Being the bright young sparks that we are, it seems likely that a lot of us have had what we thought was a ‘groundbreaking’ idea for a new product, game, app, kitchen appliance, and pretty much anything else, at some point during our time at university. Nine times out of ten, perhaps after discovering from a disheartening Google search that our ‘invention’ was in fact invented in 1962, nothing is likely to come of the light-bulb moment. But for some students, university is the breeding ground for genuinely exciting and potentially very successful innovations.
Meet Tom Pickersgill, University of York graduate from Leeds and co-founder of the recently launched “social music app”, Zubble. Having downloaded the app (you may have done the same outside the library in exchange for a donut… I’m still waiting for mine) and had a play around, I chat to Tom about how he, along with friends Rob and Jack, has managed to transform an idea that he had as a student into a reality, less than two years after having finished studying for his Law degree.
He tells me that he came up with the idea while riding his bike and listening to a song that he really wanted to share with his friends. “I thought to tweet the YouTube link, but it was difficult to find and would be hidden on a noisy and never-ending timeline.” I think anyone can relate to this (your last tweet was just too funny to have only got one ‘like’), as well as Tom’s desire to instantly let people know what music he was listening to. As part of his initial research, he tells me that he found over 130 million #music and four million #nowplaying tags on Instagram: “Millions of people were taking a photo of their phone playing a song for their friends to see. But you can’t listen to a screenshot!”.
It unites music listeners and artists, both signed and unsigned, onto one platform to create a level playing field for talent.
Tom, Jack, and Rob did some further market research, speaking with “some amazing unsigned artists who described the difficulty of achieving exposure for their music”, which got them thinking about how they could combine sharing, discovery, and exposure all in one app. “So we decided to develop Zubble, a social music app to instantly share and discover music with friends. It unites music listeners and artists, both signed and unsigned, onto one platform to create a level playing field for talent.” Playing devil’s advocate, I pounce here, questioning Tom on how his and his friends’ idea differs from the likes of SoundCloud and Spotify, with their similar ‘social’ features. Clearly expectant of such a rookie question, he deftly explains the benefits of Zubble compared with other such apps, highlighting to me the extensive research that must be done in order to target a specific gap in the market.
The boys know exactly what they want to achieve with Zubble, which is self-evident when Tom tells me, “We’re tackling the problem of music discovery.” But it couldn’t have been easy trying to move forward with the app, considering that they were still students when the idea was initially conceived. Tom explains that they received a lot of advice and support from the people they met in the Yorkshire business community, rather than the University itself. “We worked hard to grow our network and meet as many people as possible to gain as much advice and experience around us as we could.”
While graduation may come as a welcome break for some and an unwelcome reality-check for others, finishing university allowed Tom and his friends to launch themselves fully into their business. I imagine this was fairly intense, and Tom tells me that “it was a really steep learning curve developing Zubble after university. Rob and I have no technical background but knew exactly what we wanted to create. Jack added the skills to be able to develop in-house.” Having someone with that kind of knowledge within the team must have saved them a significant amount of time and money, two of the most valuable resources for start-ups (and students). Now that the app has launched and is available for free download, it might be easy to forget the difficulties that undoubtedly come hand in hand with such a project. Reflecting on the last few years, Tom tells me honestly, “It hasn’t been easy and there have been many ups and downs, but it’s been a really exciting and rewarding process getting to where we are now.”
Be ambitious, put yourself out there and meet as many people as possible in the network.
Unsurprisingly, considering I am about to write this article, Tom is keen to know what I think of Zubble. Luckily for him, I rather like it. The app is really easy to use and you can sign up through Facebook, which is always a bonus (I don’t have to come up with another variation on the theme of my cat for a password). I also think it’s a strong concept, as I know that my friends are always talking about the new music they’re listening to, and I for one would like to up my new-music game. As well as discovering new artists, I can definitely see myself sharing songs that reflect my mood, or that sum up a particular night out. While you can find music shared by people you don’t follow through the ‘Explore’ function, it’s clear that Zubble, along with most apps, will be greatly enhanced for both its users and new artists if lots of people are using it, which is why Tom, Jack, and Rob are currently working hard on the promotional side of things.
Not wanting to state the obvious, but doing it anyway, Tom is not a lawyer. I can’t resist asking him the classic question of whether he thinks his degree has been useful since graduating York. As an English student, I am praying he can affirm my life choices for me. “I do think my degree was useful. In Law we followed a ‘problem-based learning’ structure. We were all in groups of twelve which were our own ‘law firms’ and had a crafted legal problem presented to us each week. This kind of independent study mixed with group work helped me to develop skills that have been necessary to launch Zubble!” So, next time you’re stressing about ‘pointless’ group work, just remember that you’re pretty much sorted (minus the brilliant idea for a new app, obviously).
Feeling inspired yet? Already wishing you’d been the one to come up with the idea for Zubble? Fear not: Tom leaves me with some advice for any students out there with big ideas. “Be ambitious, put yourself out there and meet as many people as possible in the network you want to become involved in. Always get feedback, believe in yourself, don’t be afraid of contacting ‘big’ names, and translate your passion into your product.” Budding entrepreneur or not, with the dreaded E-word on the horizon, I think we could all do with a bit of Tom’s inspiration in our lives.