It all started in 1999, with a single band website, built by Bandzoogle's founder Chris Vinson for his alt-rock band, Rubberman. Grassroots promotion, plus the online community that the website created, helped the band get a record deal.
In between tours, Chris worked at the record label, building websites for multi-platinum selling artists. To save time, he built a "control panel" to let managers and artists make the changes themselves. Realizing this could also help independent bands and musicians build and update their own websites, Chris launched Bandzoogle.
Now 10 years later, tens of thousands of musicians around the world use Bandzoogle every day to build their website and promote their music online.
We spoke to Chris to get his thoughts on his life as a musician, starting Bandzoogle, and what it’s been like to run a successful music technology company for 10 years. Enjoy!
Q: What was one of your biggest highlights as a musician?
If you asked me that 10 years ago, I might have said "getting a record deal", since that was the end goal for most musicians. Looking back, the whole experience of playing in a band -- touring, writing songs, long hours in the studio -- was an amazing time in my life.
Q: Do you still play music?
Sure! Though mostly for myself and my 4 month old daughter Molly, rather than for audiences. My wife bought me a Seagull acoustic guitar a few years ago, which I love to play when I have a spare moment.
Q: Why did you start Bandzoogle?
Mostly, to make my life easier. My day job was doing web design at a record label. Updating dozens of websites by hand was really tedious. I bought a "programming for dummies" book, spent a few months in the basement learning to code, then built a system that let managers add events, photos, and music so I wouldn't have to. Soon after I realized that all bands should have access to a tool like this, so I launched Bandzoogle in 2004.
Q: Bandzoogle is a remote company, why did you decide to go that route? It’s become more common now, but 10 years ago there probably weren’t many other companies operating that way.
I really had no choice. When I built Bandzoogle, I unknowingly chose an obscure programming language (we've since re-written the code in a modern language). It was hard to find qualified developers near me. So I posted some job ads online, and found our first team members, who worked remotely. It took some time to adjust, but it worked out great. Everyone gets to live where they love to be, and we can find the best qualified people in the world.
Q: The trend with tech companies is to build a product, get as much funding as possible, then spend lots of money on marketing and promotion to gain market share. You’ve taken a different route with Bandzoogle by slowly and steadily growing the company, hiring staff as you needed, and acquiring competitors as you go. Why did you decide to keep the company private all these years?
By not having investors, my decisions are based solely on what is good for our customers and our team. The "get big fast" model works for some tech startups. But, I have always preferred to focus on building a sustainable business for the long term.
Q: Since you’re the founder of the company, I’m curious what *your* favorite Bandzoogle feature is?
I'd say the Store. It's amazing to see how much our members have sold from their sites -- on last check, over $14 million. It shows the real impact that Bandzoogle is having, in helping our members succeed.
Q: What’s been one of the biggest changes you’ve seen with websites in the past 10 years?
Over 10 years there has been a lot of web design trends that came and went. One that will stick is the shift to viewing websites on mobile and touch devices. It changes everything, both from how our themes are designed, and how our website builder functions. Many, many hours have been spent to make sure that Bandzoogle websites work well on mobile, without our members having to think about it.
Q: So now that you’ve had 10 successful years in the music tech world, where would you like to see Bandzoogle 10 years from now?
Still growing, helping musicians succeed. It's hard to say what our product will look like -- 10 years is more than a lifetime for web companies. But we will keep adapting and focusing on what works for artists.