If you're an iPhone or an Android user, you'll no doubt at some point have thought to yourself 'I really must brainstorm a few app ideas, become a millionaire and buy a yacht; wouldn't that be nice'. And before the advent of smart phones, you'd probably have given some thought to becoming an inventor - the pop tart, the toaster, the stapler, viagra - 'If only I had gotten there first'. I myself am writing this feature as someone whose invention ideas go as far as square sausages (aren't regular shaped sausages forever rolling off one's grill?) and apps that, frustratingly, already exist, so I'd probably be best off giving up hope.
Sometimes though, the proverbial lightbulb moment does occur, and with a little know-how (coupled with a techy background) your reverie can soon become a reality. And it doesn't just happen in Silicon Valley or Mark Zuckerberg's stuffy, Harvard dormitory or some obscure corner of China; it can happen right here in Ireland.
Picture this: You're a pair of Irish lads having the craic in college, consuming music like everybody else. You stumble upon a gap in the market. You take the seed of an idea, allow it to germinate, and eventually turn it into a very practical app; one that's piqued the interest of the world's most renowned technical movers and shakers. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniack and Stephen Fry have endorsed you, Bono wants a piece of the action too. You've struck gold; a million-dollar (or more) paycheck awaits you. Sounds like the stuff that only digital dreams are made of, right? Well that's the current reality faced by former UCD/UCC students Brendan O'Driscoll, Aidan Sliney and Craig Watson.
Having just released SOUNDWAVE onto the market, they're on the cusp of becoming leaders in the app world. Not a bad place to be, right?
But rather than listen to me attempt to explain the functionality and spec of the very slick and easy-to-use Soundwave, best let their CEO, O'Driscoll, do the talking. As the lads prepare to launch the app in London with Stephen Fry today, O'Driscoll takes time out to share their story with me.
How does it feel to be you today?
Yeah, (laughs), it's been a crazy 24 hours. Really amazing, high energy 24 hours. We pushed it live yesterday morning and we've just watched it spread all over the world. It's really crazy watching that happen.
Did you ever think you'd arrive at this point? Did you ever envision getting to this level and have something like this in your hands?
Yeah, that's the thing, it really is a lot of work behind the scenes, for quite a long time but it's great then to just sit back as we did yesterday and just watch the results of that work and probably the most enjoyable part is massive influx of Tweets that have come in from the early adopters of the app, just talking about how much they love it and how it's the perfect compliment to their life. It's amazing.
So let's go back a little here, what was the original idea and how did it all begin?
Started under 18 months ago. Myself and Aidan Cliney were the two original founders and we just had a very simple idea that we just wanted to know what songs people were listening to. We were always asking each other and asking our friends 'what bands have you heard about lately, or what CD are you listening to now, we're always just using our social network to try and find new music and we thought in this day and age when everybody's got headphones in, and they're all plugged into their smartphones, we thought it was crazy that you couldn't really easily share what songs were being played on those smartphones so we just came up with the solution to fix that problem.
And how does it work?
It's a smartphone app, for android and for iPhone, we put an awful lot of effort into android too. Once you download it then the app can instantly see what songs you're listening to as you listen to them through your regular music player and you can use the regular player on your phone or streaming apps as well like Spotify or whatever and we can pull in all the songs that you play and I suppose the cool thing about it then is the social part where you can go to anybody's profile and follow any individual like your friends or interesting people. So you can then see the songs they're playing as they're listening to them.
How will this change how we consume music?
I think it re-emphasizes the importance of the listening metric as opposed to the purchase metric again because what we've seen in recent years is that there are these massive global names with multi million dollar marketing campaigns and they can very quickly almost buy their way to the top of the charts but if you look at the top of the charts these days, in terms of what's being purchased, they're not actually reflective of what most people are actually listening to. A lot of people are listening to old stuff that they would have purchased a long time ago or music they may not have gotten through an official store. There's a massive difference between charts based on listening and charts based on purchases.
