days a week.
"When you get someone on your team, you're seeing someone more than your girlfriend," Fong said. Part of making sure the team can work together for so long requires making sure the personalities all fit. It also takes planning out monthly social events and regular dinners – ones where no one talks about work.
Another valuable lesson lay in setting up a focus group. Neither Fong nor Honeyman had any experience doing this prior to FindMySong, but realized they needed one to gather more information on who would use their site, and how. They bought a book on how to run a focus group and designed a test to fine-tune the site based on its analytics.
An ad on Craigslist brought musicians out of L.A.'s woodwork.
"We learned how diverse our audience really was," Honeyman said.
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.