Frequent concert-goer and music fan Michelle You wanted to make a website to scan her iTunes library and email her when concerts come to town.
Today, the English and philosophy major is known for co-founding the concert info startup Songkick, second only to Ticketmaster's Live Nation for concert information. Her title: Chief Product Officer.
Songkick's 27 employees are working hard in London and San Francisco. Women 2.0 caught the London-based startup founder at SXSW in Austin.
Women 2.0: How did you get started with Songkick?
Michelle You: I met my co-founder Ian when we were studying Mandarin in Beijing (I'm half Chinese, half Korean). We became friends, then he went off to Bain in Singapore and I went to New York to manage a magazine. Later when he quit his job and wanted to start a company, he asked me what to build. I said it's hard to find out about shows, can you make this website to scan my iTunes library and email me? Because I have a hard time finding out when conferences happen in New York.
That's the idea we pitched to Y Combinator and got accepted. I didn't attend Y Combinator because I was still working in New York, but I went to the dinners and I know the people in my class. I had no intention of quitting my job at the time but I was spending all my weekends designing and building the site, and finally in August 2007, I went full time on Songkick.
Women 2.0: We learned last week that venture capital firm Sequoia Capital invested $10 million in your company -- congrats! The idea behind Songkick seems so simple.
Michelle You: It's a really simple idea but it's really hard to execute correctly. After we started, we realized there were people doing similar things. In fact, there are two different problems. One is having accurate and comprehensive concert information -- every tour date, every single band, immediately after it's announced. That's a huge data problem. We have hundreds of people looking at Ticketmaster, MySpace, etc. who pull the data into one unified database.
The second half of the problem is identifying your music tastes as quickly as possible to recommend relevant concerts -- instead of having users enter hundreds of bands into our database manually. The fastest way to do this is by using Songkick"s iPhone app.
Women 2.0: Some of us have Android phones. Why iPhone?
Michelle You: The reason we started with iPhone first is that there are not as many Android users who use their phones to listen to music. We're building the Android app right now. We are also building tools for artists.
Women 2.0: Speaking of products, how did you get into product management from a background in English and philosophy?
Michelle You: Taking philosophy classes taught me how to think analytically and how to be rigorous in the analysis of things, which is really useful in designing products. In London, product management as a title and a role only came of age within the last 10 years. It's fairly new.
When you are a founder, you do whatever needs doing without thinking what it's called. You're not thinking about career progression -- you're thinking about what needs to be done. I love it and I wouldn't do anything else. You learn by trial and error, you learn on the job. We have a great design director who used to be at Skype and the BBC and has been doing digital design for over a decade, and I learned a lot from him.
What I find so rewarding about a startup is that if you are forced to learn about something, you figure about it out. I read the blogs of the smartest people you could find, and learned from them.
Women 2.0: Absolutely. What product-centric blogs and smart people do you follow?
Michelle You: For product, I love Marty Cagan from the Silicon Valley Product Group (SVPG). He talks about how to run a product team and how to product manage in general. For interaction design, Luke Wroblewski used to be the design director at Yahoo! and is very smart on mobile web and interaction design stuff.
And then I follow a million people on Twitter about product stuff. Hiten Shah, Eric Ries and Sean Ellis tweets a lot of lean startup stuff. I try not to get too absorbed in reading. Sometimes you just have to make a decision and do it.
Women 2.0: What is the best startup advice you can give the next generation of entrepreneurs?
Michelle You: I gave a talk at the London School of Economics and a lot of kids were asking me very specific questions like, "How do you find work life balance" and "Do you plan on having kids?" I wondered why they ask these questions at 20 years old -- you are jumping way ahead of yourself.
You just have to do it. There is no answer before you start. You just have to plunge and do it and you will be astonished at how much you can learn and achieve. I know it sounds cheesy and cliche but that's the best advice I can give.
Women 2.0: How about this for cliche -- do you consider yourself a "woman in tech"?
Michelle You: I always feel like a fraud because I can't code, but clearly where we are technology company and I manage a team of developers, designer and quality assurance engineers so yeah I am a woman in tech. But I don't know if I self-identify that way.
I guess I more identify as a founder -- as someone who started a company.
Women 2.0: Is there anything you would have done differently with Songkick?
Michelle You: I think the thing we did too late at Songkick was usability testing. We would hire someone to do usability tests, but you can save so much time and make sure you make the right decisions if you talk to users yourself. We built our own usability lab (a two-way mirror in our meeting room) and we run tests every month.
The analysis can tell you what is going on, so when your conversion rate drops 50 percent or 20 percent of the users don't click on this button, and you can find out why in the face-to-face usability testing.
Women 2.0: User testing is absolutely the way to go in building a startup. One final thing, tell us something fun about Songkick.