Many of our readers have probably met David Dufresne sitting across a board room table, while trying to pitch him their startup idea. After 8 years working in venture capital (6 at Desjardins, and recently, 2 years at JLA Ventures and the BlackBerry Partners Fund), David decided to switch seats and try his luck at being an entrepreneur. He is the founder of Backfed, and new CEO at Bandzoogle, two companies building web technologies in the music space. He grew up and went to school in Trois-Rivières, and he had a baby girl on 01/01/10 (binary baby !)
NextMontréal: I first heard about you at StartupCamp Montréal where you presented your plans for Backfed. Can you do a quick run-through of that project and what it entails?
David Dufresne: Backfed is a concept that I had been working on for over a year, while I was looking at the music industry as an outside observer. My main assumption is that new technologies enable a more direct connection between artists and fans, in how music is created, produced, distributed, promoted and consumed. However, the missing link is an effective and standardized toolbox to monetize that relationship. We want Backfed to be the enabler of those new economic connections.
So, short term, you can see Backfed as an open payment platform that will enable fans to contribute to their favorite artists across these artists’ web destinations, on music streaming services and other services, and then enable them to “own” that gesture (and brag about it on their own social networks, for example). Longer term, we want Backfed to evolve into a more elaborate platform to enable fans to be the collective art patrons of their favorite artists, and be recognized as such. Think “music as art”. Not “music as product”. Sign up for our mailing list at www.backfed.com to be notified when we get out of stealth mode.
NextMontreal: I believe it’s while looking for a technical co-founder on Backfed that you found the opportunity to join Bandzoogle. Can you explain the thinking behind that move and how developing Bandzoogle and Backfed will fit together?
David Dufresne: Absolutely. I first met Chris Vinson (Bandzoogle’s founder) to get his feedback, and seed the idea that we could potentially partner and make Backfed available to Bandzoogle members when Backfed would be ready to launch. After a few meetings where Chris helped refine the Backfed concept, it became clear that I was a business dude looking for a product guy and tech co-founder (and for a dev team), while Chris was a product and tech guy who had been looking for a business partner to help him take his company to the next level. So, while I’m joining Bandzoogle as CEO, Chris becomes my co-founder and we have agreed to build the first iteration of the Backfed product with the Bandzoogle developers. We are keeping the two companies legally independent, so that we have more corporate flexibility on both sides (for fundraising, partnerships, branding, etc.).
NextMontreal: Bandzoogle is a service that lets bands build their own website but it’s also a platform for a lot more than a simple website. What are your favourite features on Bandzoogle and what convinced you that it was a good match and something you wanted to get involved in?
David Dufresne: My favorite feature of Bandzoogle is the balance sheet No seriously, what I like the most about Bandzoogle is that we offer musicians an ease-of-use and a depth of features they won’t find anywhere else, in an all-in-one affordable solution. You can always hack together a WordPress site, tweak the design, then sign up for different services to host your media, manage your mailing list, add widgets to sell your tracks, CDs and t-shirts, somehow find a way to sync with your Twitter and Facebook accounts, etc. But most artists don’t have the time / interest / skills / money to deal with all that. On Bandzoogle they do it easily, without having to code anything and without the need for elaborate design skills.
I also adore the fact that we let artists build a storefront and sell their music and merch commission-free. That money is theirs, and in the new music economy, we believe it should be all theirs. We also have the best customer support in the music tech space. By far. Our support crew is amazing, but also, since all our members are paid, we can actually afford to support them, and we know they are serious about how they use our platform.
NextMontreal: Bandzoogle is not, to my knowledge, that well known and talked about and yet it seems to be enjoying quite a bit of “underground” success. Is that the way it was planned, grow slowly and build a solid following or did it just happen that way? Do you plan on sticking to that somewhat under the radar situation or do you have plans to broaden the appeal of the service?
