I was thrilled when I heard I would be interviewing the founder of my favorite music-streaming site Grooveshark, Andres Barreto. But when I found out we had some serious connections – he went to college in Florida and graduated a year after me (same major), his current office is four blocks from where I used to work in NYC, his editor works in the same office I do now, etc. – I knew we would get on like a house on fire, even if he did go to the “other” school (a-hem, UF). I sat down with Andres to discuss world politics (really), OnSwipe‘s rapid success, and our mutual hatred for florescent lighting for this session of The Startup Sit Down. Hey Andres, thanks for taking the time to give us the OnSwipe lowdown. Our KillerStartups fans are looking forward to being inspired! Let’s get started…
Tell us a little about where you’re coming from.
Andres Barreto: I’m from Colombia and I went to school in Florida. I realized very quickly that my business and engineering classes had nothing to do with what I was doing at the time, which was building a company (Grooveshark), so I decided to study something that I actually enjoyed at that was political science. Most of my classes were in comparative politics, and I got into economic development. Every essay I did, I related it to Latin America, and by my last semester I had come up with an unofficial thesis on economic development in Latin America through entrepreneurship and technology. After Grooveshark, I got into this idea and started pulsosocial, which is the tech blog that covers entrepreneurship and investment in Latin America. When I started to research on the topic, there was no info available whatsoever, so I teamed up with two journalists, spent my last semester in Chile, and traveled from 2008-2010 all throughout Latin America meeting with other entrepreneurs and investors and really creating our audience from scratch. I really wanted to promote that you could build a global company from Latin America, not just build clones.
Tell us a little about your current project OnSwipe
In promoting that idea I said, “I’ll build a global company in Latin America.” During this time I noticed that when the iPad came out (I was doing another company in Miami with my co-founder Jason Baptist), we noticed that websites and blogs weren’t designed for a touch experience, whereas native apps were. So we decided to build touch-optimized experience for the iPad for our respective blogs. This allowed our readers to go through more content, so it increased page views. It also allowed us to have other means of monetization in terms of advertising. Fun Fact – The first version of OnSwipe was built with our engineer in Mexico who didn’t have an iPad; he would code and we would have to show him the results, on Skype, from Miami. But our little side-project really took off. We moved to New York, got our first round of funding, which was with Spark Capital that we announced in January 2011, for $1 million, and we also joined the TechStars.
How was your experience at TechStars?
We graduated in April of last year, and it was pretty awesome. You literally do more, faster. We got to our milestone so quickly and there was such a demand for our product that we had to grow a lot faster, and within four months we were able to raise another $5 million. It was due in part to the acceleration of TechStars. Now, we’re a team of 35, we have tons of amazing partners – the NY Times is running with us.
I LOVE Grooveshark. What’s you’re involvement with Grooveshark now?
I am a shareholder, I no longer run it. I can only run one company at a time! I’m also shareholder of Socialatom, which is a PR company in Latin America that helps tech companies expand internationally.
What’s your office vibe?
When we were starting OnSwipe, our “office” was Jason’s apartment, and I lived on his couch for a couple of weeks while we were building it. We wanted to take the apartment feel, so when you walk into the office it feels like an apartment – we have big couches, we have a big T.V., we have no white lighting… I HATE florescent lighting. It’s almost like a frat house, there’s a bunch of young people. Our CTO is 19 and our lead engineer is 20 years old, but they’re geniuses, they’ve been selling companies since they were 14. So, I’m the old veteran in the office.
Biggest startup surprise (good or bad) so far?
It wasn’t necessarily one surprise, it was more of a surprise that grew over time. When I started getting into the Tablet market, and the touch and ad world, I originally thought there would be growth and opportunity, but I didn’t know it was going to be that fast. It was March, and we had already landed the NY Times and they said “Cool, we love what you’re doing, we want to use the ad stuff and we want it in two weeks.” We said, “Uhh, great!” The market grew so fast and we had to grow so quickly. For us, it’s been an amazing opportunity, but it hasn’t been a walk in the park. So far though, we’ve been able to keep up, and I think that was reflected in our first two rounds of funding – we closed both deals in around 30 days.
Are you intimidated by going into a room full of investors?
Some entrepreneurs hate fundraising… I love it. I like every aspect of building a company – going out and making sales, doing partnerships, doing fundraising, recruiting, finance – there’s nothing too boring for me; I’m not above anything.
Where do you find inspiration or how do you motivate yourself?
Honestly, I don’t really have one. For me, I wouldn’t know how to do anything else except build companies. In college I learned very early on that no one was ever going to hire me, so if I’m going to make it, I need to make my own company and hire myself. So, my motivation is not being able to do anything else.
What would you be doing if you had one year off (and it can’t be tech related)?
I would still build a company, maybe I’d build a bakery.
Sneaky answer. You wouldn’t be travelling?
Oh, I still travel about once a month to give talks on entrepreneurship, host hack-a-thons and events. Even if it’s not tech, building companies is what I love doing, so with a year off, I would still be doing that.
Favorite tech tool, app or site you use every day and can’t work without?
It can’t be my own, can it? Honestly, I listen to Grooveshark all day everyday.
What’s on your Grooveshark right now?
I usually have music from Eastern Europe, Northern India and Latin America. I’m actually taking courses for music production and mixing, so my hope is to one day mix it all and make an awesome new genre combining folkloric and electronic music from all over the world.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
I think a lot of people get stuck in planning and thinking, but what I recommend to people is to oversimplify your idea to one thing, and one thing only. Make it as simple as possible but interesting enough that when people use it, they’re going to tell their friends about it. Whatever you can code up in a week, that’s what you should be building. Build it, launch it and grow it. I grow it through PR.
What PR tactics do you use?
It’s very simple- you have to find who your audience is and then find out what they read and then look up the journalists that write about what they’re reading, and then put yourself in the shoes of a journalist—make it relevant your audience and their style of writing.
Parting words of wisdom for startup newbies and wannabies?
It doesn’t have to be technology or entrepreneurship, but the best words of wisdom are actually do what you’re passionate about, even if you have to work a 9-5 job so that you can do pottery. Everyday that you’re not working towards your passion is a day wasted. Don’t delay it, just find a way to do it. Awesome interview, Andres! Love what you’re doing for Latin American entrepreneurship and your personal drive towards doing what you love. Startups and internet entrepreneurs, be sure your website is touch optimized with OnSwipe.
Side-note shout out to Grooveshark – It has provided endless hours of music-streaming goodness to my life. Currently looping is Ben Howard‘s album “These Waters.” Check him out. He’s what my English roommate would call “standard” and/or “good form.” On a second side-note, KillerStartups first covered Grooveshark 5 years ago! We’ve both come a long way since then, Andres.