Today on The Fastest Growing Companies podcast, we're talking to the Founder & Co-CEO, Soundstripe, Travis Terrell..
Today on The Fastest Growing Companies podcast, we're talking to the Founder & Co-CEO, Soundstripe, Travis Terrell..
Chris Ronzio (00:36):
Welcome back everyone. Today, I'm here with Travis Terrell. He is the co-founder and co-CEO of Sound Stripe. Hey Travis.
Travis Terrell (00:45):
Hey, how's it going Chris?
Chris Ronzio (00:47):
Great. Thanks for coming on. So tell us for anyone that doesn't know, what is Sound Stripe? What's the elevator pitch?
Travis Terrell (00:55):
Well, okay, so Sound Stripe is basically a next-generation music company. We create and sell royalty-free music to digital content creators and filmmakers all over the world. We do that via a subscription, all access subscription, and, you know, we have other products as well, like stock, video and sound effects, but music is our real game. We also act as a record label and a publisher. We sell to all the DSPs, Apple Music, Spotify, and we, a lot of the mood based playlist that you hear are listened to on Spotify. You're actually listening to Sound Stripe music. So that's a little bit about what we do.
Chris Ronzio (01:41):
Wow. All right. There's so much to dig into there. My first company was a video production company, and back then I had all these crappy royalty free libraries. And so I was browsing your website before this, and I wish I had a tool like yours that was so nicely designed and easy to navigate. You mentioned publishing and you also mentioned creating as most of the music on there, something you produce in house, or is it that you partner with artists? How does that actually work?
Travis Terrell (02:09):
Yeah. So it's a good question. And thanks for bringing that up about stock music back in the day. I mean, that's the problem that we were solving was number one, the music is usually crappy on these royalty, free websites, elevator sounding music, and number two, it took you forever to find the song that you were looking for and you'd spend hours searching for things. So we spend a lot of time solving for those two problems specifically. And so, yeah, we have an in-house team, not all in-house, but we're creating music. We have a mix team, a whole infrastructure.
The way we think about it is a lot like Netflix would. So in the beginning they were just licensing content out and then they started making it themselves. So we really have a technology company on one side that is the platform and, constantly caring about the UX and user experience. And then we have a music company that is basically pumping out a lot of music at once. We hire songwriters and engineers and producers and that sort of thing. We commission them to do projects for us, or we have them on staff. There's a lot of ways that happens.
Chris Ronzio (03:31):
So, I remember using a video using a song once in a, in a video I was making. And then a week later, I heard the same song in a commercial and I was like, ah, there's only so few choices. Have you ever had that happen where one of your songs that you recognize is on this, like a Superbowl ad or something like that?
Travis Terrell (03:49):
Yes, we have had a Superbowl ad before, but I think when I knew that I had made it in a way, I was in the airport, well, I was actually in the rental car bus, all over the overhead speaker on the bus, I could hear, there was a lady talking on the TV, it said, you know, welcome to Nashville International Airport, blah, blah, blah. And over there was a soundtrack song that I actually created a years ago on it. So that was, that was kind of a, ooo, a real thing. And now we hear it all over the internet and commercials and things, which is cool. Still funny.
Chris Ronzio (04:36):
Right. So you told me right before we started recording, you're coming up on five years or just hit your five-year anniversary. You've got 82 people up from five people your first year. So five to 82 people. That is no joke. That is something a lot of people aren't able to do. So I want to talk about that journey, but first, as you think about the last four or five years, what do you think has been the secret sauce, the special thing in your business that's enabled you to scale so quickly? Is it a particular model you have? Is it a introduction that you got? A customer? What was like the turning point?
Travis Terrell (05:13):
Well, I would say a few things, the turning point for us was when we created a business model that really worked for a growing demographic of customers. So this, you know, I feel like we got super lucky in that we launched at the same time that this huge influx of digital content creators were coming onto the scene and creating content and they needed to license music and they didn't know how to do it legally. And they wanted it to be good music. And then they didn't want to pay each time they licensed the song. So, you know, in comes the subscription, the business model. The business model innovation is what drove the initial growth. And then as all companies face challenges with competition and things like that, you have to sort of develop secret sauce other than the thing that got you off the ground. Right?
And so for us, it became the quality of music. The thing that we focus on a lot is time to value. So how long, when a customer comes into Sound Stripe, how long does it take them to license a track. We spend enormous amounts of time thinking about that. So, you know, those two things we, I think has been a part of it that. The other part is that, you know, we're, we grew up musicians. We're in the music business. I was before we started Sound Stripe and not many actually royalty-free music, companies have musicians as founders, which is very odd. They usually come from the film background because they had that problem. And so I feel like we have a lot of things to do, you know, that are special to a musician. We really fully understand the issues and challenges that musicians have to make a consistent paycheck.
