Remember record albums packaged with bold cover graphics, liner notes and band photos? Jeremiah Seraphine does … and he misses them.
The former DJ, record producer and performer wanted to turn his passion for old-school LPs into a high-tech experience. "We lost the record-album experience when we moved to digital media," says Seraphine, who recently graduated from Northwestern University. "I wanted to reinvent that."
In 2010, he founded Groovebug, a free iPad app that pairs downloaded music with artist bios, photos and YouTube videos, as well as reviews, magazine articles and links to social media sites. The firm, which bills itself as a music magazine and discovery engine, operates out of 1871, a Chicago business incubator.
"Until now, all of this content has been fragmented, spread out all over the web," Seraphine says. "We put disparate sources of content all in one place."
The idea originated in a web entrepreneurship class taught out of Northwestern's Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. As part of a team that included Groovebug co-founder Neal Ehardt, an undergraduate computer science major, Seraphine spent two academic quarters developing his business concept and product. After the demo was met with enthusiasm, he says, the team "decided to keep going with it and started to raise capital."
The enthusiasm was contagious: Seraphine ultimately raised $260,000 from angel investors. "The fact that [the app] was able to bring a lot of visual elements to the music experience added another dimension," says one of those investors, Steve Olechowski, founder and CEO of Chicago-based mobile product developer Blinkfire Labs. Seraphine, he adds, "had a clear passion for what he wanted to build and a strong sense of what users wanted. That got me excited to be involved."
The funding allowed for the hiring of a developer, a part-time designer and a publicist. Additionally, an iPhone version of the app is in the works.
Groovebug launched in September 2011 and was downloaded more than 50,000 times in the first month, becoming the No. 2 downloaded iPad music app in the U.S. on Apple's App Store.
"We weren't focused on revenue in the beginning," Seraphine says. "We were focused on adoption and engagement. Now that we have made a name for ourselves, we'll be able to monetize."
The first opportunity for generating revenue came from a deal with major record company EMI Group to develop a Groovebug app featuring artists from the Blue Note label. The product debuted this summer with a collection of thousands of songs available to users for $1.99 per month. In addition to subscriptions, Groovebug may seek sponsorships with brands that want to associate with specific genres of music.
Meanwhile, Seraphine is thrilled to be in a business that indulges his passion for new sounds. "Discovering new music is the best part of the job," he says. "I've discovered much more music since we launched Groovebug than I did in all my years as a DJ."