Innovators. They come in many forms. They dream big but they aren’t just dreamers. They form raw ideas into cool products with disruptive business models. They shatter entire industries and leave established leviathans running scared with their tails between their legs. The Innovators interview series connects you with the most driven people on the planet. What makes them tick? What advice do they have for tech founders? What tools do they use to get the job done? Read on to find out.
Tasos Frantzolas is an internet and music business entrepreneur who started the world’s most popular sound effects library, Soundsnap. He studied Sound Engineering and got a Masters in Music Production and Music Business from the University of Westminster in London. He then made sound and music for a few indie videogames, while being part of London’s underground music scene as a DJ and producer. Around 2005 the record industry was going through hard times and Frantzolas was looking for a way to combine his love for music and film with his passion for the internet and tech.
In 2007 he launched the sound effects library Soundsnap. It has since amassed 700,000 registered users and is visited about 20,000 times daily. Customers include Disney, VH1, Microsoft, Pixar, Konami, Blizzard Ent., HBO, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, Zynga and many more.
His most recent venture, Stereobot aims to be the world’s best music licensing service. It offers hand picked premium music for TV, film, theater, videos games, advertising and apps. Tasos advises various startups and is constantly looking for new disruptive ideas.
What do you enjoy most about your work and why?
I love the creative process of collaborating with the designers. I love the challenge of creating an aesthetically pleasing, yet user friendly experience. Same with collaborating with the programmers- its great. Although I can’t code, I love observing the problem solving process. I hate dealing with accounting work! But overall I don’t see my work as ‘work.’ Its fun for me 99% of the time. I feel blessed for being able to work with music and creative people so I rarely complain or get lazy.
Where does your passion come from? What drives you, inspires you, excites you?
We get inspired by talking to our customers and hearing all the different ways they use our content. From Disney films to apps and video games, toys, advertising all the way to a Shakespeare play. The way the sounds and music are used is really diverse and inspiring. A sound designer from Zynga recently told me that all the sounds on their hit game ‘Chess with Friends’ are from Soudnsnap. I ‘ve been playing that for ages and didn’t even realize! So thats the kind of stuff that gets me pumped up.
Someone reading this wants to start a tech company. What’s your best advice for them?
a) Do the opposite of everyone else.
If everyone is making a Daily Deals/ Big Data/ location based photo sharing app, you should probably avoid that space. Its better to observe trends as they unfold and avoid doing what seems to be getting all the press.
b) Do your research.
Talk to people who are in the field that you want to break into and get as much information as possible. Before starting Sterobot, I found mentors that explained every detail about music licensing. I started researching at least 12 months before beginning to work on the product.
c) Keep on fighting and be patient.
Many people get discouraged after they put in a lot of work and their startup is not an instant success. I believe its Bill Gates who said ‘people overestimate what they can do in three years, but underestimate what can be done in seven.’ I think perseverance is what separates the successes from the failures. Being ready to bang your head against the wall until you get right. Rome wasn’t built in a day (..but it was built eventually!).
What are a few tech startups that you’re really excited about right now and why?
SoundCloud- for the way they disrupted MySpace and have stayed true to their vision. I hung out with Alex, the CEO last year and he’s a lot of fun.
Uber- I like hybrid online/offline businesses. It seems its a winner-takes-all market because of the network effects and they have a first mover advantage right now. I know the co-founder Garrett Camp and he ‘s super smart, (he made StumbleUpon a few years ago).
CircleUp- I really like this new equity-based crowdfunding space. It connects small businesses with accredited investors that can purchase stock from small companies through the site. I think its much more interesting and serious than Kickstarter, where you just support an idea but don’t get a stake in its success.
What tech tools (websites, apps, gadgets, etc.) do you rely on both for work and in your down time?
For work, I often use Alexa to see where the competition stands in terms of traffic. Its not 100% accurate but it usually gives a good indication. We use Mad Mimi for sending out newsletters, although I ‘m considering of switching to MailChimp. While working, Pandora is always playing in the backround and I often go to Hype Machine to hear whats new. My daily dose of the blogospehere includes TechCrunch, Hacker News, Gawker and Digg. This covers work and staying in touch with the world around me.
I’m not a big gadget guy, but I use an iPhone 4S and my favorite apps are Shazam and Uber.
I also watch a lot of movies online. Unfortunately, I usually end up spending an hour on the Netflix recommendations page trying to decide what to watch with my girlfriend. By the time we’ve decided, she’s usually fallen asleep.