Vampr CEO: “Everyone Wants to Know Why We Didn’t Go to VCs”

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Photo: Impact Photography

Vampr, the world’s biggest music networking app, opens up to everyday investors with an explosive equity crowdfunding debut, passing their minimum target in the first hour after launching.

As any “creative” doing the Hollywood shuffle knows, connection is the name of the game. When I randomly connected with musician Josh Simons two years ago, we discussed what you need to be the most successful musician you can be. Simons, who’d just returned from touring with Keith Urban down under, had recently co-founded music startup Vampr. He shared with me that census data revealed there were “one billion hobbyist musicians spending over $45 billion annually to advance their skill set.” (And this excludes the highly lucrative music college market.)

As Next Big Sound reported in 2014, 91% of all musicians remain completely undiscovered. Founded in 2015, Simons said Vampr’s initial goal was to “lower the barriers of entry into the music industry, and help people find their tribe, fast-tracking their career.” Hello! I’d just met someone who was digitizing the very process of making that connection.

Vampr had an initial 2,000 users at this time. Fast forward two years and multiple awards later – including a nod from Apple in their Best Of The Year apps list – Vampr has become ubiquitous among musicians the world over, growing exponentially to 500,000 users in 198 countries. All with the swipe of a thumb on your phone.

Some Background

Vampr’s other co-founder, Baz Palmer, a tech entrepreneur and member of the iconic Australian band Hunters & Collectors – “Talking to a Stranger” – speaks to his company’s bona fides: “Everyone we work with on Vampr, including our developers, have enjoyed successful careers in the creative arts. Creatives ultimately need other creatives to make art happen – but this is easier said than done. Every team member we’ve recruited has firsthand experience with this pain point, and that’s provided the requisite fuel and passion required to solve a problem as ambitious as this one.”

The app itself launched more formally at SXSW in early 2017. The founders didn’t waste any time as they sought to bolster their cap table – and credibility – with respected music and tech entrepreneurs including: Matt Adell, the former CEO of Beatport and Vice-President of Napster; and Nick Feldman, one half of 1980’s pop band Wang Chung and a former Sony and Warner Brothers music executive, who reportedly provided Seed funding for their early years of operation.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, with early 2017 reviews on the App Store highlighting user frustrations with an app that would crash under load. When I asked Simons about their approach to handling both the issues and disgruntled users, he said, “Growing a social network is harder than anything I’ve ever done. You want to build the best possible product, but you could never responsibly wait to deploy such a product as you would be deploying it to exactly zero people! So you find yourself in a chicken and egg scenario where you need to launch a version of your platform and start onboarding users. Then you just iterate, iterate, iterate.”

Simons continues, “There’s no way you can cheat or fast-track this process – you just have to keep going back to customer feedback and keep shipping improvements, whilst continually building that user base. Over time the bad reviews start to slow down and retention rates improve as the community starts to come back more often. This is where we have more recently started to enjoy early signs of the network effect coming into play.”

Going Public

With a proof of concept under its belt, the company is stepping it up with plans to offer a premium tier, and also to expand its network to make Vampr the “LinkedIn for all creatives.”

Personally, that’s incredibly exciting as collaboration is increasingly key for anything from indie to blockbuster entertainment projects.  Think of scriptwriters or series creators today needing music, visual artists and designers to create a sizzle reel or pitch deck.

And to get there, Vampr this week launched an equity crowdfunding campaign (on Wefunder) that gives anyone with some spare cash the chance to invest. They consciously targeted their users first and in the first hour after launching managed to pass their minimum target of $100,000 with well over 200 investors.

However, their goal remains ambitious, with the founders now accepting oversubscriptions of up to $1,500,000 over the next three months. An energized Simons enthuses, “Most ordinary people can never get close to investing in a startup pre-IPO, and help shape the future of a platform. With this crowdfunding opportunity, we’re opening up Vampr to everyday investors, which is a rarity in Silicon Valley land.”

This sounds exciting, but if I’m going to part with my money I want to know a little bit more. Digging around, I would learn that Vampr is letting people invest for as little as $100. According to Palmer, “We are offering investors a position in a simple agreement for future equity,” or SAFE, for short. A SAFE provides rights to investors for future equity in a company except without determining a specific price per share at the time of investment. The company has set a valuation cap of $7,500,000.