David Dufresne: I think it happened that way because Chris was a talented bassist and computer dude that built the website for his own major label signed band (before most of us even had an e-mail address), then worked for the major label and built sites for all of its artists. He then figured out that the artists could do a lot of the updates themselves, and finally decided to make that tech available to every musician out there by bootstrapping a startup and hiring artists to help him build it. Since then, the product roadmap has always been based on user feedback and requests, and the Bandzoogle marketing mostly consisted of word-of-mouth; musicians recommending Bandzoogle to other musicians. The result has been organic, profitable growth, with no need for outside investment.
The fact that Bandzoogle lets artists completely control the design of their website also means that we are not a consumer-facing brand. Any music fan reading this has probably been on many Bandzoogle powered websites before, but never realized it. This probably contributes to our “under the rader” and best-kept-secret status.
So, I definitely don’t plan to change any of that. But the company now has the financial means and the management bandwidth to do a lot more in terms of targeted marketing. If you’re a musician, expect to hear and read about Bandzoogle a lot more than you have before. I also think we can play a great role and gain exposure by sharing Chris and the team’s knowledge to help artists figure what the best practices are, in terms of building a web presence. So, expect lots of webinars, blog posts, conferences, etc. I might even convince Chris to write a book.
NextMontreal: Out of the ten people team, three are based in Montréal and the rest of the team is spread all around North American with one member in the UK. Is this your first time working on a distributed team? What are your thoughts on such a system? What kind of tools do you use to work together?
David Dufresne: When people ask me where Bandzoogle is based, I reply “in a Skype chat window”. This is definitely my first time working with a completely distributed team, yes. My prior job was being half of the Montreal office of a VC firm based in Toronto, so I guess there was some distribution there… It’s still very early for me to give my specific thoughts on this, but my feeling (and from Chris sharing his experience) is that, for a completely distributed team to function well you need 1) the team to be completely distributed, ie. not an office of 6 people with 4 stay-at-home people. So that everyone has a similar “reality”, 2) employees that are truly self-motivated and can handle working by themselves – which isn’t easy to find and 3) simple but effective tools and process that everyone is comfortable with.
At Bandzoogle we use a mix of home brewed admin tools, Skype for group chat and calls, and a not-too-sophisticated list of main Google documents. The dev team uses Lighthouse and Pivotal Tracker. Chris and I try to meet in person at least a day or two a week, often at Station C [Editor's note: I co-own Station C], a very convenient coworking space close to where I live.
NextMontreal: In the most recent issue of Fast Company, there’s an article about a growing number of “360 deals” where artists share with the label on all forms of revenue, not just CD sales. With the rise of file sharing and the long tail opportunities the internet opens up, many have said that artists can now take control of their careers and actually make a better living out of their share of everything instead of the small royalties they historically got. Bandzoogle and Backfed both seem to be tools to help bands in this new career “format”. How do you think labels switching to 360 deals will change the market as a whole?
David Dufresne: 360 deals are definitely becoming the norm with major labels. I think it makes sense for labels to look at an artist’s career and invest into every way that the artist’s creative output and brand can be monetized. They definitely have to stop focusing on how many “units” they “moved” last month, how many tickets they sell through LiveNation, and which startup or single mother they can sue for copyright infringement this week. But these new deals can empower artists that have reached a certain level to manage their careers with an independence that would have been impossible just 10 years ago. I find it amazing that a local band that I saw play at Casa Del Popolo a few years ago (yes, indie cred, right here!) is now helping redefine the music industry while topping the charts and making some amazing, creative music.
However, Bandzoogle is not about the major label, or any chart-topping. We actually allow independent artists to make a 360 deal with themselves. I’ll be honest and tell you that the majority of artists we have on Bandzoogle have a day job. We are all about the Long Tail, obviously, and to grow our business we need to sign up more members, not bigger ones. But, we do help many of our members make a living. We have guys that make a killing selling beats to hopeful rappers to work with. … and some of those rappers have their websites with us. We have cover bands, wedding singers, music teachers, etc. all using their music revenue to make ends meet. We also have indie-cool artists that received high ratings on Pitchfork.com and sell out shows, and good number of music legends that have written and performed some of the best songs ever. Our humble contribution is to provide them with easy tools to help them build a web presence that works, whatever their goals are. It’s a lot of fun.