When you were approached by UKTI to relocate to the UK, why did you choose Newcastle?
Leāf.fm was established three years ago by myself, my wife Helga and cousins Danny [Salas] and Melvin [Salas]. We presented our ideas at the Google Campus in London, which is when UKTI approached us about relocating to the UK. They gave us the choice of basing ourselves in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester or Newcastle. The number one reason we chose Newcastle was the strength of its accelerator programme Ignite and Campus North. The second thing was the cost of living. We had invested all of our savings into Leāf.fm and so really had to stretch the remaining money that we had.
What did the Ignite programme do for the company?
The programme truly accelerated the potential that we had. It opened doors to a lot of key people; not only investors but people who became mentors and people who became key members of the team. Ignite also gave us the belief that what we were doing could succeed. After the programme, we stayed at Campus North for a year but as we grew we wanted to establish our own culture and moved into an office on Newcastle’s Quayside.
How did the Leāf.fm come about?
Danny and Melvin had been playing with a music streaming concept for some time when I met them, through mutual friends. I started advising them while I was working in Chicago and then when Helga and I moved back to Costa Rica, we started to work on the project full time.
The thinking behind Leāf.fm came from talking to musicians. We found that while monetisation is important to acts, it is only the priority for the top 2 per cent of acts – the global superstars. For the other 98 per cent, what’s more pressing is building an audience, understanding who they are and engaging with them.
We decided to create a digital platform that created a community of fans and allowed a conversation between these fans and the artists in a way that hadn’t been done before.
How has the platform developed?
After Ignite, we built a small app that went on to be downloaded by more than 130,000 fans. We are now taking this to the next step and are talking to artists who can take advantage of this community and the data we generate. We’ve already signed up five artists so far – one from the North East called Shields, one from London, and three acts in Latin America – and will be working with them on their audience acquisition.
How does it feel being in competition with global streaming platforms such as Spotify?
In Latin America, we’re usually second to Spotify but in some cases, have gone above them in the rankings. And Spotify probably has 1000 times the marketing budget that we have. We know we have to be clear about what our role is and what our strengths are. We aren’t a distribution platform, we’re an engagement platform. We don’t criticise
Spotify. It’s doing a great job but at the same time, it is quite limited in terms of what it can do because of the restrictions music labels impose on it.
What’s the next step for Leāf.fm?
We have been flying low strategically because we wanted to build and improve our hypothesis. Now we’re getting to a point where we want to make a big splash. In the next six months we are aiming at recruiting 50,000 artists.
Does the company’s future remain in the North East of England?
Once we finished the Ignite programme a lot of people were saying that we needed to move to London. But we were really happy to be in the North East and decided to stay. The city has so much in terms of having the universities and industry so close. There is a great collection of tech companies here and we want more companies to join the cluster that’s being created.