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A longtime dance music lover for many years, Evan Sacks wasn’t fully entrenched in his professional work life when he sent what he called a rather harmless email to a site he and his best friend, Jacob Merlin (Curry ’13, M.Ed. in Kinesiology ’14), relied on to discover new music.
“I thought that I was emailing a team of people, but it turned out to just be a German software developer named Jahn running the site by himself,” Sacks recalls.
That company was 1001Tracklists. And as he tried to figure out how to get involved in the venture, Sacks’ message detailed his IT and marketing background as credentials for offering potential assistance. Surprisingly, his proposal to help struck the sole proprietor behind the music site. As Sacks shared his ideas with the founder through email and videoconferencing, they formed a business relationship that became solidified over time.
Sacks and Merlin were moving into their new Washington, D.C., apartment right when Jahn was motivated to provide the UVA alums with some real responsibilities, roles the friends excitedly accepted. Within a few months, the Hoo duo were given the reigns to run the company’s business operations.
Now, buoyed by ongoing growth and an imminent change in location on the horizon, we spoke to Sacks about his entrepreneurial foray into dance music technology work, the challenges of startup life, and how his McIntire experience speaks to his current venture.
After years helping build 1001Tracklists and 1001Trackstats, you’ve got an exciting set of changes coming your way. What can you tell us about your relocation plans and goals for the companies?
Our team is now seven people across the two businesses, four of whom currently live in Bali. One person had been living there, two moved there, and we found a software developer through Beach Ultimate Frisbee (three of us played Ultimate together at UVA). Our business operations are highly global and can essentially be done from anywhere in the world, and Bali provides a great quality of life at a relatively lower cost. After a couple of months of travel, I’ll be headed there to join the team at the end of this year!
My primary goal for 1001Tracklists is to develop the site and build the brand to reach more of the casual dance music consumers, and provide a platform that offers inherent value to artists and fans of electronic music.
On the 1001Trackstats side, I want for our platform to become an essential tool for any artist in any genre. Now that we’ve built the platform to leverage our brand recognition and network within dance music, we will first shift our development focus, and later our marketing focus, to steer 1001Trackstats towards this goal.
How exactly do the companies provide value to music producers/DJs and fans of electronic music? How do your companies differentiate themselves from the crowded music technology space?
1001Tracklists is a DJ tracklist database. We have a diligent user community contributing to the site by adding and editing tracklists for DJ sets and mixes that are posted elsewhere online. Essentially someone will identify all of the tracks played within the duration of a DJ set/mix, and we’ll embed available media players so that users can listen to the music on our site and discover what’s being played as they listen. Moreover, we have a track database sourced from the tracks that are played in the tracklists that get added to the site. Track pages display all of the DJs who have played the track, and therein lies critically important data for artists and labels in the electronic music space.
We’ve always known that this track data is really important to artists, and we sought to build a sleek dashboard, reporting, and notification system for artists and music labels. As we began laying the foundation for this new platform, we realized that we had an opportunity to build a more encompassing data analytics service. This business is called 1001Trackstats, and it aggregates data from Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Shazam and a few other sources to show an artist or music label how their catalog of music is performing across platforms, and notifies them through our mobile app of important milestones.
What have been the biggest challenges for you concerning this pair of startups?
Many of the challenges I’ve faced personally relate to mental health, a topic that is really only starting to be discussed with less of a stigma associated to it, but still one that has a way to go. Given the necessary juggling act between what had become two full-time jobs, I was constantly under a significant amount of pressure and stress.
The music industry is a challenging mental environment, particularly for touring artists, but also for just about everyone in it. It’s an industry that operates around the clock. There is always pressure to be working, which I think is also true of any startup. There is always more work on my plate than what I can accomplish in a given period of time.
It’s important to recognize the volume of work to be done, to prioritize, and to be efficient. It’s even more important to stay balanced, which, in turn, fuels efficiency. I’ve found that I can unlock my absolute peak performance when I am rested, happy, and eager to work. On the contrary, running myself into the ground has spiraled into burnouts that can have pretty devastating consequences.
Startups are mentally taxing. The highs are really high, and the lows are soul crushing. Failure impacts you in so many ways: It stings financially, it messes with your confidence and decision making, and it also is shared by those you work with, which can exacerbate the impact. It’s always going to hurt, but it can hurt less. It’s much easier to keep the negative on the forefront of your mind than to reflect on the positive, but forcing yourself to reflect and remember your successes—even small victories—can go a long way.
And finally, when you are working with friends, it’s very difficult to separate business from your personal life, as the two are inherently tied together. Remembering that you’re all driven towards shared goals is really important. Conflict can be good, when approached appropriately. Differing opinions and well-articulated reasoning enable you as a team to analyze challenges to a much greater degree, and drive the best out of the team as a whole.
Let’s talk about your time on Grounds: You have a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering and a B.A. in Economics, and you earned an M.S. in Commerce from McIntire. What from those experiences stays with you? What experiences do you still draw on from UVA? Anything specific from lessons learned at the Comm School?
The M.S. in Commerce Program definitely sticks with me the most. Biomedical Engineering wasn’t a great fit for me academically, and I toughed it out, knowing by the end of the program that I should pivot elsewhere. Business clicked a lot more for me, as I found the concepts to be both more relatable and interesting. I really enjoyed Marketing classes, learning about the psychology of consumer decision-making, and I also gained valuable experience from collaborating with classmates on group projects.
Seeing as how you had such a wide variety of learning experiences at UVA, what practical advice can you offer students interested in getting involved in entrepreneurship and/or launching their own startups but don’t know where to begin?
If you’re seeking to start a venture, but don’t know what you want to do, I think that writing down your ideas is a really valuable exercise. It’s probably less important for the individual ideas, and more important for the practice of establishing the ideas and diving deeply into them. And if you think you’re onto something, go down the path to explore the viability of the problem and if you have a means of executing a solution.
If you do start a business, the next step is likely finding the right people to join you—this is very difficult. If you find someone who is a strong fit, latch onto them, collaborate, figure out ways to make it work, and make the most of yourselves collectively. If someone isn’t the right fit, it’s best to acknowledge that early. Otherwise, it’s just going to curb momentum and cause more frustration down the road.
Be careful with contractors. Today there are plenty of people and companies out there who can seemingly “do the job,” maybe even quite inexpensively. But if people aren’t properly tied into a business, then incentives are misaligned. For the long-term outlook of your business, it’s best to do the upfront work to find someone who can be a core member of the team and operate under a shared value structure.