Tech start-up of the week: Music & Data Geeks (Seevl)

5 Jan 2014

Julie Letierce, co-founder and CMO; Alexandre Passant, CEO/CTO; Peter O'Shea, head of social media); and Niall Ryan, front end developer, Music & Data Geeks (Seevl)

Our tech start-up of the week this week is MDG Web, an NUI and Digital Enteprise Research Institute (DERI) spin-out that has created a new way for music lovers to discover their favourite tunes through its tool Seevl.

MDG Web is a music tech company with a special focus on discovery.

“In particular, and besides development for several music industry stakeholders, we’re building Seevl, a free, unlimited and targeted music discovery platform, available both as a standalone product and a Deezer in-app,” explained co-founder Alexandre Passant.

Future Human

Passant explained that over the past few years, most music platforms such as YouTube, Spotify, Deezer, etc. focused on content licensing, and started only recently to dig into the discovery aspect.

“Consequently, there are still lots of opportunities in the space, in order to make music fans find the best content, and make artists get enough streams to break-through.

“And that’s what we’re building with Seevl – focusing on this very particular aspect of the online music food-chain: the discovery problem.”

The market

MDG Web is targeting the millions of music fans that regularly use the web to listen to and discovery music on streaming / on-demand platforms. Deezer recently announced it has reached 12m monthly active users (5m paid), while Spotify is on a 24m range.

“Most of all, streaming is still in its infancy, and figures will growth in the future, for instance through partnerships between these services and telco operators,” says Pasant.

“There will be US$16bn worth of sales of music by 2015, and our current business model involves revenue-sharing on affiliate programs such as Deezer, iTunes, etc. i.e. getting part of this amount.

“Along the way, and since we’ve built a solid and proprietary technology to develop our services, licensing our search, recommendation and discovery platform is also part of the growth plan.”

The founders

Before starting the company, Passant was leading a research team at DERI, NUI Galway, where he initiated and managed several projects with Cisco, Google, etc.

“My team focused on the intersection of social data and semantics on the web, and we’re building a similar vision with the company – targeted on the music vertical for now.

“My co-founder Julie Letierce was also at DERI, doing a M.Sc. in online communication, and also working on the marketing strategy of the institute, through online marketing, short movies / interviews and more.

“We’re both passionate about music, so the company is really a way for us to combine our passions with a long-term vision about what online music could – and should – be in the future.”

The technology


MDG has built a pipeline that mines music information from the web, such as artist genres, record labels, band members, etc. All this data is then stored in the cloud as a big graph of knowledge, on top of which they’ve build another set of search, discovery and recommendations algorithms.

“For instance, if you like a particular artist, for instance Blur, we’ll tell you who are their members, collaborations, genres and more. We’ll also suggest whom to listen to, and most important, we’ll tell you why – a very relevant feature when recommending new and unknown music. In that example, we’ll suggest you to listen to ‘The Ailerons’, the previous band of Blur’s drummer, playing a similar genre.”

Another interesting aspect is the personalisation of the platform, Passant says.

“Once you’re logged-in, we’re able to identify what you liked in the past, and build a personal dashboard with recommendations tailored to your tastes. We recently introduced our ‘auto-playlist’ feature, a 3-hour mixtape including tracks specifically combined for your tastes.

“Finally, there’s also a social aspect in Seevl, where you can discover music fans – that you don’t necessarily know – who share similar tastes, and discover music through them in your ‘social feed.’

“All those features are built on top our proprietary and data-driven music knowledge graph technology, combining artist information and user profiling.

“And to let you listen to the music, we use the YouTube API in our standalone platform, and have partnered with Deezer for our Deezer in-app – providing the same features on top of Deezer’s 20m+ tracks catalogue.”

Funding and bootstrapping


Passant explained that the current version of Seevl is its third iteration, built over the past 18 months.

“We’ve spend about six months working on it, based on the learnings from our two previous iterations – focusing especially on a simple and easy-to-use interface. It’s been launched publicly about a month ago, and we now have about 5,000 sign-ups and 2,000 weekly unique visitors on both platforms.”

He added that during the course of December Seevl attracted more than 30,000 unique visitors.

“We received EI’s CSF last year, before starting the New Frontiers program and moving to Dogpatch a few months later. This has been a fantastic year, and we’re indeed looking to growth our vision.

“Investment is one way to do so – especially to scale the marketing – but we want to be sure we partner with people knowing the market well, and sharing our vision – we’ve seen and heard too many bad stories where the founders-investor fit was not there. So we’re also considering other opportunities, such as bootstrapping and strategic partnerships.”

Passant says that as a B2C offering, Seevl’s main challenge is low-cost customer acquisition and retention.

“Finding the balance between both is probably the hardest part. There’s no point on spending time and money on scaling acquisition if your customers are not faithful (in case your business model relies on this), so it’s all about experiments, hacks, social marketing, etc.

“Also, getting customer feedback as early as possible is a challenge, so we had to make sure we interacted with users as soon and as often as possible to identify product-market fit and to know what to pivot.”

Starting up – it crawled from the West

Passant sums up Ireland’s present start-up in one word: “Awesome.”

He explains: “There’s a very active and friendly community, with lots of meet-ups whatever you’re interested in – from marketing to several elements of the technology stack.

“In addition, there are fantastic places like Dogpatch Labs, where peer-networking can definitely make a difference – we’ve learnt so much since we’ve been there!

|Also, the support from governmental agencies such as Enterprise Ireland is worth noticing. Not only in terms of funding, but mentoring, special events (such as a recent Irish Music Tech cluster), and more. We wouldn’t  be there without them.”

Who sells wins

Passant’s advice to other would-be start-ups is not to get swallowed up by the hype of their product or technology. Old-fashionened salesmanship and hard work is the key.

“Don’t believe that a great technology or a great product will sell by itself. Think of your marketing and growth strategy, with the different steps to scale it in your roadmap. You may have read about the glamorous stories of overnight successes of some great startups, but remember that those ‘overnight’ successes may have taken one year or more to be built.

“Also, put people first. Network, get advice (but don’t necessarily take it blindly), find mentors/advisors, be challenged, talk to potential users, and also to other start-uppers about their issues and how they’ve solved them.

“It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!”

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