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  1. 1. Art credit teekay44   FASTCOMPANY.CO.ZA  FEBRUARY 2015 guttercredittk
  2. 2. By Miriam Mannak Art credit teekay FEBRUARY 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.ZA   45 guttercredittk How Jason Grishkoff turned a blog into a business that has become an important influencer of the new-music market Based on Grishkoff’s upbringing, one could say that becoming a digi-music entrepreneur was nothing but a natural and even logical career choice. Born and bred in Cape Town, the now 29-year-old grew up in a household where music prevailed, with both parents being members of the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra (CTSO). “My mom, who is South African, played the viola—while my dad, who was born in America, played the French horn. Even my brother is a musician, which makes me somewhat of the black sheep of the family,” Grishkoff says with a smile. However, the tides turned for the Grishkoffs when in 1997 the CTSO lost its government funding. This forced it to merge with the CAPAB Orchestra, which eventually gave way to the Cape Town Philharmonic. “These were interesting times in South Africa. As a result of the CTSO losing its funding and other events, my parents decided to leave South Africa and move to Orange County in California,” Jason recalls. “I was 12 back then. The first thing Mom and Dad did was take me and my brother to Disneyland, to ease us into the American way of life.” A few years after the big move across the Atlantic, while in high school Grishkoff discovered computers and the Internet, which swiftly turned into a fully fledged passion. “I became deeply involved in the world of online gaming. I was 16 when I started to sell webspace to gamers. These so-called gaming servers allowed gamers from around the world to meet and play against one CRE ATI V E CON V ER SATIONNext Tothebeatof hisowndrum When browsing the Indie Shuffle website, it’s difficult to believe that one of the world’s top online meeting places for up-and-coming artists, music fans and record labels began as a simple email campaign. Fast Company SA met with founder Jason Grishkoff for a chat about his love of music, entrepreneurial vision, his time at Google, and plans to expand in South Africa.
  3. 3. 46   FASTCOMPANY.CO.ZA  FEBRUARY 2015 Next Creative Conversation another,” he recalls. “Later, I began to build hardware and assemble computers with the objective to make them go as fast as possible. I was also helping bands with their websites.” Despite his passion for information technology , computers and gaming—and his pre-dispositioned interest in music— Grishkoff went on to study history and political science at the University of California, San Diego. Upon receiving his degrees some three years later, he found a job in Washington, DC as a strategic consultant. His prime task was to help his employer determine what they should pay executives and other staff members. Little did Grishkoff know that this new chapter in his life, one that had very little to do with his academic background or passion for computers and music, would be the start of Indie Shuffle. “After moving to Washington, I found myself on my own, with hardly any friends. It was a difficult time for me. In order to deal with the transition, I turned to music and started emailing friends and family about my music finds and the new bands I had come across,” Grishkoff says. “At some point, I decided that a blog would make it easier for me to share my digests. It would also give my write-ups an audience. What I really wanted, I guess, was for my reviews to have a home.” Grishkoff’s focus was primarily on Indie rock, a genre of alternative rock music that originated in the United Kingdom in the 1980s and has evolved into all sorts of sub-genres as time has gone by. “While our focus is very much still on Indie rock, hence the website’s name, we tend to cover most genres. Well, everything except for pop. We don’t do a lot of Katy Perry–type of stuff,” he says. A few years after relocating to Washington, the world’s economy started to crumble as a result of the financial crisis. The turmoil went hand in hand with mass retrenchments, globally but also in the US. While Grishkoff feared for his own job and future, he was approached by Google for the position of remuneration consultant. “While Google was interested in hiring me because of my experience in this niche industry, it was my music blog that got me the job. The trick to getting hired at Google is the ability to fit in. You need to be cool enough. There is even a term for it: Googliness.” While at Google, Grishkoff continued to build, expand and improve Indie Shuffle. As a result, the platform started to gain serious momentum among music fans around the world and up-and-coming artists. Then, record labels began to pay attention to whatever was happening on Indie Shuffle. That is why, in March 2013, three years after his first day at Google, Grishkoff exchanged his secure job for a full-time life of entrepreneurship. Since his decision, the website has grown from strength to strength. Between 2009 and 2013, the year Grishkoff took on Indie Shuffle full-time, 300 million minutes of music Flying the flag for local music: Grishkoff is now focused on growing Indie Shuffle’s reach and presence in South Africa.
