FlipSyde is a social networking platform (Android, iOS and Web) that helps people find performance venues, artists (music and nightlife related), pubs, bars etc on the map. One can follow artists and venues, find out in real time what’s happening at these spots, book tickets, pay bills and a lot more.
News With Chai recently interviewed Ms. Meenaz Amreliwala, Co-Founder, Flipsyde and these are the excerpts from the interview.

1. Tell us about your startup in one sentence. Why the name?

Flipsyde is a social discovery mobile application that helps users easily find artists, venues, events more related to indie music scene. 

The word Flip Side originally referred to the B Side of a record. Usually the non-so-popular side. However when we grew up in the 80s and 90s, in the age of cassette tapes, we would end up finding some hidden gems on the B side and many artists even seemed to have their technically superior tracks on the B Side. Flipsyde, the app is meant for and dedicated to the artists today that we consider technically superior and hidden gems, but are yet to gain the popularity they deserve.

2. Why did you start it and what problem area does it address? Where and how did you get the idea of starting this business?

Our founders have been a part of the music and nightlife circuit for most of their adult lives. Our roles have ranged from being artists ourselves, to organising events and promoting artists and have even had exposure to music production for film and television. Most importantly, we are avid attendees of indie music events, and have been so for the past two decades. 

What we have noticed is that, in most cases, the struggling artist always faces severe issues, be it the ability to generate substantial income from their music despite their talent, to finding adequate platforms to connect with the right audience. This is the reason for the existence of our app. Our primary focus is to create one solid platform indexing all the possible events, venues and artists and their activities that can be edited by these very event organizers, venues and artists respectively. Our inspiration comes from erstwhile platforms like gigpad.com, a popular online community in the early 2000s catering to the rock, metal and allied genre sphere.

Historically, up until the 90s and early 2000s there were few platforms for indie artists, but they were good platforms. Farhad Wadia’s I-Rock was legendary. There were also some big shows at venues Andheri Sports Complex that featured established as well as up-and-coming artists. Bars like Razzberry Rhinoceros provided a platform for bands every Thursday and the place was always packed. There was no social media, no event pages, no RSVPs. It was simply word of mouth and yet people turned up religiously. For whatever reason, these trends have changed. Today we see a lot of micro-events happening around the city. There are a lot more stages available but everything is turning hyper-local, which at some level affects audience turnouts. In most cases, we don’t see people traveling from every corner of the city to attend that one show at one venue but rather people expecting that eventually the show and the artists will come to a venue near them. Things are a lot more restricted to location-based options, whether it is near residences or offices. 

In this scenario, if people want hyper-local experiences, we must give them hyper-local experiences but at the same time offer ways to promote events and artists among the right audiences. As we have mentioned before, all we need is one robust platform so audiences don’t have to follow 50+ pages on Facebook just to find those few shows or artists that they might be interested in. Google is not always accurate in its data crawling endeavors and people understandably have to visit multiple ticketing websites because these sites only list their own shows.

What one needs is a dedicated, democratic, comprehensive and singular platform that functions like a social networking site. So whether you’re an artist or a venue, you can create pages and promote your events and music to an audience who is there for that one specific reason – to discover what is happening that evening, that week or that month. 

In the beginning social networking sites truly provided the means for anyone who wanted to reach a wider audience to do so. It truly connected artists to people. In 2008-09 almost all people who RSVPed to events actually turned up to them. Today there’s a lot more information and consequently a lot of disengagement. Online ads and promotions can’t be relied on anymore. Hundreds of people RSVP to events whether or not they are truly interested and as a result, in reality barely a fraction will turn up. Hence the need for a dedicated quality social network for music and nightlife for a dedicated audience.   

Flipsyde aims to solve this problem by 1) Espousing the causes of music communities 2) Allowing for curation, rather than mere aggregation (i.e making it a truly social experience) 3) Working towards helping artists and venues reach the right audience. 

As soon as you open up the app you are taken to a map with everything that’s happening around you based on your geo-location. If you’re looking to go out in a different area, simply move the map or enter the name of the area and you are immediately shown the available options. You can browse through venues, events and artist profiles. You can find out who is performing at a venue near you or even do a reverse search of where the artist you like is performing tonight or in the near future. You can select genres, filter information, read news and even listen to music. It’s all seamless. Find a venue you like? Look at their pictures and menus, check out their events. On the event page, the venue tags the artist so you can visit his/her profile, listen to his/her music and decide if it’s your thing.

Venues looking for artists to perform at their events can browse through a directory of artists and contact them. Want to list a ticketed event? Not a problem, enter the link of your preferred ticketing website and users will be redirected there. 

The best part is that venues, artists and event promoters needn’t contact us. They can simply sign up and start listing their events, uploading their music and artwork and voila, it immediately appears on the app. 

In addition venues can send out daily offers to tempt new customers via our app and reward repeat customers.

3. Tell us about your co-founders and co-workers? What do you see in them as your organizational growth drivers?

Flipsyde was co-founded by Meenaz Amreliwala and Rohan Sabharwal in October 2017. While Meenaz was working in the film industry, Rohan wore many hats, he was a graphic and web designer and filmmaker, he had experience organising and curating events and in his youth, was even part of a band. 

From the very beginning, we have focused on the app’s workflow more than anything else. Scalability, even at the earliest stages of development, had to be kept in mind. This meant scalability not just in a vertical sense, which has more to do with increased numbers of users, increased revenue etc but also in a horizontal sense i.e the ability to continuously add more services without disturbing the very nature of the app. We looked for excellent developers who could do justice to our workflow and comprehensive designs, while keeping our interface clean and user-friendly. This led us to InfinixSoft Global, located all the way in the US and Argentina. Their work was amazing and in line with Flipsyde’s long term vision. We needed something that could compete with the UX/UIs of the world’s most popular social networking apps. 

From then on we had the support of Ivan Saroka, CEO of InfinixSoft Global, who put together an unbeatable team for us under the supervision of project manager, Hernán Pablo Rohak and his team of 7 Android and iOS Developers. We also have on board Tommy Sondgroth helping us with business development in the US, and Broadway producer Mike Evariste, our liaison from venues and artists in NYC. We couldn’t have asked for a better team and even though they are thousands of miles away, and we have never met face to face, we have had what could only be terms as the smoothest and most successful working relationship. At the threshold of our formal launch later this year, our app is bug-free and ready for the market. 

4. When and where did you start the business? Are you one of those iconic garage startups? Tell us more about your inception days? How did you arrive at this idea and what made you choose entrepreneurship over employment, given the risks of business?

All cliches aside, yes we are one of ‘those’ garage start-ups! Iconic is yet to be seen. We started off in a shed behind a bungalow in Deonar (which also served as Rohan’s residence – mostly it was a mattress that was his residence) in October 2017. Today we have a studio in Bandra (Again nothing short of a garage. And Rohan still sleeps on the mattress!).

Entrepreneurship vs, Employment: Truth be told, Meenaz has worked with a couple of film and media companies but has never been quite challenged to explore the fullest extent of her capabilities and Rohan has only ever worked independently. 

Entrepreneurship is not a choice for us, but something that will always be the basis of our careers, despite our little failures here and there. This is evident in the fact that we also run a second start-up called Upshot Media, a boutique design studio, again established in 2017. In the case of Upshot Media, in all of 2018 we got no more than 2 good projects, but today, merely a year later we have our hands full working with top conglomerates on exciting projects. 

Both our co-founders work shifts of 16 hours per day each, in order to handle our workload from both companies and we can honestly say that have never felt more fulfilled. 

5. Tell us about your first customer you acquired and how? Tell us about your first customer you lost and why? How difficult is to sell your concept or product? How did you find your easiest way out?

Our first venue sign up was Lion Heart Lounge in Byculla and our first artist signup was DJ Bob. One day we simply began visiting bars and pubs and offering to sign them up. Surprisingly, no one really turned us down yet. So far we have personally spoken to reps of every venue and every artist on our platform. Our service follows the freemium model, hence we will be adding certain optional services later. At the moment the app is free to use for all so it’s not difficult finding clients, but watch this space, because when we do introduce our premium subscriptions, we will have a better idea of the greater difficulties involved in acquiring or losing customers. 

6. What are your product or concept differentiators and how do you see it having sustainable growth?

Firstly, compared to many other similar platforms, we allow clients backend access. This also means they are responsible for what they upload, much like Facebook. The basic platform and creation of profiles are free. In time we will add services that will require paid upgrades/subscriptions and optional packages that can be purchased, both for artists and venues (One example being the ability to send push notifications to audiences with regards to offers or maybe artists who want to promote their new single/albums among users on the app who have shown an interest in their kind of music). But as mentioned before, all basic profiles and listings will be free forever.

Another differentiator is our ability to be an open platform that even our competitors can use. For eg. Links from all ticketing platforms can be pasted on our event pages just as you would on a social networking platform. The advantage with this is that artists and organisers can continue using their existing ticketing platforms but will benefit from having everything in one place so audiences don’t have to open multiple apps to do the things you can do on Flipsyde. 

7. Who are your competitors? How do you perceive competition? What do you do to avert or outgrow it?

Our main competitors would be apps like Zomato that currently list offers from bars and pubs, BookMyShow or Insider that list events and sell tickets, Facebook and Google that list events and possibly music apps like Saavn that have music and albums that one can download and listen to. Our focus is Indie and as mentioned before we intend to be a social platform that everyone can use, including some of our competitors. For us rather than listing and selling something, which our users can do themselves via our app, we aim to foster communities where our users will eventually help themselves. Also, since our app is not geo-locked we have received tremendously encouraging responses from DIY events and venues in the States, who have written to us saying that this is exactly the app they need. DIY events are popular in the west but are still to gain popularity in India. Who knows, they might be the next big thing in India too. We definitely see a future where artists and organisers will use Flipsyde to promote their own DIY terrace or garden events to audiences who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to discover them. To us, that’s an appealing by-product.

8. What obstacles did you face as a Startup Founder and how did you overcome them? Were there any roadblocks that you could not overcome? What was the outcome either ways?

Our biggest obstacle has actually been to convince potential investors about our idea and how it can translate into an effective uniting tool and a useful resource. We are in a niche and it’s very difficult for us to come out with revenue projections for something that’s barely been done, and if done, then not in the exact way we are doing it. 

We know we will have to struggle a lot more to find our footing and possibly innovate in different ways until we can show impressive numbers of active users. This is a roadblock we are yet to overcome. We anticipate the future to be tough, very tough. 

9. Are you funded or boot-strapped? Who are your funders? How do you choose your funders? What did you do to get funded – planning and process? What advice you give to startups looking for funds?

We are bootstrapped for the moment and the foreseeable future. Our current funders are our co-founders themselves, plus family and friends. We’ve managed to raise the entire amount to get the MVP developed in Argentina. Thankfully the people within our circles were convinced of our idea. In addition our second startup, Upshot Media, helps us get by without needing to take a penny for our work on Flipsyde. 

If we have to choose future funders, we would be looking for those who 1) Align with our vision of creating an independent platform and 2) Have observed the dire need for one in this part of the world as we have. 

In this sense, it will have to be someone with a passion and interest in the music and nightlife business, who can see the volume of activity between the hours of 7pm and 1am and the tremendous potential that even a fraction of the share in it will have over time. 

Advice to startups: In our experience raising funds is not the be all and end all of entrepreneurship. It’s one among several important components that should be done at the right time and with careful consideration. We have all seen great ideas getting funded, but eventually having to be taken to the back of the barn and shot only because of mismanagement/misallocation of funds making it impossible to move forward. There seems to be an unhealthy urgency among startups to get funding at stages where they don’t really require it and as a result they end up parting with more stake than they should and often at the wrong time. Our advice is to be very frugal and make sure your books are always up-to-date. You must know and control where each rupee is going. More than your future ambitions, investors tend more to notice your past and current spending habits. Try to have an alternate source of income, at least in the early stages and divide your time between your ventures well. Stretch out your finances until you know you’re ready to let investors in. Even after you decide to actively pursue investment, remember, life is not Shark Tank. It’s going to take you months to find the right investors and many more additional months with the endless back and forth and due diligence. Find a good solicitor or firm to represent you during this process. Save for this separately since good legal services don’t come cheap but will save your skin to a greater degree than you can imagine. 

Then once you do secure investment, know that this is just the beginning of tougher times, more troubles and a lot more responsibility. 

10. Is your business India-focused or international? What is the consumer segment that matters to your business most? Why and how did you choose your target segment? How do you see it growing?

We hope to go international at some point in the future and have design our app bearing that in mind, but right now since we are based in Mumbai, we are Mumbai and India- focused. We do, however, have venues and artists from other parts of the world on the app. Our consumer segment is urban youth, 25-40, who have an active nightlife and consequently the purchasing power to invest in varied/niche musical entertainment experiences. Since our inception this has always been our intended consumer segment. 

We only see this market growing. At one point it was only the metros that had this sort of a lifestyle – going out and attending/concerts events on a regular basis. Today we observe a similar kinds of nightlife activities and music festivals in most tier 2 cities. In regard to music concerts, a large chunk of these actually take place in areas that are not metro/cosmopolitan. In addition to this, some of the best indie talent in the country today hail from smaller towns. Flipsyde hopes to provide the necessary accessibility to musicians and platforms they aspire for in this regard. 

11. Do you have your vision and mission? Can you share it with us? How do you see the changing times affecting your business? How ready is your business to take on the trends?

(Vision and mission – I think this is amply covered in the previous answers, right?) 

