How Former NFL Player Jason Fox Is Disrupting The Music Industry
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Jason Fox and I’m the Founder and CEO of EarBuds. EarBuds is a social music app that’s available in the iOS App Store and is coming out to Android soon.
Our technology connects to your Apple Music or Spotify Premium account and allows you to livestream music in real-time to other EarBuds users. We’ve bridged the gap between platforms, which means if you have a Spotify account and someone else has Apple Music you can still seamlessly listen together. EarBuds lets you connect and interact with your friends, favorite celebs, and athletes in the moment through music.
The mission of EarBuds is to make music social. Music is meant to be shared. It’s a magical, timeless thing that brings people together from all over the world. Now with EarBuds you can actually be listening along with someone from across the world in real-time. You can also chat and share playlists making it easy to discover and save new music instantly.
It’s been amazing to see the top X-Games athletes like Mark McMorris or top NFL talent like Baker Mayfield connect and live stream with their fans on EarBuds.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I played in the NFL for 6 years. I would watch a player like Cam Newton dance and jam out with his headphones on during warm-ups and I was just dying to know what he was listening to.
I wanted to feed off Cam’s energy, and then I thought to myself, “How cool would it be if everyone could hear what he was listening to at that very moment?”
Don’t be afraid to try new, bold ideas. You won’t know until you try. Your final product will not look like your initial product. Iteration is key.
When it finally came time to hang up my cleats, I was at a real crossroads. I loved playing in the NFL. The game was a passion that turned into a career. However, after some injuries and a lot of contemplation, I knew I needed to take that same passion I had for football and apply it to something off the field.
Knowing my career wouldn’t last forever, I got my MBA from the University of Miami while still playing, and met incredible friends and mentors. It also prepped me to not be afraid to step into the business world after football.
I took some time off to reflect on what I should do next, and two clear options appeared. One was an opportunity to work on a technology to improve NFL player safety, which is a huge passion of mine. The idea was already created and I had a clear role to step into. The other was to create this project I couldn't get out of my head, a social music experience.
Honestly, it was a really hard decision, but the technology for NFL players was already built and had some traction. I knew that it would succeed without me, and I wanted to create something that had not been done before. The challenge of building out a tech product, starting a company, and the opportunity to work with the same passion I played within the NFL fueled my final decision to start EarBuds.
I started to seed this idea with close friends at first and everyone loved it. The more I researched the social music space and talked to people in the music industry about creating a better experience, the need for EarBuds became crystal clear.
People want a way to share music and no longer listen in isolation. Music connects people from all walks of life and ages and a concert shouldn’t be the only time that true a connection is made.
The journey of Earbuds has been incredible and I’ve never looked back.
Take us through the process of building the product.
My first pass at creating an app consisted of outsourcing the work to a number of third party companies for design, development and research.
Our beta did well with users, but we had some big technical difficulties. We had a hard time handling a very small volume of users and the user flow was just off. I realized that outsourcing was not going to be the solution.
Never lose focus on the users. This has always been our core. If you make product decisions based off what you want...it will never be what “they” want, and what they want is far more important.
We needed an in-house team that could do all the user testing so they could really understand the pain points, and then build right away with their sole focus on one product. Outsourcing is amazing to build a concept and I do feel that you have to be strategic about when you build a dedicated team to take a concept into an actual product.
After the first year, we scrapped version 1 of the product and brought everything in-house. I hired a team of very talented individuals in development, design and marketing, and moved the headquarters to Austin, Texas.
In March 2018, the new EarBuds team set up shop in a coworking space for two months before moving into our own office in downtown Austin, where we are today.
While we were starting anew, we still had the knowledge we obtained from the first beta and a warm relationship with HeadquartersHQ in LA. HeadquartersHQ conducted user research for the first product and identified our target demographic: 18-24 year olds.
They were instrumental in setting up the new team and providing them with initial user personas and testing prototypes, allowing the new design team to get out into the field quickly.
