By ANDREW MOORE
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Austin startup Rockify hosted its first inaugural TechTainment retreat last Friday in the West Lake Hills area of Austin. The event was a fundraiser sponsored by Arthur Edstrom and Kathleen Blackwell of XYZ2Y Ventures and was held in the couple’s new home. Deep Eddy Vodka was also a sponsor.
The retreat featured an interview with music legend Gregg Rolie — co-founder of both Santana and Journey – and an intimate living room performance with notable musicians Ron Wikso, Alan Haynes, and Evan “Sticky” Arredondo.
Rockify is currently in the seed round of fundraising and needs to raise $250,000 by the end of the year. They will need another $3 million by the summer of 2013 to hire additional staff and improve their product.
“YouTube serves more music than Spotify, Pandora, and all other music companies combined,” Korpi said. “The problem is, YouTube is not a music platform … the user experience is just not designed for it.”
Taking advantage of this gap in online entertainment, Korpi invented Rockify — a music video discovery platform that looks like old-school MTV but works like Pandora. The platform curates music videos from sources around the web – YouTube, Vimeo, Daily Motion, etc – and displays them in a constant stream that is tailored to the user’s music taste.
The key feature of Rockify is Korpi’s decision making algorithm that discovers not only what users like but what they will like in the future. Users log in with either their Facebook or Twitter account and the algorithm uses their social information and interaction to discover and predict what content the user will be interested in.
“We use the entire social graph,” Korpi said. “What your best friend likes. What your girlfriend, your wife likes. We use that statistically for better accuracy.”
Korpi said that the algorithm can learn a user’s patterns over time and – after about 100 hours of use – can reliably find new music that a user will like. Users will also be able to like or dislike videos shown to further refine the video discovery process.
The Rockify website launched in May and has already acquired 25,000 users by word of mouth alone. Korpi said that the site’s analytics show users spending an average of 23 minutes on the site. Ten percent of those have already switched to the paid premium content offered by Rockify, which currently has an indexed web library of 250,000 music videos.
Several companies and investors have already taken notice of the huge potential for entertainment, advertizing revenue, and direct sales that Rockify’s content platform and decision making algorithms provide. The startup has already entered a business partnership with Austin City Limits, which will use the Rockify platform on their ACL iPad app to display performances in full HD.
Rockify also has a partnership with Whoohoo! Media Group– which it announced for the first time at Friday’s TechTainment event. Created by CEO David Skye, Whoohoo! archives and re-masters historical recordings of live music performances over the last 30 to 40 years. The archives come from many sources including old storage facilities and bootleg recordings. Skye plans to use the advantages of the Rockify platform to release his library of digital archives and provide a fun way for fans to discover, enjoy, and purchase them.
“The key is taking these older archives from bands and re-mastering them along with the Rockify platform to get them out there in a digital format – streaming, downloading – and really bringing the fans what they want,” Skye said.
Umbel is another of Rockify’s partners. An audience analytics company — Umbel utilizes different sources of data, including social media, to help businesses better target their customer base. Korpi envisions working with Umbel to help artists and bands maximize their fan base, publicity and sales by using Rockify’s discovery algorithms. Umbel will also play a key role in helping Rockify understand their consumer base.
While potential investors attending the TechTainment event were eager to hear how Rockify will make money, CEO Korpi currently has no plans for monetization. Instead, Korpi is focused on growing an industry-changing member base that will gain value and recognition as it grows – much the same way that Facebook began.
“Like Facebook or Twitter or Google we’re worried about building a kick-ass product first and growing an audience,” Korpi said. “We are not necessarily worried about how we are going to monetize it because if you have people then you can monetize them.”
Korpi said he will use established revenue models – such as the ads and commercials found on other sites – once Rockify builds a large enough user base. Rockify’s platform is currently limited to music videos, but Korpi said that his discovery platform and decision making algorithms could be adapted to any form of digital media – providing a wide range of producers and advertisers a platform which can easily target their most likely consumers.
Some of Rockify’s investors include Arthur Edstrom and Kathleen Blackwell of XYZ2Y Ventures, Kip McClanahan of Silverton Partners, former head of New Line Cinema Gordon Patterson and Austin Technology Incubator Director Kyle Cox. XYZ2Y Ventures and Kip McClanahan provided much of the initial $180,000 that got the startup on its feet.
Arthur Edstrom, who served as the MC for the event, said that investing in companies like Rockify is essential if Austin wants to keep their entertainment technology market.
“If we don’t step up and really get behind companies like Rockify, then they have to go someplace else,” Edstrom said. “And it would be a shame because Austin has everything that Rockify needs.”
After the Rockify presentation Edstrom held a keynote interview with music legend Gregg Rolie. The interview discussed Rolie’s experience in the music business as both a musician and a businessman. The business world has changed since Rolie co-founded Santana years ago, but Rolie said there are some things that don’t change.
“I’m telling you, it’s all the same,” Rolie said. “You don’t have a good product, you have a problem. You don’t have good people, you have a problem. You can’t get along, you really have a problem. So there are a lot of similarities.”
The night ended with Rolie playing a set in Edstrom’s living room. He was joined by guitarist Alan Haynes who has played with Stevie Ray Vaughan, drummer and close friend Ron Wikso who was part of Foreigner, and bass player Evan “Sticky” Arredondo who has toured with the late Sonny Bono as well as other notable stars. The band played several alternate versions of Santana and Journey songs – including Black Magic Woman – as well as favorites from other groups.
Edstrom hopes to continue creating events that brings together Austin’s technology and entertainment industries. Korpi said that Rockify will host another TechTainment event no later than Austin’s next South by Southwest festival.