Soundwave plans to surf the big data crest, with thumbs-up from Wozniak

1 Oct 2013

Aidan Sliney (CTO), Craig Watson (COO), and Brendan O'Driscoll (CEO), all of Soundwave

First, Dublin-based social music-discovery platform Soundwave caught the attention of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Woz), and now the digital venture’s next big plan is to monetise through a “big data play”.

Brendan O’Driscoll is a co-founder and CEO of Soundwave. He said the platform allows users to see what friends, family, musicians, athletes and celebrities are listening to, regardless of what music players they are using.

O’Driscoll showed Wozniak the Soundwave app upon meeting him, after connecting with him on business social network LinkedIn.

“We learned very quickly that even if you have a great product, a great idea or a great team – people are not going to come to you, you have to go to them,” O’Driscoll said.

“One day, I happened across Woz’s profile on LinkedIn and thought ‘heck, why not’ – so I sent him a connection request and he accepted.”

Shortly afterwards, O’Driscoll learned Wozniak was the keynote speaker at an event in Derry [the European Business Network Congress].

“I popped him a mail and asked if he would like to meet for a coffee – and he said he was more than happy to meet,” O’Driscoll said. “I showed him the app and he got it straight away – really liking it – and even going on to call it ‘a music product that fits my life so perfectly’ in a TV interview in Derry.”

Wozniak lent his start-up expertise to Soundwave, helping its team brainstorm potential new features.

The beginning of Soundwave

This was a little more than a year after Soundwave’s co-founders – O’Driscoll, Craig Watson and Aidan Sliney – got together. Sliney and O’Driscoll, who are cousins, met Watson at Dublin Beta, the networking event for start-ups, in early 2012.

At the time, Soundwave had just started its three-month stint on the LaunchPad accelerator programme run by the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) in Dublin’s Digital Hub.

Now, the ‘big data’ Soundwave is garnering from its users – 500,000 at the moment – of what songs are being played where and when, is data the music industry “sorely” needs, according to O’Driscoll.

“Right now, they are blind to what their market is doing,” he said. “We can turn the light back on and serve up real-time analytics in the form of a visual dashboard that bands, band managers, music agents, labels and consumer brands can use to understand what is happening out there.”

In turn then, O’Driscoll said the overarching goal will be for industry to “tailor” and create “better experiences” for the music consumer.

While many digital platforms for music streaming have emerged in recent years, O’Driscoll said Soundwave is no such music-streaming service.

Services like Deezer, Spotify, and Rdio all have extensive catalogues, O’Driscoll said, yet Soundwave operates above these platforms – in the curation and aggregation of data.

He added that Soundwave is to be a “complementary” service to streaming services.

“In fact, we partnered up with Spotify, Deezer, Rdio and many more when building Soundwave.”

First funding

Soundwave has also secured investment, and the LaunchPad programme is where the company netted its initial funding.

“We received an investment of €20,000,” said O’Driscoll. “That took the team through the three months of the programme, and well beyond.”

After finishing up on LaunchPad, O’Driscoll and the team went on to close a US$1m seed round. ACT Venture Capital led that particular investment, while the funding round also included Enterprise Ireland, and US angel investors Mark Cuban and Matthew le Merle.

Crucially, and despite this global investor attention, Soundwave decided to keep its base in Dublin, creating home-grown jobs. The company now employs nine people, and the investments are still coming.

In June, just before Soundwave came out of beta testing, it secured another round to bring “several” more investors on board, O’Driscoll said.

Such investors included Trevor Bowen, director at Principle Management, and Colin Wiel, co-founder and chief investment officer at Waypoint Homes.

Three months later, on 18 September to be exact, Soundwave came to the attention of the global Apple user arena, when the iOS 7 version of Soundwave’s app made it onto the global Apple App Store Charts.

Soundwave deliberately wanted the new iteration of its app to be ready the same time Apple unveiled its latest mobile operating system, iOS 7, to its global user base.

“As a result we’ve been seeing downloads come in at a rate of one every two to three seconds. It has been nuts watching the explosive growth,” O’Driscoll said.

For now, he said Soundwave will focus on its Android and iPhone apps (a new update goes out every two weeks) and also on performing “extensive user testing”.

O’Driscoll said the team is building and trialling its dashboard for the music industry.

“We’ll be looking to go live with it in six or so months – depending what twists and turns start-up life has in store for us!”

A version of this article appeared in The Sunday Times on 29 September

Brendan O’Driscoll will be a keynote speaker at the Innovation Ireland Forum in Dublin on 11 October, where leaders and stakeholders will discuss Ireland as the go-to destination for knowledge that will drive the next economy

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic