Today’s Q&A Wednesday is with Marshall Stokes, the CEO of Uvumi.com, which is an innovative new way for music artists to connect with their fans.
What is Uvumi.com?
Uvumi is a website that provides tools to help artists promote their work. We built the site on a special ajax platform that we designed in-house, and it allows visitors to stream music from the website while they browse around without interrupting the audio. You can queue up as many songs as you want in our player, skip around between songs or within songs, and create and save playlists for later listening, all while you’re browsing and reading artist profiles, leaving comments, checking messages, or whatever. While this feature is geared towards listeners and fans primarily, it also helps musicians who are looking to promote their work. For musicians, we offer a unique and logical band management feature that makes it easy to create multiple band profiles and invite bandmates to join, which is our attempt at creating a more accurate representation of real-world social networks among artists. We have solid features to help graphic artists and writers as well, like photo galleries and a blog platform, and we plan to expand our offerings as we grow. In addition, Uvumi has all the standard social networking functionality one would expect from a modern interactive website. Our mission is to empower artists, promote widespread consumption of art, and add value to the artistic community.
How did you get the idea for Uvumi?
I spent a lot of time writing songs and playing guitar in college, and I had a real interest in digital home recording. When I discovered PHP and MySQL I realized that these tools could be used to build all kinds of applications and interesting websites. I envisioned creating a website that would give amateur musicians like myself the ability to put home recordings on the internet and collaborate with other enthusiasts to share music and learn more about recording and producing. I was 19 years old, and I had to shelve the idea to pursue my education and earn a living. After building a web dev and consulting business over the next few years, I put myself in a position to finally tackle the challenge of my original idea, and I found partners who were as passionate as I about building a service that truly could add value to the art and music communities. We also identified a number of glaring shortcomings in other services we see as our competitors, mostly technical issues like the lack of a seamless music player, scary license agreements, and obnoxious banner ads. We are confident that we can provide a valuable service without compromising the community’s artistic integrity.
Why did you choose to locate this startup in Austin?
We did a ton of research before moving to Austin, but it was really a no-brainer. Besides its incredible technological infrastructure and its (well-deserved) reputation as an education hub, Austin is a mecca for art and music and is backed by its city-approved title as the Live Music Capital of the World. There’s also the relatively low cost of living, and the presence of so many famous ventures and artists. Since launching the site we have signed up prominent Austin artists such as Black Joe Lewis, Leo Rondeau, and Woodsboss, to name a few.
Who is your target audience?
Musicians, obviously, and artists make up our primary audience, but there are also millions of people out there between the ages of 15 and 44 looking for a trustworthy source of art and new music. Right now our focus is on Austin and the surrounding area, because we feel that Austin is our lifeblood and our core userbase and we want to focus on the local scene right now, but we also have strong interest in the art and music scenes in Portland, Ore., Seattle, New York, and pocket communities like Boise, Idaho. There is no limit to Uvumi’s potential to expand into new geographic audiences because there is art and music everywhere you go. We can give these artists superior online promotional tools than what they are being offered by our competitors, and also provide a cutting-edge media-rich interface for fans and enthusiasts to play with.
Where do you see Uvumi going? What are your plans for the service in the future?
As we are self-funded and currently struggling under the weight of such an ambitious project, we have a binder full of ideas that we hope to pursue in the future. I can’t really talk about our most exciting features that we have in the pipeline, but I will say that we intend to provide free promotional tools to artists that are unmatched in the current marketplace and which will essentially become indispensable to the average self-promoted artist or musician. Aside from our secret plans, we would very much like to integrate the service into venues like bars and clubs for musicians, zines and other publications for writers, and galleries and coffee houses for painters and photographers. We are currently looking for the right VC to work with us on our mission and on achieving our goals for the future, and I continue to seek out that person or firm on a daily basis. Our team has taken this idea almost as far as we can without real funding, and we are proud of what we have accomplished. I have no doubt that we can grow this idea into the future and eventually offer a superior and valuable service to the entire artistic community in Austin and beyond.
Where did the name come from?
Uvumi is a Swahili word that means “rumbling noise” or “humming sound”. We thought this fit nicely with our mission to foster the artistic community and our product, and we like the idea of using a word that few people have heard before. It gives us a chance to create new associations in the minds of our users, and to imprint our brand and logo on their memories. It’s not the easiest word to remember, but once you know what it is you’re not likely to confuse it with anything else. That, and we were able to register the .com, which is, of course, a big plus in this business. To me, though, the concept of Uvumi, of a humming noise or a low sound, provokes an image of crowds of artists, humming away at their creativity and exploring their art, then sharing it with each other and working together. That’s what Uvumi is all about. We want this concept to grow into a thriving online community of artists working together, writers and photographers collaborating on projects, graphic designers creating posters and album art for musicians, all working towards greater creativity and feeding off each other as they add value to their art and the community as a whole.