As she turns the music publishing industry upside down, Jennifer Rosenblatt talks to Brazen about changing buyer behavior, growth in accelerators, and overthrowing the establishment.
What inspired you to start your business? What pain were you solving? How did you get motivated to take the first step?
My husband and cofounder, Kurt Knecht, is a composer. He has music published with traditional publishers and has had to give up his copyrights in order to do so. Traditional publishers only pay 4-10% royalties to composers. I started by solving the problem of self-published e-commerce for my husband. Then we realized we could solve the same problem for the thousands of composers out there. There is strength in numbers and only by joining together can the artists overthrow the establishment. We were accepted into the NMotion Accelerator program in June 2014 where we learned lean startup methodology. We were able to validate quickly and launched our marketplace 54 days into the accelerator.
What sacrifices have you had to make to become a successful entrepreneur?
Everything depends on your definition of “successful.” For some it is a 2 million dollar capital raise or a company retreat in Aspen. For me, success is building a profitable, sustainable business that does good things for all of its stakeholders. That means sometimes I have to sacrifice personal desires for the well-being of the company. Every decision I make I try to see through the lens of “what gets me to my next customer and next sale.” That could be a capital raise or building out more technology, but I’m not going to do either of those things just for the sake of doing them.
What motivates you and how do you stay motivated?
Solving problems for my customers keeps me motivated. Motivation is always difficult as an entrepreneur because you don’t have a supervisor to tell you, “good job.” Some days you think that nothing you do will ever matter. Other days you are elated by the difference you are making in other people’s lives. Most of your time is spent in between the two poles. For all of that time spent in the middle, you have to believe that the work you are doing is good and right. You have to have interesting problems to solve to keep yourself engaged. You don’t have to be passionate about the problem you are solving, but you have to be passionate about solving it or else you will burn out quickly. Always remember that everything takes longer and costs more than you think.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I would have started in entrepreneurship sooner. Sure I had the lawn mowing business in high school but I went into Corporate America out of college. I had 5 different careers in different industries before starting my own businesses. There wasn’t a ton of entrepreneurial education available at that time unless you went to Harvard Business School. Now entrepreneurial education is readily available to everyone in books, online, through an incubator, or an accelerator. I am fortunate to have peers and mentors that helped me get to where I am now. That is why I am passionate about mentoring others and continuing the ecosystem of sharing entrepreneurial knowledge and experience.
How has your business changed your life? How has it changed the lives of others?
Most people go into business for themselves in search of the freedom versus the money. I am no exception. I would rather be the one to make the rules than to follow them. I can work when I want, from wherever I want, and I don’t have to put up with bad bosses anymore. MusicSpoke has changed the lives of our composers tremendously by giving them greater freedom and income. For example, one composer wrote a multi-movement work for chorus, organ, and orchestra. No traditional publisher would touch it because they would never make back their money from a large print run. We put it up on MusicSpoke and it sold. One score in one sale on one day made him more money than all his traditionally published scores made him all of last year combined. And then it sold 3 more times.
Have you ever been treated differently because you’re a female? How did you deal with that discrimination?
That’s a tough question. I have never had someone say to my face, “You are a women so you can’t…” I have had people (men and women) say things to me that you just can’t imagine someone saying to a man. “You have your own business? Was it a hobby first?” “If you just had triplets yesterday it probably would not be a good time for you to join this program.” “I will invest in you but you have to hire someone else to be CEO.” That being said, I can believe there is a lot more discrimination going on behind the scenes coupled with a lack of opportunity. So I choose to treat it like any other business problem. Is it right or fair? No. But like all other business problems, I have to work to overcome it and make strategic partnerships with like minded individuals for the benefit of all. I also have to be careful not to read into something that is not actually there.
“But like all other business problems, I have to work to overcome it and make strategic partnerships with like minded individuals for the benefit of all.”
MusicSpoke is disrupting traditional music publishing channels. How do you convince potential users and customers to try your new technology based product? Has it been easy to convince them to try a new way of doing things? Is your model the “new normal” for this industry?
We are a dual sided marketplace so we are getting two sets of customers to adopt new behaviors. Kids, don’t try this at home. We built up the supply side of the marketplace first, with composers and scores. After word got around, we didn’t have to go after composers anymore. We receive several requests a week from composers wanting to come on board. Changing buyer behavior is more difficult. When people are used to going to the same place to find their sheet music, be it online or to a brick and mortar, it is hard to break that habit. We focus the majority of our marketing on the buyer side of the marketplace. We want musicians and music educators to know they have options when looking for new music. Our model is becoming the new normal for our industry. We are seeing similar models on smaller scales popping up in regional areas. To date, no one else is focused on this problem full time and internationally.
You have participated in a couple of accelerators. Do you recommend an accelerator to others? What is the biggest benefit you received from your participation?
I do recommend accelerators but not all of them all the time. Some people hop from accelerator to accelerator for the funding and never really advance their business or add value to their cohort. There are different types of accelerators and they should be used at different times. The NMotion Accelerator was more of a seed stage program when we attended. We didn’t have a product or a business. We learned lean startup, validated, and built. The Prosper Women Entrepreneurs Accelerator was for later stage companies. Everything I learned at PWE would not have been helpful to me 2 years prior. I wasn’t far enough along yet. There are also accelerators that apply to specific verticals like FinTech, AgTech, SportsTech, and even MusicTech. So do your homework before you apply to an accelerator. Make sure it is offering the right education you need for the stage of your business. Being able to make connections for you in your industry is a bonus.
Your husband is also an entrepreneur. Tell us a little about that experience! What is the biggest piece of advice you would have for husband/wife entrepreneurs?
Musicians are the originators of the gig economy. Though he did not know it, my husband has been an entrepreneur all his life. However, this is his first foray into the startup world. We were great at being married and parenting together, but we had to learn how to be great business partners. It requires a different kind of communication. It can be tough to make business decisions together when you have a robust history that comes with everything you do. Remember that time you forgot to take out the trash? Remember that time you said you would come to my concert but worked late instead? Yep. All of that. It’s party of the beauty, too. Marriage is an analogy often used to describe cofounders. Cofounders counseling is even a thing now. Why not spend the next 5-7 (10?) years building a business with someone you’ve spent the last 27 years building a life with? Besides, companies including VMware, Eventbrite, and Cisco Systems all have married cofounders. If our parents couldn’t break us up, and our kids couldn’t break us up, this is no sweat.
Follow Jennifer and MusicSpoke on Twitter @HearMusicSpoke, Instagram and Facebook @MusicSpoke, and check out their website at www.musicspoke.com
Jennifer Rosenblatt – whether in her native Florida, or her current home in the Midwest – has an uncanny ability to become a gravitational point for community, customers, investors, and partners. Her unique ability to make connections and find mutual gains is at the root of her business, MusicSpoke, a marketplace connecting composers and performers.
Now on her second business, Rosenblatt is taking lessons from her first exited company and leveraging those insights to propel MusicSpoke to become the world’s largest marketplace for artist owned sheet music. Rosenblatt is an NMotion Accelerator alumnus, a graduate of the Prosper Women Entrepreneurs Startup Accelerator, and a 2017 Pipeline Entrepreneurs Fellow. She has over 25 years experience in sales, marketing, and management. Jennifer graciously gives her time and lessons learned with other entrepreneurs, students, and learners of all ages.
MusicSpoke is like Etsy for composers. Schools and other institutions spend 1 billion dollars a year on sheet music for concerts. MusicSpoke provides a digital marketplace where music professionals can purchase the sheet music they need directly from the composers they love.