Chris Ronzio (07:22):
Yeah, that's so special. And I've heard the same thing about our business. You know, being a small business owner before starting a software for small business owners was so important. Whereas there's a lot of founders that are just more opportunistic. They see a problem, but they don't have that true passion for what they're doing. So it sounds like you have that growing up in this business, it's not a fly by night idea.
Travis Terrell (07:44):
A hundred percent. My co-founder and I started a real estate wholesale and company before we started Sound Stripe and failed miserably because we couldn't have cared less about real estate.
Chris Ronzio (07:58):
Glad you found your thing.
Travis Terrell (08:02):
But we were listening to all the podcasts and we were like, oh, this sounds like an opportunity, but it really taught us that we needed to follow our passion more than just the money.
Chris Ronzio (08:13):
Oh, I'm glad you did. So let's go back to the five people in year one. What did that initial team look like? What did you all do?
Travis Terrell (08:22):
Well, I like to say too, that this is an extraordinary group of people that, they're really the culture. How would you describe it? They're so vital to the culture, moving forward, and those five or 10 people have helped with the culture as much as the co-founders. And, uh, you know, a lot of them are generalist. A lot of them were so willing and eager to do whatever it took to get up things off the ground. And I like to tell other startups, if they're hiring their first five people that, you're not, you do not need somebody that is asking you for a bi-annual review, you know, every time or wants to the perfect job description. It's not going to happen that way.
And as you grow, that will happen. But these people might, the first employee, Danielle Summers, she was in charge of answering customer tickets. And then today she's our vice president of customer care. She's still with us. We had somebody that was a licensing person and we had somebody that was an artist relations person. And then our fourth person was Cris Spall which ended up becoming our VP of marketing. And he just came on as a marketing manager at the time.
Chris Ronzio (09:56):
That's amazing. And I love that you keep referencing the first five, because we had the same thing. We ended our first year with five people. And we've since created this, this group called the first five that we have a channel in slack. We have a, a quarterly meetings that we do. And like you said, it's like, we're the cultural advocates or champions of the business. Um, we have these culture awards that the first five votes on. And so, it's so foundational to the business to find those right people and to divide and conquer, um, as you started to grow from that first year on, was there some area of the business that you struggled to let go of? And how did that go?
Travis Terrell (10:37):
Well, I guess that's sort of a delegation, right? We can talk about that, but the, I struggled to let go of so many things. I probably, you know, in each time I've struggled to let go of something we've ended up plateauing as a company because of it. I'd say that's a huge challenge of delegation and leaders. We struggled to give away finance, we struggled to give away, you know, marketing, operations, and each time that, you know, the company looks different every six months or every year. And so that's, it's been a huge thing that we try to, we've tried to learn from our mistakes in, giving things away. And the thing I'll say about delegation is that it, it's this interesting topic that when you, when you're first starting a business, you read all these things about delegation.
People say, delegate, delegate, delegate, and then you're like, yeah, I'll delegate. And then you delegate. And then it goes terribly. I find that people, they over-index on what they do normally, you know, so I over-index on delegating too much. My co-founder over indexes on not delegating and can micromanage. I got some advice, not personally, but hearing Bob Iger from Disney talk about the greatest CEOs can, are really great at zooming out and doing the board stuff and the big thinking, and then maybe the next hour can zoom in on something that needs to be dealt with. That is a detail. The problem that I've had in the past is if I let go of something, I just let go. And I'm like, you just take it, take it from me. And then I don't check in with them. And then, and then a year later I'm like, oh, that's not happening at all the way it needs to happen.
Chris Ronzio (13:05):
Yeah. One of our advisors, Michael Gerber, who wrote the E-Myth, he says, it's instead of delegating a responsibility, you're abdicating their responsibility. Like you're just disappearing, like you're handed off and disappear, and that's not the way to get it done. So it sounds like you've learned that. Now you have an interesting structure with a co-CEO and a co-founder. And I'm curious, how did that come into play with dividing strengths or responsibilities out of the gates? Is that a structure you had since the beginning?
Travis Terrell (13:37):
We had it since the beginning, and I will say that I wouldn't promote it to anybody. It's hard. It's like being married in a way. Uh, but you know, the thing I would say is we've been working together since 2009, through a production business and through other businesses. And we know each other so well, and it is a one plus one equals three situation to where we, you know, we fully believe it's the best decision for the company right now. What will it be when we're, you know, 500 employees? I don't know. What one thing that we do is try every year to reassess and think, okay, is this the right thing and are their responsibilities correct? And that's changed over time and I have in the past, I would have marketing, product under me customer care, and he would have the music side and sometimes that's changed or evolved over time. Uh, you know, it's very hard work to do it as co-CEOs, but I also see that there's a lot of advantages that you're doing something, it's very lonely at the top, as you know, and it has an, a lot of people are, are very egocentric and love that in a way. I think it forces us to pull ego out of it and make the best decision. Sometimes he's right about something, sometimes I'm right about something.
