Brendan O’Driscoll and Aidan Sliney, Soundwave
Music discovery company Soundwave was founded in 2012
Brendan holds a degree in engineering from UCD as well as a master’s in sustainable energy engineering from KTH in Sweden. He is the chief executive of the company. Before Soundwave, he worked for a tidal energy technology company in Gothenburg, and also ran his own rickshaw start-up in Dublin.
A computer science graduate, Aidan is the CTO of Soundwave. While working towards a PhD in e-learning at UCC, he decided to enter the commercial world with Paddy Power. He has worked in many areas within online development from user experience design to business analysis as well as product management.
The Soundwave app has been downloaded more than one million times since its launch in the summer of 2013. Voted as Best Innovation in Music 2013 by Apple, the app has also received “Editor’s Choice” acknowledgements from Apple and is a Google “Top Developer”. Forbes voted Soundwave one of “five companies that made media consumption smarter this year” in 2013.
How did you secure your first investment?
Brendan: I sent a cold email to billionaire businessman and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban after I read about him investing in a Silicon Valley start-up. I didn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t target the super-angels if Valley companies were. He read my mail and we closed our round with him and ACT Venture Capital shortly after.
What was your “back-to-the- wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
When we first figured out how to understand what songs people played on the music players on their iPhones, we knew we were on to something. Massive market leaders such as Last.fm had been trying to do this unsuccessfully for years. We wanted to make sure our method was okay by Apples rules, so we emailed iTunes vice-president Eddy Cue and told him what we had just done.
The next day we were on a plane to Apple. We sat opposite a fleet of Apple employees who were asking all sorts of questions about who we were. We weren’t sure if they were going to rule our method acceptable or not. Luckily they did.
Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?
Brendan: When in college, a buddy and I designed, built and leased out a fleet of rickshaws that were then pulled around Dublin city centre late at night during the boom years. We even managed to sell advertising space on them. I’ve never learned so much about business as when negotiating bulk aluminium purchases, convincing manufacturers that we weren’t nuts or figuring out through trial and error which motorbike tires gave the smoothest ride down Grafton St.
When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?
Someone who is looking to work at Soundwave instead of just looking for a job. I’ll never forget one application we got where the applicant, who was obviously using a template cover letter, forgot to fill in the name of the company and the position. It read: “Dear employer, I would like to apply for the position at company”. I wrote back: “Sure thing, please come to address, at time, to meet with founder to discuss this further”. We didn’t hear back.