8tracks Radio developer on bringing a community of playlists to the iPhone

by Brad Spirrison

For those of us who grew up creating mixtapes (and and later playlists) of our favorite songs and bands, the 8Tracks Radio iPhone app is a revelation.

As Appolicious Advisor Dan Kricke explains in his sparkling review of the app, “8Tracks Radio combines the joy of great music discovery with the personalization of the mixtape.”

Although it took the bootstrapped company nearly three years to come out with an iPhone app, 8Tracks Radio software designer Richard Caetano explains in this edition of Meet the Makers that he and his colleagues “already see (themselves) as a mobile company.”

Caetano also discusses efforts to get existing 8Tracks users to download the app, the limitations of tablets for music distribution, and why the recent Amazon outage still keeps him up at night.

Appolicious: There is no shortage of music discovery services available for iOS and Android devices (as well as the Internet at large). What makes 8tracks unique and what is your strategy to get more adoption in such a crowded playing field?

Richard Caetano: 8tracks is handcrafted Internet radio, a network of mixes created by people who know and love music. We have almost a quarter of a million mixes made by hundreds of thousands of DJs. Listeners can discover music based on moods (like chill, party, happy, spring) or by searching for an artist they already know and like. This way 8tracks offers a unique discovery experience, rather than radio programming based on an algorithm or the curation of one editorial voice alone.

APPO: The 8tracks website was around for years before you released your first mobile app (for iOS) last month. What took so long?

RC: 8tracks is still a bootstrapped startup. Although we have a team of about 15 people spread across San Francisco, Paris, and New York who build 8tracks, we all work on a nights and weekends basis. Big projects, like the development and launch of an iPhone app, happen slowly.

In addition to our limited resources, we had to resolve some technical issues in regards to audio streaming. That included choosing a suitable audio format, transcoding our entire library of music, meeting Apple's bandwidth requirements, and a few rounds waiting for our work to be accepted in the App Store.

APPO: While you have an Android app in the works, was there ever any thought to launching a mobile app on that platform first so not to compete against the Apple/iTunes behemoth?

RC: We always planned to start with an iPhone app first.

APPO: Once the buzz, media attention and excitement of launching an iPhone app wears off, what should company's like yours do to maintain momentum, increase discoverability and drive downloads of their apps?

RC: As a service which started out of the web, we have a community of online users who will discover our mobile apps via 8tracks.com. We are also focused on partnerships - for us the most natural is music publications who use 8tracks as a platform for their own mixes, and are then incentivized to promote the app. Our users also help to promote the app since 8tracks is very social - DJs create mixes because they want others to listen. And the best way to drive up play counts is by sharing mixes with your own social networks.

APPO: Your company to date has raised $300,000 in financing. Tech pub GigaOm wrote a few weeks back that 8Tracks is pondering an $8 million Series A round of financing. What would you do with all the capital? Regardless of whether or how much institutional venture dollars you might raise, how do you prioritize your mobile initiatives with everything else you are doing?

RC: Mobile is key to 8tracks. Our mobile apps are brand new, but we already see ourselves as a mobile company.

APPO: Is there any value right now in developing tablet-specific apps for the iPad or Android-based devices?

RC: We are excited to eventually create tabled-based experience once we have the resources to build an unique app with a beautiful UI. For the near-term, we're focused on smartphones which give us greater distribution opportunities than tablets.

APPO: As a developer relatively new to the mobile application space, what are the biggest things that keep you up at night?

RC: First would be the App Store feedback. I read every comment posted and am happy to say we've been lucky to have a positive response. But when somebody encounters a problem it usually results in a 1 or 2 start rating. I look out for these with a plan to resolve the issue.

Second would be system uptime. Our development team does a great job of keeping the system running. However, sometimes there are factors that are beyond our control. The recent Amazon outage is an example.

Overall there has been a lot of love received from the 8tracks community. We are driven by this to improve every day.