Chris Ronzio (15:18):
How do you draw straws? Like if you, if you each have a different opinion on something, you're trying to take a decision of the company, how do you decide what's the right decision?
Travis Terrell (15:28):
We have a third co-founder, which helps a lot if there ever is. I would say though, we have never argued about something. I think one of the things that helps us is we give a lot of benefit of the doubt. We have, I think our IQ is pretty high to be able to handle, handle this relationship. And, you know, if we ever have any disagreements, then we just talk them out. But we always usually come to an agreement on what the right situation is. It may take walking around a pond for an hour and trying to figure it out, but...
Chris Ronzio (16:16):
Those walking meetings, those are the best. I like those too. Okay. So, thinking through the different levels your company has gone through, were there sizes of company where you just organizationally had to change things a lot? You know, you couldn't communicate with everyone anymore. Reporting structures change. Where along the way have things evolved.
Travis Terrell (16:38):
Uh, it evolves, I'd say at15 and 20. It evolved again at 50. It's been pretty consistent until now. And I think probably when we reach a hundred, it will do that again. 50 it changed because, you know, really it's harder for the founder to hug the organization and just, and decide everything. And really, it's not a good situation if you're doing that. We didn't have a lot of processes in place. We have People Ops and HR, we have a lot of culture things, but it's, you know, to operationalize your culture, wasn't really something that we were thinking about. And also just processes in general, your project management, like how bi-annual reviews work for employees, growth plans. Like, you know, you had number 65 employee saying, well, what's my growth plan. And you're like, well, wait, what, there's growth plans? And you have to start thinking through because, you know, again, like number 10 employee is going to be much different than number 80 in employee. And these people are, you know, maybe have been professionals at several companies before, and it's just a, it's kind of a different world.
Chris Ronzio (18:20):
Is there something you would have done 10 employees earlier, as you think back?
Travis Terrell (18:26):
Oh, gosh, well, I will say that it, and I think I've mentioned this, but any plateau that we've had in growth has been because we didn't hire the right people at the right time. Almost every time you can see the growth chart of Sound Stripe and there's a plateau, we didn't make the decision faster. We him hauled. And we said, well, do we really need a VP of Marketing now, or not a VP of Marketing, a VP of. Finance or something like that. For us as finance, we waited and waited and waited. Our board was screaming at us. You need a VP of finance. And we're like, we have an outsourced finance person and we really don't. We finally did it and we did it and we were like, what were we doing? We should have done this a year ago? You hear people say that all the time, and yet I still ended up making that mistake. I would've hired people way sooner to solve some of these problems.
Chris Ronzio (19:40):
Yeah. Completely. All right. Well, as you look ahead, what's next for you? What's next for Sound Stripe, where to from here?
Travis Terrell (19:48):
Well, I mean, Sound Stripe, three years ago was in a very sleepy industry and it, you know, it really just took off. There's just a lot of competition, a lot of money being flowed in. So it's a really exciting time to be at Sound Stripe and to be this industry in general. We're really excited about the path forward, just to create a great company. A company that people love to work at. I'm very excited now about creating the company like working on it. And now it's getting fun a little bit. There was a period it wasn't fun. That was when I was just trying to do everything. Now it's getting more fun to work with the board and with managers that we really are having a lot of fun with and doing some awesome things with. So it's a good, it's a good time.
Chris Ronzio (20:53):
Well, I think everyone listening probably wants to get to the point where their business is fun. So hopefully they've been able to pull a few tips from what you've said, which you've had so many great insights here. And for everyone listening, you've heard Travis, they went from 5 to 82 people in four years or so. From year one to year five. He put together that first five people, those generalists that really were the cultural guides for the business. He focused really hard on time to value for his customers so that they could find something and license something quickly. He focused his passion on a business that he grew up in. So he wouldn't just tire out, burn out. And then he's learned to let go so that they don't plateau. He hires the right people. So Travis, incredible feedback and advice. Thank you for that. Where can people find you if they want to connect more?
Travis Terrell (21:42):
My companies is at soundstripe.com. You can also find me Travis Terrell on LinkedIn. And I have, travisterrell.live, L I V E. And I write a little bit of a block there.
Chris Ronzio (21:54):
Awesome! Well, everyone look up Travis. Like he said, focus on operationalizing your culture. I love that Travis. Hopefully you can all borrow a page from Travis's playbook as you build your own. Thanks for being here and Travis, thanks for joining us.
Travis Terrell (22:08):
Thanks so much, Chris.