Irish start-up Inmusik’s move to San Francisco hits right note as it raises $7m

4 Feb 2016

Inmusik co-founder Stephen Brett pitches on The Next Unicorn, a TV show that will air to 20m viewers in China later this month

If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to collect $7m on the way … well, that’s the story of start-up Inmusik, which left Dublin a year ago and has now just raised $7m from Brand Capital, the venture wing of India’s largest media conglomerate The Times Group.

In 2012, one of our featured Start-ups of the Week companies was a Dublin company called Emeraz led by Stephen Brett and Maret Eiland that had created a music discovery tool that helped artists generate social activity from their audience.

As well as running its own recording studio, the company had built up a base of early investors and an audience of more than 240,000 users but growth was being held up by the lack of finance needed to bring the platform to the next level.

“We made a brutal decision in December 2014 to sell our recording studio and basically all our earthly goods and almost a year ago on 28 February we moved to Silicon Valley to live the dream. We didn’t realise how expensive it was out here but we had the best part of a year’s runway,” explained company co-founder Stephen Brett.

The calculated bet has paid off and the company – rebranded as Inmusik – has raised $7m in venture capital funding from Brand Capital.

Today, Inmusik has an audience of more than 500,000 users and 16,000 artists.


Stephen Brett and Maret Eiland, Inmusik

‘Definitely we were thrust in at the deep end. We didn’t go in blind, though, but we still had to learn fast and the only way was to put in 16-hour days’

The company is about to launch a new version of its platform – which connects artists directly with fans – and has appointed digital entertainment veteran Kay Johansson, formerly of Popwire and Mobi TV, as its CTO.

Brett explained that, shortly after arriving in San Francisco, the company secured a place at the shared offices of GSVlabs where Johansson was one of the mentors.

“We asked him for advice and suggested that the platform needed a rebuild if it wanted to get to 100m users. Then he asked ‘Can I build it for you?’ He took it on as a pet project, then he built the backend and then joined us as CTO in March.”

Brett said that the $7m investment from Brand Capital will enable the company to push into the digital entertainment space in India and other markets in Asia.

“Brand Capital are the investment arm of The Times Group, the world’s largest English-speaking media conglomerate, and they are committed to what we are doing.”

Reflecting on the decision to leave Dublin and start all over again in San Francisco, Brett said: “We knew what we would need to raise to achieve our ambition, but unfortunately we knew the amount we could raise in Dublin would be fairly nominal. We have great investors in Ireland who said go for it and if it doesn’t happen we could learn from the experience.”

Brett said immersing the start-up in the San Francisco start-up scene was a shock. “Definitely, we were thrust in at the deep end. We didn’t come in blind, though, but we still had to learn fast and the only way was to put in 16-hour days.”

The Next Unicorn

When we were talking, Brett had just returned from filming in China, where he took part in a TV show devised by a Chinese investment firm called The Next Unicorn, which is due to air in China at the end of February.

Brett competed against 42 start-ups from all over the world and was one of the last of the Silicon Valley companies left standing in the competition.

“Think of The Voice meets Dragon’s Den. Maret called me one day and told me this Chinese production company was calling around and were we willing to go to Shanghai and do a pitch.

“We competed with companies from Singapore, Seoul, Tel Aviv, New York and Chicago with little hope of winning but we will have gotten to demo our app to a potential audience of over 20m people in China, so it’s all good exposure.”

Next for Inmusik is the launch of the new version of its app, which Brett says is scheduled for March.

Brett says the move to San Francisco was a “burn the boats on the beach” moment for the start-up, which had a loyal user base but needed the capital to take it to the next level.

“When we were based in a spare room in a house trying to run two businesses we were running to stand still.

“But when we dropped the other business and focused 100pc on this, things started to happen.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years