This is an interview we really enjoyed doing with John Holland @ CEO of Whole World Band @. Since we first met John, Whole World Band have gone on to win a bunch of awards, helped bring out Band Aid 30, and continued to rapidly grow. It’s another great Irish startup story. We hope you enjoy reading the interview.
Your journey from Ericsson CTO to WWB, did you always have a love for music? And an interest in working with a smaller company again?
That’s a lot of questions disguised in one. I’ve always had a love of people, technology, music, business and, believe it or not, psychology. Music has always been a passion, I built my first recording studio when I was a teenager and the creative process of writing, recording and producing has always fascinated me. It is utterly amazing how a song can develop and change in this process – a weak song can transform into a good one and vice versa!
The journey from Ericsson CTO to CEO of WholeWorldBand has roots in my experience across music, business & technology. WholeWorldBand brings them altogether so while it was a risk leaving a big company with a six figure salary, pension and benefits, as the saying goes; “a boat in the harbor may be safe but over time its bottom may rot”
There are advantages to working in both big and small companies and I’m equally comfortable in both. The most important thing for me is the the opportunity to achieve and be productive. As CTO of Ericsson I was part of a great team and we grew our market share from 30-70% while I was CTO – I am very proud of that. For various reasons though I was not able to replicate that success across Europe and I don’t like being held back. At the same time, the WholeWorldBand opportunity arose and I saw a great opportunity.
Pros and cons of working with a smaller company?
It’s not about the pros and cons of big vs. small companies, it’s about what you’re trying to achieve, the team you’re part of and the ability to deliver and whether these ingredients are present in the company, be it a small or large one.
How technically challenging was it to build the product? Or is the challenge more in growing the number of users?
The product is hugely technically challenging. Changing the game and creating a brand new way for artists, musicians, labels, publishers and brands to engage fans, monetise assets and potentially discover new talent is not trivial.
We had two main technical challenges to begin with: firstly, synchronising multiple tracks of audio and video has never been done before in a consumer-level application. Added to that building a back-end cloud-based system capable of storing and delivering those audio-visual streams in a scalable way while also handling rights management and payments to musicians was a huge undertaking! But we have an amazing team and we iterate and bash through the challenges with grit and determination.
Growing user numbers is ultimately what it’s all about, with each iteration we see greater uptake and engagement. We are seeing a healthy growth rate and some really great music being created. It is an inspiring project and brands and artists alike are excited about the opportunity. We have some really promising deals in the pipeline and 2015 and beyond is shaping up to be a breakout year for us.
Which social media platform is proving the most effective in growing the adoption of the WholeWorldBand product?
Each have their own advantages – since social video sharing is what we’re all about we have integrated all of the major social media sites into our platform: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Soundcloud etc.
Where do you hope to be in 12 months, and then in the next 2 years after that?
Dublin! I love it here! 😉 But to answer your question, WholeWorldBand’s aim is to be a major positive contributor to how music is created, shared and monetized in the digital age. All the signs and feedback we are getting suggest that we are on a very good trajectory for achieving this. For a company at this stage of development, to have the artists we have, the tens of thousands of recording sessions, the great music being created and the media and brand attention we are getting suggests we are doing something right.
Do you have any favourite tunes to have emerged from WWB?
One of my favourites is by the Irish producer Daithi, who wrote an exclusive instrumental for us. A young rapper from Northern Ireland heard it and came up with some lyrics, followed by a guitarist and trumpet player. To me the results sound like a hit record.
On the other end of the scale we have Kodo, the traditional Japanese percussionists. They’re incredible on their own, but where else would you get to see and hear them play with a post-rock guitarist? You also get a taste of the opportunities open to filmmakers and the scope for interesting visuals.
And of course we have some of the biggest music names in the world. Michael Buble and Idina Menzel’s ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ gave even our youngest users a chance to sing along with an international star!
I enjoyed your description of working with MADD people? How do you manage to look for that in interviews?
Interviews are an imperfect method of choosing candidates but you can increase your probability of getting the right people by being very focused on looking for detailed and real answers that demonstrate a person’s abilities and motivation in the areas of expertise you need. Focus on getting the candidate to talk about actual situations and things they have actually done rather than the woolly responses of “I would do X” or “We did Y”. It is important to get them to the “I did X. These are the challenges I had, this is how I did it, and this is what I learnt”. If they can’t talk about exactly what they did in some detail then they probably didn’t do it or didn’t contribute at the level they think they did!
Words of wisdom from your experience of developing WWB? Anything you would have done differently?
I believe in iteration, determination and moving forward. Spending too much time trying to make something perfect, analyzing failure too much or looking for blame is counter productive. If you’re not making mistakes you’re not trying hard enough! We make mistakes, we learn from them and we move on. We don’t let them eclipse all the good things the team has done. No one has a 100% hit rate but that does not mean you don’t aim for 100%.
You become massively successful, what’s your philosophy on dealing with the uncountable riches?
Hire people to do the counting! We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
What’s it like working with Kevin Godley? Does he sing in the kitchen?
Kevin is intelligent as well as insightful with an amazing body of work. He’s creative and thinks differently; a truly visionary artist. Not only is he a superb singer but he has a great sense of humour to boot and that can’t be underestimated. We compliment one another very well.
WWB is a great concept, how might it develop in the future, live gigs or something direction
Let’s just say we are ambitious, with big audacious goals. There are so many ways the platform can support creativity and that is really exciting….watch this space!
Anything I should have asked / you’d like to add?
Nope great set of questions! Thank you.