Featured Startup on Azure - Vinylmint

Company, Founder & App Information

BizSpark:   Tell us who you are and your role in the company:

Startup:   My name is Byron Morgan and I am the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Vinylmint.

BizSpark:   What did you do before creating your company?

Startup:  Vinylmint was inspired by Byron’s 7+ years of experience in the media & entertainment industry working in various aspects of sectors including periodicals with the Virginian-Pilot Media Companies, telecommunications with Cox Communications, radio broadcasting and event promotions at ClearChannel, and more recently music distribution with Universal/Fontana.  Collectively, these experiences have provided Byron a well-rounded perspective of the technological changes of the business, an understanding of feasible solutions to solve industry problems, and a network of industry leaders and tastemakers to implement his ideas.

Byron is also a successful music producer who has not only sold over 30,000 units of music in his portfolio, but also negotiated favorable multi-year distribution deals with publishing houses, multi-level marketing firms, and digital distribution agencies.

Byron is a graduate of the Mason School of Business at the College of William & Mary.  Byron has a BA in Process Management and Consulting with a concentration in Entrepreneurship.  While running Vinylmint, Byron is a Professor at Tidewater Community College.  Byron teaches Entrepreneurial Studies and Marketing and a policy

 BizSpark:   What is your company’s mission?

Startup:   Vinylmint will create a more kinetic web by unmuting the web and integrating sound into our daily experiences. 

 BizSpark:   In 140 characters or less, tell us what your app does:

Startup:   Vinylmint has crowd-sourced the sound design process and organized a new marketplace for transactions between sound creators.

BizSpark:   How did you get the idea for your app?

Startup:    Byron produces music and was personally affected by this process, because he often collaborated with musicians and vocalist across the United States. Organizing recording sessions, hiring studio musicians, unifying file formats, and getting everyone to a single location at the same time can be time intensive and very expensive.  Vinylmint is a web-based application that allows users to crowd-source the sound design process, virtually eliminating the need for two musicians to be in the same studio at the same time.

BizSpark:   In 140 characters or less, tells us what your customers love most about your app:

Startup: Vinylmint functions as the collaborative front-end for the users to integrate apps that increase speeds of productivity and decreases cost.

BizSpark:   Tell us about your funding history. Are you currently looking for funding? If so, how much? 

Startup:  Vinylmint Launched in May of 2012 at Tech Crunch Disrupt in NYC.  We were Founder's funded until seeded by Hatch, an Accelerator Program in Norfolk that invested $10,000.  The Founder's invested $45,000 in Vinylmint to date.

BizSpark:   How many employees do you have?

Startup:   We have a team of 7 people that includes an advisor/interim-CTO (Mike Provance), a Director (Zack Miller), a Lead System Architect (Jeff Muller), a CIO (Jeremy Johnson), a Senior DBA (Bryan Nelson), and Web Graphics Designer (Nora Calabrese). 

BizSpark: How many of your employees are developers?

Startup:   6 Developers.

 BizSpark:   Are you hiring?  If yes, what are you hiring for and where?

Startup:   We are looking for a Senior Project Manager who has a track record for implementing successful search or artificial intelligence software.  Management is also looking to hire a Lead Systems Architect to carry out the design of an intelligent sound engine.

 BizSpark:   Which platforms are you building on?  Why?

Startup:   Azure Cloud, MySQL, and HTLM5.  The data stack is secure, well supported, and agile.   This gives us the ability to scale across many devices and websites, while handling a large volume of users.

 BizSpark:   Where do you see opportunities today in the Software/Internet area?

Startup:    Today, the opportunity exist to organize the world's music in a sound design engine and provide it's users with an organized marketplace to monetize their instrumentals, audio loops, kits, vocals and voice overs prior to its distribution.

 BizSpark:   What do you think about the BizSpark Program?

Startup:   BizSpark has provided us cost efficiencies in technical support, given access to subject matter experts in various lines of technology, allowed us to meet senior talent in Microsoft, and created a global network of entrepreneurs to connect with. 

