Cork start-up aiming to improve listening experience

Cork start-up aiming to improve listening experience

Jordan Morrison, final year student in Business Information Systems at UCC and David Killoughy, a computer science graduate at UCC, who set-up Setlist.

TWO former University College Cork (UCC) students have established a start-up aimed at improving the music listening experience of groups, instead of relying on guessing what people might want to listen to.

“Setlist” is a platform that leverages music streaming service data and proprietary group music recommendation systems to deliver an enhanced music experience for consumers and commercial customers.

Jordan Morrison, final year student in Business Information Systems at UCC and David Killoughy, a computer science graduate at UCC, who set-up Setlist.
Jordan Morrison, final year student in Business Information Systems at UCC and David Killoughy, a computer science graduate at UCC, who set-up Setlist.

The app is the brainchild of David Killoughy, a Computer Science graduate at UCC, and Jordan Morrison, final year student in Business Information Systems at UCC.

“The idea for Setlist is rooted in solving our own and our peers’ problems with group music listening,” explained Jordan.

“Being in college was a great test bed for researching and exploring how a product like Setlist could and should work.

“Every party, every social gathering and every night out was a customer research opportunity.

“It was clear that data driven group music listening was an obvious gap that music streaming services weren’t providing,” Jordan explained that the initial idea for Setlist came to him in March, 2018 during his first year of college.

“After getting tired of getting asked to change the music or to queue up another song with groups of friends, I finally asked the question: ‘What if there was a way of knowing exactly what music everyone listened to?’.

“Surely there was a better way of playing and listening to music in groups rather than using guesswork and intuition,” he said.

“After several months, we discovered that there was a way.

“We had to pull user data from Spotify and use some clever data science, user interface design and machine learning to create perfectly tailored playlists for any group in seconds.

“It was, and still is, a tough technical challenge to solve, but we know there is tremendous value in solving it.”

David and Jordan decided to develop Setlist themselves and release an early version as soon as possible to ensure they received user and customer feedback.

“We wanted to make sure we were building something users want,” Jordan explained.

“We launched a web app version of Setlist in December 2019 and we soon realised that building and scaling a successful consumer music app was going to be much harder than anticipated.

“We had a lot of interest from users, advisors, and investors but we needed to spend more time on developing the core functionality of the product before raising any sort of investment or charging our users,” he added.

The duo turned to IGNITE at UCC to bring their idea to the next level. IGNITE is a start-up incubation programme that supports recent graduate entrepreneurs to develop scalable businesses. The programme provides workshops, seminars, and guest speakers and one-to-one support such as mentors, coaches and consultants to help participants develop the knowledge, skills and attitude to successfully start a business.

The programme is based at UCC and is open to graduates from any third-level institution.

“Having no real professional business network has definitely been our biggest barrier,” explained Jordan.

“Being first time founders and operating in a fairly niche segment in the software industry, we found it incredibly difficult to find the right people to talk to, but IGNITE has given us the tools and opportunities to build and leverage our network.

“The most notable networking opportunity was meeting the Spotify Site Lead on top of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

“We flew over to New York in November 2019 for a tech conference and we were put in contact with Aidan Sliney through Eamon Curtin, the IGNITE Director,” he said.

“Aidan was the co-founder of a Dublin based music sharing app called Soundwave and his company was acquired by Spotify in 2016.

“So if there was anyone in the world we should be talking to about building a successful music tech company – it was definitely Aidan Sliney,” he added.

Despite the invaluable help from IGNITE, Jordan admitted that it has been difficult establishing a business amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but the situation has allowed them to adapt quickly.

Covid brought huge changes 

“We had set up trials of our commercial product with businesses in Cork in February 2020, but these were all indefinitely postponed,” he said.

“Our pre-Covid strategy was to build traction with businesses and bring in some early revenue, but we were forced to pivot and focus on building the consumer side of our business instead.

“Without hesitation, we doubled down on building and delivering the Setlist consumer app,” he added.

“Being a start-up in the Covid era is a huge advantage because we can adapt and change so quickly and instead of floundering, we decided to lean into our new world and roll up our sleeves.” Jordan highlighted the recruitment of two remote Computer Science interns from UCC over the summer as a positive that resulted from the pandemic.

“Both Ray Fitzgerald and Colm Kelleher had their placements cancelled, but decided to come on board with us and help develop the Setlist algorithm and iOS and android app,” he said.

“They were incredibly quick to adapt to remote work and proved to be two incredibly valuable team members.

“Covid has changed the way companies work forever and we can now build entirely remote teams and harness talent from all over the world,” he added.

“We intend to carry this lesson forward as we continue to grow our business.”

Setlist went live on iOS and Google Play in the second part of 2020 and, although the full-time team consists of just Jordan and David, the duo have big plans for the app’s future.

“We intend to bring on some more full-time software engineers once we raise investment and start bringing in some sustainable revenues,” said Jordan.

“We intend to operate the business as lean as possible before we raise investment.

“Our north star is talking to users constantly and iterating on our product over and over again until we get it right,” he added.

“Our hopes for Setlist are simple. We want to build the next generation of music software.

“We also hope to build a sustainable and growing software company that delivers consistent value to our users and our customers.

“We’ve identified that group music listening was a gap in the market in 2018, but as we’ve progressed through the IGNITE programme, we’ve discovered that there are a plethora of other problems and opportunities in the music streaming service space like B2B music streaming, a better revenue model for artists and musicians and much more.”

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