In layman’s terms this means that when Vampr next raises capital or sells the business your shares will be calculated pro-rata at that time. In their own words, “When you invest in Vampr, you are buying a security in our company. Our job is to make the market value of that security go up. Any investment is risky however and we ask people to take this into consideration before parting with your money. Having said that, and given our position as market leaders in this niche, Vampr is uniquely positioned to grow to a billion dollar company, making good on your investment.”

Aside from offering various perks, including time with the founders and input into the future of Vampr, they are also offering a 10% discount for the first $250,000 of investment as a sweetener to get things off and running.

I am personally of the view that growing a platform with capital and support from the same group of people who have a vested interest in its success is a smart and obvious way forward for a social network with existing traction in 2019.

Simons seemingly agrees. In a recent email sent out to the app’s users he wrote, “everyone wants to know why we didn’t go to VCs. We had a choice. Do we focus on a handful of individuals or firms in the music investment space whose appetite for a growing a grass-roots community isn’t typically in their wheelhouse, or do we offer an equity opportunity to a committed community who already know, use and love the platform? These investors become lifelong brand advocates and there will be 100s or 1000s of them worldwide, spreading the word, promoting and supporting their company and the community it serves.”

It was a no brainer.

Devil in the Details

Most noteworthy, bringing 500,000 people together on any platform doesn’t happen by accident. So, how did Vampr reach that milestone

Initially, Vampr was a purposefully focused one-to-one social network with simple engagement tools, which helped to kick-start a small community of music creators. As it grew along the way through various clever marketing campaigns, Vampr would show complete transparency, engaging professionally recognized auditors to verify its members at every round of investment—from when they were at 100,000 to the present 500,000 number.

So, what you see is what you get.

Furthermore, Vampr has benefited from strategic support from tech leaders including Amazon and Facebook, who showed their seal of approval by lending their resources. As Simons put it, “it’s pretty validating when you pick up the phone and its an Amazon employee who has been authorized to offer an in-kind contribution on behalf of their company purely on the basis of our organic traction and server traffic”.

As a writer in Hollywood, IMDbPro is an invaluable resource for contacts to filmmakers and talent. Likewise, this expected new crowdfunding investment will accelerate Vampr’s plan to introduce Vampr Pro, its subscription premier tier. According to their campaign page, Vampr Pro will offer a suite of new features for users, including the ability to boost your profile, increase the number of connections per day and reward users for active engagement on the platform.

Simons suggests, “Meet platforms like LinkedIn and Tinder make the vast majority of money from premium features that enhance the user’s networking opportunities. The goal with Vampr Pro is about extending our users’ possibilities on the platform.”

An even more Inclusive Platform

Next is where all us other artists come into play with Vampr’s goal to become the LinkedIn for all creatives. Simons adds, “We feel the creative community needs more facilitators. The bigger our community gets, the bigger the opportunity grows for all. So, we plan to expand our network to all the world’s creatives, from filmmakers to fashion designers, actors to animators—the hundreds of millions of people immersed in the creative arts.”

Sign us up

As a result, Vampr continues to be ahead of the curve by helping to bring us together and filling the need all us creatives have to connect and then hopefully collaborate.

Hence, five years from now, Vampr’s co-founders see the app becoming a marketplace for an entire ecosystem, integrated smoothly with all the indispensable tools used by us creatives—services such as YouTube, Instagram, iTunes, Amazon, IMDB, Twitter, and SoundCloud, etc.

Can you imagine literally having access to all those resources and also to millions of other like-minded creatives on one platform and at the swipe of a thumb?

Personally, who knew that my chance but fortuitous “encounter” in a pottery studio with Josh Simons, would find me now looking at Vampr as becoming a one-stop-shop for all our creative needs.

Makes me want to swipe and write!

This article was contributed by Vampr, a proud partner of DMN.  Vampr’s crowdfunding campaign is now live with a 10% discount offer for the first $250,000 of investment. Head to WeFunder for more information.