Austin is incredible and we are taking advantage of the local music scene and college life to build a solid foundation of users. We worked with local fraternities and sororities for our initial beta product and continue to partner with users for product feedback. When building a product it is vital to build for users. That sounds simple, but is a rule that oftentimes gets forgotten.
We continue to cultivate our relationship with the campus community to this day. Many students have become brand ambassadors for us on campus and are continually getting more involved.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We soft-launched in the App Store in late December 2018.
We didn’t put money behind our marketing, rather, we used local, organic marketing via Instagram and Facebook.
We got 1,000 downloads in the first weekend. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you go from 10 the week before to 1000, it’s big. It was a great first test and we were able to identify some key areas in the user experience to fix. As we continually develop the product, we are also in a rapid testing phase with different growth marketing efforts to identify the best acquisition channel.
However, the biggest focus is building the EarBuds community and making sure we’re always delivering on our mission to make music social.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The best way we have attracted users is by partnering with athletes and musicians on activations during important moments.
For example, we had top X-Games athletes like Mark McMorris broadcast their playlist live through Earbuds while they’re competing, and their fans absolutely loved it! Mark prepped his audience from Instagram with a few different story posts and then hyperlinked them to the live broadcast. Fans would swipe up and come to the live broadcast on the app as a preview, then go through the account creation process.
We’ve had other great X-Games athletes and NFL players like Baker Mayfield get on the app since then. We’ve met so many amazing people along the way through friends of friends knowing our tech would be useful and making the connection for us.
We also attend university events and speak on different panels to help get the word out and keep a pulse on industry trends. Then has led to great conversations as well. Onboarding a large group at one time, like at a campus event, has proved to have great retention.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’re growing each week in the metrics that matter to us. These are:
- Average time in the app
- Engagement during live sessions
- Custom playlist creation
The key for us is creating the best product experience while we continue to grow, and it’s going well so far. We have a more product iterations and some big activations in the near future that we are extremely excited about.
As far as the industry goes, everyone is looking to enable a better human connection through technology. The first wave of technology enables us to do and create incredible things, but mostly in isolation. Now, the big focus is how to enable deeper and more meaningful human connection through technology and we are excited to be a part of that.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Definitely learned a few core lessons that I hope others learn from:
Outsource for a concept and then bring in house to build.
I outsourced for too long and it was tough. When you bring in a group of people that have one mission and are invested together, it’s incredible to see the difference in progress.
Never lose focus on the users.
This has always been our core. If you make product decisions based off what you want...it will never be what “they” want, and what they want is far more important.
Passion trumps talent.
This is more for me, but I was an NFL linemen and now am a founder of a new tech product. I would not have been able to get through all the struggles of making this transition without an insane passion for the product and mission of Earbuds. Find your passion and it will lead you to places you wouldn't be able to imagine.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The two tools we use for planning are Trello for project organization and Jira for product design and implementation.
Our back-end stack is autoscaled node.js and socket.io, with Redis and Postgres (Aurora).
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I am an avid reader and lover of podcasts. I believe it is important to keep an active mind. Here are a few of the books and podcasts that had a big impression on me.
- Traction by Gino Wickman
- Measure What Matters by John Doer
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel
- Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore
- Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim
- How I Built This with Guy Raz
- Masters of Scale hosted by Reid Hoffman
- The Playbook by David Meltzer
- The FORT with Chris Powers
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to fail! A lot of people don’t ever get started for fear of failing. Don’t be afraid to try new, bold ideas. You won’t know until you try. Your final product will not look like your initial product. Iteration is key.
Get something out there, learn from your audience and iterate. Finding a balance between roadmap planning and being agile is important, as well.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
After we raise our Series A, we will be building out our product team. We will be looking to hire a Product Manager, design resources, and engineers to help build for other platforms, including Android.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Our website: www.earbudsmusic.com
- Facebook: EarBudsmusic
- Instagram: @earbudsmusic
- Twitter: @EarBudsLive
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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