Changing times will always affect any business, especially ours. Today our work is mostly related to what is happening where, at what time, who is performing and why one should attend. Tomorrow we will have to factor in a variety of potential partnerships, increase in the demand for certain features, the cutting out of some features that we initially thought would be useful, or even be ready revamp the entire app. As far as trends go, at least in the areas of design and tech, we see ourselves as more than capable of change, moving with the times or even pivoting. 

12. Do you believe in 996 (9 to 9, 6 Days A Week) or the 4 Day Work Week model? What’s your take on the both?

A 4 day work week is definitely not for us. We lean more towards 996 and sometimes more. At our busiest, we still manage to take one day off per week. It mostly ends up being a Sunday.

13. How do you reward and develop your team? Do you believe in continuous improvement and engagement of teams? Do you have a HR for your startup?

At the moment, we are too small to have an HR, but we are extremely selective of whom we work with. As a team, we help each other out and offer guidance at all hours (Yes, we are talking about 3 different time zones here, so sometimes our skype calls are at the oddest of hours), but each one of us is an independent self-starter and we are mostly self-taught in our respective fields to begin with. 

We tend to be very selective of people we work with, and barring a few errors in judgement, all of our team members come with decades of experience in their respective fields. Unlike many start-ups, we prefer to hire one experienced hard-working, well-qualified and capable co-worker with a proven track record at the salary that he/she would generally earn elsewhere, rather than ten others who together cost the same but don’t have the skillsets we need. Today, a year and a half later, even though our entire team working on Flipsyde doesn’t amount to more than 10 across the board, each one of us is capable of handling the workload of three or four people. Of course, we believe in continuous improvement and engagement of teams, as long as is doesn’t mean constant spoon-feeding and mollycoddling. You won’t find any bean bags, special lunches and seminars to ‘wind down’ at Flipsyde. Just a team of talented people who want to work their hands to the bone like each day was their last! 

Rewards: As people who have always worked in independent creative and highly skilled technical roles, we understand that as a microscopic start-up, mutual respect and the mere ability to pay other creative and talented people for their services is sometimes the reward they want. Our development team at InfinixSoft, apart from being paid well and in full, have also been given 20% of all revenue coming out of the US and all of South America (Both being very strong potential markets) in the future. In exchange they have given us the best possible rate for development costs and the fastest possible service. 

14. Do you have a mentor / advisor for your startup or yourself? Do you believe in learning and guided intervention as a vehicle for success in business? If you have a mentor, how did he/she help you to wade through the good and bad times? Do you want to mentor a fellow startup founder?

Mr. Devesh Chawla of Chatur Ideas formally mentors us. We also seek advice from several individuals ranging from prolific event organisers to established artists, legal experts and CTOs of successful companies. 

Learning and guided intervention depends on several factors. Nowadays there is a trend of people taking to coaching and mentoring start-ups. While many of these coaches have had successes in the past and are now devoted to helping others, there are a plethora of so-called startup mentors that have not a shred of credibility. Nubile and naive start-ups often fall into traps and receiving zero value addition from such individuals. 

This is largely a grey area and sometimes, if not most of the time, we can only learn about whether these guided interventions help through our own experiences or by carefully observing others’ experiences. We suggest talking to a lot of people before making a decision that can help or hinder your progress. 

15. What is that ONE PURPOSE of your business which keeps you going? Where do you see yourself in the next 3 or 5 years?

The only purpose that keeps us going is to see artists get their due. We can’t hope for a perfectly level playing field when it comes to taking on the popular appeal of commercial and Bollywood music/artists, but we can at least try to create some sort of a sustainable platform for smaller musicians in India and hopefully around the world in the hope that audiences and venues offer more support.  

In the next 3 years we can simply and realistically hope to have enough daily or weekly users to make this the goto app for events and nightlife. In the next 5 years we can only hope to break even financially. None of these are set in stone but we will make sure that we work our behinds off to make them a reality.

16. How did associating with ‘Chatur Ideas’ help you? Do you recommend startups to associate with Chatur Ideas or similar communities on their way to growth and success? If yes, why?

We took almost a year before singing on with Chatur Ideas. Mr. Devesh Chawla prioritized our vision and for us that’s of utmost importance. We try to see the previous work and contributions of the individual mentoring us along with how they envision our future. The strongest advantage of Chatur Ideas is that they have let us be ourselves. Sometimes, that itself can be the ideal motivating factor for a struggling start up.

17. What is your one liner for the readers and startup enthusiasts? 

Avoid the first-mover-advantage/fear of losing out/ someone-else-will-do-it-before-us pressure. Most of the highly successful businesses you see today weren’t the first to do what they did. They were simply the best.