 BizSpark:   What specific value are you getting from BizSpark beyond the technology?

Startups:   Pro bono server support for a year, advertising in Microsoft Corporate literation about startups, and access to subject matter and mentors who have experience building startups.  

 BizSpark: What advice do you have for young Software entrepreneurs?

Startup:   Young software entrepreneurs should learn how to communicate their vision to any audience they speak to concisely and passionately.  You are your greatest salesperson, pitchman, publicists, account representative, and customer service representative early on.  Know your product inside and out and understand the pain points of the customer.  Passion and a strong understanding of customers needs will help you close on any sale.    

 BizSpark:   Who’s your role model and why?

Startup: Marcus Garvey was a Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator who was a staunch proponent of the Black nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, to which end he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). He founded the Black Star Line, part of the Back-to-Africa movement, which promoted the return of the African diaspora to their ancestral lands.   Garvey states that, with confidence, you have won before you have started.” 

BizSpark:   What has been your biggest “aha” moment since founding your company?

Startup:   My biggest “aha” moment with Vinylmint was when we discovered from user test with the collaboration tool that the biggest attraction to Vinylmint was going to be the ability to discover and purchase sounds around world in a central location.

Azure Information (If you are using Windows Azure, please answer the following questions):

BizSpark:  Tell us about your Azure based solution.

Startup: Vinylmint has crowd-sourced the sound design process and organized a new marketplace for transactions between sound creators. Vinylmint functions as the collaborative front-end for the users to integrate apps that increase the speed of productivity, better organizes data and social connections, and decreases the cost of production adding convenience to the process overall.

It allows musicians and sound engineers to publish and transact with each other.  For example, a guitarist can publish a riff audio file that can be sound to a sound engineer to be used in a song that they are working on.  Users can search a database of sounds to get results that will match the type of music project that they are working on.

BizSpark:   How is Azure implemented in your solution?

Startup: The core is an ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Role.  SQL Database in Azure is used for the relational data, such as user accounts.  Azure Blob Storage is used to store the binary audio files.

The ASP.NET Web Role contains the web based user interface client.  The web role exposes a RESTful API built with ASP.NET Web API.  The client uses jQuery to make AJAX calls to the API and presents the JSON data using Knockout JS.  The web role uses Entity Framework to interface with the SQL Database in Azure.  The database ties audio files to users and has URIs pointing the files that are stored as Azure Blobs.  The web role uses the Azure SDK to return the binary files to the client based on the URIs in the database.

BizSpark:   How did you get excited about Azure?

Startup: Our Lead Systems Architect attended an Azure boot camp a few years ago so it was always something we had in mind.  We were very interested when we viewed the release of a new version of Azure in 2011.  Once we learned about the benefits of BizSpark from a local .NET user group, we were very excited to give it a try.

BizSpark:   What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?

Startup: Azure was a perfect fit for the system we were architecting with Vinylmint.  The web role provides a seamless upgrade to the cloud from standard ASP.NET.  The Azure Blob Storage was a great fit for the large binary audio file data storage requirements.  We also have SQL Server expertise so the fact that it can be deployed in the cloud is another major benefit for us.  Aside from the specific technical features, the deployment and administration features significantly enhance our productivity.  Deploying from Visual Studio right from the solution explorer and directly from Team Foundation Service make it very easy to update our application.  Administration is easy since we do not have to deal with the operating system or most cases, but it also gives us enough control so we can go into the operating system if we have to.

 BizSpark:  What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?

Startup: When you architect solutions in the cloud, think about how the architecture affects not just technical concerns, but pricing concerns.  You can device creative solutions that both improve technical performance and keep costs down.  For example, when we were designing the audio file storage, the original idea was to store the files as part of the SQL Database.  This would both make the database slower and create more cost for the business.  We instead took advantage of Azure Blob Storage which provides better performance for binary data and is much cheaper.

BizSpark:   What is the one thing that you would like readers to take away about your Azure app?

Startup: We hope to revolutionize the sound design process by creating a new marketplace with Vinylmint.  This shows that Azure provides many ways to make creative apps.