“Because sound is social.”
“Twitter for audio” is just one of the ways that Audioboo has been described since its’ launch in 2009. An impressive accolade indeed, but even that is probably not giving this indispensable mobile and web platform the true recognition it deserves. To find out more about this truly innovative and revolutionary application, TheEmployable were delighted to this week to interview leading entrepreneur, Mark Rock, the founder and CEO of Audioboo.
Hi Mark, can you give us a bit of background on Audioboo and how you originally came up with the idea?
My mother died and I experienced the loss of not only her but her memories. The idea to create a platform for creating, sharing and storing the spoken word, along with extra information like a photo, location etc was born then. When Channel 4 approached us later on that year to work on a new radio proposition, the idea of Audioboo kinda formed itself into a technology platform based around an easy to use mobile app linked to very simple ways to share the everyday importance of the spoken word.
Audioboo has been described by The Guardian as being “ the single most important new media tool of the last two years”. - a magnificent achievement. From the outset, did you always think it was going to have such a big impact or were you at all surprised by how rapidly it took off?
Surprised actually. Audioboo was very much a side project that was embraced by users in a big way. In a lot of respects we were chasing their needs initially. We very much stumbled upon a real need for people to share their voices in a social context.
You certainly were ahead of the game in terms of pioneering “Social Audio”, but obviously there are more challenges in the market currently with the likes of Soundcloud etc. How are you planning to ensure that you keep ahead of the competition?
We love SoundCloud but it’s such a music driven service that I don’t think it can ever have the focus we have on sharing the spoken word. With users like BBC, Guardian, Le Monde, Al Jazeera, Christian Aid etc, our real focus on the permanence of voice is our strongest asset. Staying focused on that will enable us to really own what is seen as a niche but is in fact much wider than that.
You’ve obviously come under the spotlight recently for the change to a freemium model. Why have you gone down this route specifically and do you have other plans in place for paid services in the future?
We’re a business. We need to learn how to make money and give value to shareholders whilst still offering a service for free that fulfils our original aims. We analysed usage and saw that most boos were under 3 minutes. So we developed a paid model that gave 3 minutes for free and then offered a yearly fee for longer than that. Not really rocket science. Going forward, we have a number of developments under way that will use a similar model but it’s a bit hard to go into detail here. Our Audiobook initiative has already been announced and we’re very keen to socialise that medium, which will have paid options attached to it. But there is lots more coming.
You’ve been very open in the past about the contrast between how technology startups get funding in the US as opposed to here in the UK. What do you think should be done to improve that and encourage more technology startups in the UK?
As the first industrial country, used to building railways and factories, the UK doesn’t really get the internet. Money wants to invest in physical things, or stuff with perceived, solid value – like IP. The USA, which has a history of exploration into the unknown – think of the push to the East coast in the 19th century – gets the benefits of risk much better than us. How do we make that better? Well, one of the easiest ways would be for the BBC to establish closer links with the innovation community in the UK. They support and promote big, private companies in the US like FaceBook and Twitter yet fail to celebrate UK digital talent like Audioboo. As the dominant media player in the UK, the BBC Trust should really push them to begin to think differently.
As we all know the jobs market is particularly tough at the moment and it seems that more and more people are trying to create their own opportunities by creating their own businesses. What key advice would you give someone who has a business idea and is at this moment thinking about starting their own business?
Tricky one. First, make sure you have a co-founder with different skills than yours. Startups really need to have a ying / yang dynamic. Too often, people with the same skill-set start businesses and that only leads to trouble further on. Two, raise cash early. Most ideas take far longer than you think to take off. And three, be passionate. Passion is worth far more than any business plan and if you can manage to convey that, people will believe in you
Finally, are there any more exciting developments in the pipeline for Audioboo that you can tell us about?
Yes there are but I can’t
Frankly…we can’t wait to hear what they are!
Visit audioboo.fm to download the app. Audioboo is available for iphone, Android and Nokia phones.