What's really cool actually is that Bono foresaw the need for this. We were sent a video of Bono in an interview a few years back where he talks about a time coming where there'd be this product that would show us what people are listening to. He was imagining a world where, y'know, U2 are the biggest band in the world right now but in reality if you looked at what people were listening to there might be a completely different band at the top, the band he referenced at the time was Interpol and maybe Interpol are the biggest band in the world because they have the most people listening to them but maybe just not the most purchased band. He called that. I think what we're doing is democratising the whole chart system again, allowing people to choose what should go into the charts by casting their vote, by actually listening.
And does Bono know you've come up with the solution to his problem?
(Laughs) Yeah, it was great so we looked into our black book of who we knew that knew somebody and we ended up getting the video back to him with the app and he straight away afterwards was playing around with the app so that was great to hear.
So today you have Steve Wozniak and Stephen Fry endorsing you, how awesome is that?
Yeah it's crazy, one of the things we talked about for so long before we spoke to anyone was the product. We really wanted to hone the product experience and make sure that we were building a really great product for the users so we actually worked hand and hand first with users and then for 12 weeks we ran Beta trials and we invited a load of people into the office to come and sit down with us and give us their ideas and we did lots of feedback campaigns long before we publicly announced what we were doing and I think as a result of all that we built this really nice, polished product which allowed us to open up some doors. Then we went knocking on Steve Wozniak and Stephen Fry's doors saying 'just giving you a heads up, this is what we've been building and we're pretty happy with it and we think you'll like it too.
The Steve Wozniak thing, I just added him on LinkedIn, believe it or not, and he accepted and then I just shot him over a quick mail filling him in and we ended up speaking at the same conference about a month later in Northern Ireland and I got a chance to sit down with him there which was really crazy, a real personal highlight to chat with someone like him. As I was shaking his hand he was like 'nice to meet you, I just want to give you an advance warning, I'm such a busy person I don't get time to look at Beta products let alone full products so I probably won't be able to take your beta' and I said 'that's no problem but just in case you're interested this is it actually here on my phone' and about three minutes later he was demanding a copy of it for his own phone as well, he broke his own rule. He has about 700 songs racked up, testing our app out, which was amazing. He was on to us again last night congratulating us because we were featured by Apple yesterday in the app store. It's great to have someone like him supporting us.
So this is something most people our age are dreaming of, what was your personal background and how did you guys go about making this a reality?
I have a background in mechanical engineering from UCD and Aidan has a background in Computer Science from UCC. We were really lucky because in the last few years there's been a great support structures been put in place in the Dublin community and in Ireland for supporting early stage start-ups. When we had the idea we looked around at what was out there and we came across the NDRC Launch Pad and they have this technical accelerator programme where anybody can apply with an idea and if it's strong enough and if it seems good enough then they'll take the idea in house and really mentor you and train you through a period of a few months. So we went through that programme and it was a fantastic momentum booster and from there we've never really looked back.
Are you prepared for the massive global success that's inevitably going to wash over you?
(Laughs) We just have our heads down and we're constantly looking at improving our product so right now we're brainstorming the whole time on feature editions and we're looking through all the feedback of what other suggestions there have been to improve the app. So yeah, for us, that other part is a consequence. We can't imagine it yet, we just want to make it better and better.
So what's the next challenge?
Well one of the really interesting things we did was we localised the app into 14 languages, everything from Korean to Chinese to Japanese to Indonesian. Crazy amount of languages. So we're looking at how we can expand our presence in those areas. Music is pretty global, everybody listens to music and everybody's curious so we thought 'well why shouldn't that work in Thailand' as well as Tullamore.
So you must be ready to rack up a fair few air miles then?
(Laughs) Yeah, I reckon it'll be a busy few months but we've been locked up in the office for a while now so that might be no harm.
And before we let you go, give us a a few more name-drops, what other celebrities have gotten their mits on Soundwave?
One of the other interesting stories was that we unearthed a profile during the Beta test and it was actually Ashton Kutcher which was really exciting to realise. Mark Cuban's also on it, he's the owner of the NBA team Dallas Mavericks, he's just a crazy billionaire guy.
It really is just a dream come true.
Yeah, it's insane, it's getting there. A lot of work to do but yeah, it's awesome.