  4. 4. FEBRUARY 2015  FASTCOMPANY.CO.ZA   47 have been streamed by users worldwide—an average of 6.25 million minutes per month. In November 2014, however, over nine million minutes of music were streamed. “In that same month, we had four million page views,” Grishkoff says, adding that the number of reviewers has increased, too. “Indie Shuffle is currently curated by 40 to 50 music writers around the world, mainly in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States,” he says. This human factor has been the key to Indie Shuffle’s success, he says. “We don’t just provide you with automatically compiled top-10 lists. Our stuff is written by real people. We do this because we believe that humans are better than robots when it comes to discovering and writing about music.” One of his major plans for the future is expanding the website’s presence in South Africa. “We want to make the international community aware of what this country has to offer music-wise,” Grishkoff says. “There is a lot of talent here. The problem with many South African bands and artists is that they don’t know how to market themselves. That is why I came to Cape Town in October 2014. I have come to the realisation that it is quite difficult to pay attention to what is happening here locally, when you are elsewhere.” Since he set foot on home soil, Grishkoff has embedded himself deeply in the local music scene. “I have attended various festivals including Sónar, and done various radio guest appearances. We have also organised some tours for bands,” he says, adding that these efforts have had positive results already. “At least two South African bands have been Background Jason was born in Cape Town, and emigrated with his family to California when he was 12. He attended university in San Diego, and worked at Google for three years before leaving to pursue entrepreneurial endeavours full-time. Business Interests Both Grishkoff’s parents were members of the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, so his founding of a website dedicated to the discovery of new music came as little surprise. Since beginning Indie Shuffle in 2009, his platform has seen more than 9 million unique visitors stream roughly 500 million minutes of music across web, iOS and Android. In doing so, it has become one of the most reputable digital music portals on the Internet, viewed by major labels and musicians alike as a necessary exposure platform for launching an artist’s career. After leaving Google in early 2013, Jason embarked on a two- year journey working as a ‘digital nomad’ to build his network in London, Barcelona, Stockholm, Berlin, Copenhagen, San Francisco, Istanbul, Johannesburg and, ultimately, Cape Town. Today he is focused on growing Indie Shuffle’s reach and presence in South Africa, with plans for a nationwide tour with some of the country’s biggest bands later this year. Likes Coding and building new features for Indie Shuffle, cricket, running and hiking, scootering around Cape Town, learning new languages Dislikes Slow Internet, taxes, the cost of health insurance, mushrooms 30 SECONDS WITH JASON GRISHKOFF approached by record labels—24 hours after their songs went online. Our South African traffic has doubled over the past recent months.” The interest of music companies has probably been the biggest change for the better since 2009, Grishkoff says. When Indie Shuffle went live five years ago, it was mainly aimed at music fans and promising artists. Today, it’s a key link between not only talent and audiences, but also between talent and record labels. “Music blogs have become an increasingly important space for musicians and record companies to find each other,” the entrepreneur says. “Music labels like Sony and Universal are now approaching us, a recognised source, to scout for talent and to punt their artists. These and other firms know that if they get their content on Indie Shuffle, there is a fair chance that it is going to generate some positive outcomes. Indie Shuffle is currently considered an important influencer of the new-music market.” In a way, the platform has become the external artists & repertoires (A&R) department of major record companies, Grishkoff says, explaining that the job of an A&R department is to find the next big thing and to promote new artists. “That is essentially what we are doing. Record companies rely on us when it comes to finding fresh talent.” While Indie Shuffle, which thrives on advertising, is undoubtedly a success story, good fortune doesn’t grow on trees. “Running your own business is hard work,” Grishkoff says. “Indie Shuffle’s success didn’t happen overnight. There have been a lot of challenges. What pulled me through was the passion I had for my business and music. Therefore, my first best bit of advice I have for aspiring entrepreneurs is to start small and build from there. Take it one step at a time. Dream, but don’t go too big in the beginning. Secondly, I recommend you to do something you really, really love. If you want to make it, that something you really love will make you want to overcome the challenges.” When Indie Shuffle went live five years ago, it was mainly aimed at music fans and promising artists. Today, it’s a key link between not only talent and audiences, but also between talent and record labels.