Kicking live music up a number of notches

Philip Salter
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WHEN Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg pitched up to his IPO in a hoodie, some criticised him. However, to get to that stage he had already convinced plenty of private investors that he was worthy of their cash. Clearly the hoodie hadn’t bothered them. In under a minute into my meeting with Ian Hogarth, co-founder of Songkick – who was suitably dressed in casual clothes befitting a tech entrepreneur – I realise why clothes don’t matter. A good suit can only get you so far. Brains and talent are impossible to ignore.

The young Hogarth is now something of a veteran of Silicon Roundabout, co-founding Songkick, along with Pete Smith and Michelle You, back in 2007. The inspiration came from “a series of small realisations, adding up to a bigger story.” As a former DJ, Hogarth had copious numbers of records and CDs, but he was developing a deeper passion for live music: “There was a shift that occurred where we wouldn’t be saving up our money to buy CDs, we would be saving up to see bands live. I think because we were such big music fans we were at the leading edge of that trend.” Hogarth, Smith and You would spend hours keeping track of upcoming concerts. His friends, who didn’t devote the time to do this, didn’t go to live music. The belief that demand would be unlocked by making it easy for others to experience live music was the insight behind Songkick.

The first step was to build a database; the next was to personalise it so that people got what they wanted. Hogarth is proud that the average music fan using Songkick goes to twice as many live performances a year after using the site: “We aren’t just enabling people to do something that they are doing already – it’s actually changing behaviour.” After Ticketmaster, Songkick is the second largest concert service in the world, with 6m monthly unique visits. It is partnered with the behemoths of YouTube, Vevo and MTV.

Globally, live concerts form a $30-$40bn industry – although it will take time for Songkick to carve out a significant slice of this pie. Hogarth explains that with internet businesses, sometimes your ability to capture value lags your ability to create value. Luckily, they have met some very sophisticated investors on both sides of the Atlantic who understand this. Hogarth explains “I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs who have partnered with investors who don’t have the same degree of perspective. As a result, their ambitions for their businesses are a lot narrower.”

Hogarth’s ambitions are ample. In five years he wants to “build a consumer brand that stands for how amazing it is to see your favourite artists live – there is not a brand in the world that currently stands for this on a global basis”. He has bigger ambitions for the business in 20 years: “There are some exciting businesses that got started in music, and the one that is closest to my heart is Virgin. It epitomises innovation for consumers – amazing consumer experiences.” He might just do it. It would certainly be great to see a hoodie-generation British tech entrepreneur make it big.

Company name: Songkick

Founded: 2007

Number of staff: 28

Job title: CEO and co-founder

Age: 30

Born: London

Lives: London

Studied: Cambridge (Engineering), Tsinghua (Mandarin Chinese)

Drinking: Guinness

Currently reading: Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon

Favourite business book: Only the Paranoid Survive, by Andy Grove

Motto: “Man, I don't talk on no cell phones.” (from The Wire)

Talents: Energy, optimism, paranoia

Heroes: Coach Taylor (Friday Night Lights), Avon Barksdale (The Wire), Josiah Bartlett (American physician and statesman)

Forbes Magazine: 30 under 30 in Music (2012)

Wired Magazine: Top 100 (2012)

First ambition: Be an inventor like my grandad