Thursday, February 16, 2012
Interview with Zackary Lewis, Liquid Compass
Streaming, internet radio seems to be coming of age, with the recent IPO of streaming music firm Pandora, the popularity of Spotify, along with other services. One company which has seen the benefit of the market is Boulder-based Liquid Compass (www.liquidcompass.net), whose customers--traditional, terrestrial radio stations--are also eager to get online. We had a chat with Zackary Lewis, the CEO of the company, to learn more about what Liquid Compass provides, why Internet radio services are spurring its own business with radio stations, and where it believes it can grow its business.
Tell us a bit about Liquid Compass?
Zackary Lewis: Liquid Compass is going on its eleventh year in business. We started the company in July of 2001, and are located in lower downtown in the Warehouse District, a block North East of Coors field, in an old, renovated warehouse. There's lots of high tech companies in this building. The primary industry we serve is the terrestrial and Internet radio. Terrestrial radio are the normal radio stations you might listen to in your car or home. Currently, we have over a thousand radio stations hosted on our streaming delivery network. We consider ourselves the premium, streaming delivery network providing audio, video, and interactive media services for the broadcasting industry, and specifically the audio entertainment industry. In addition to our wide array of streaming services, we also maintain our own network operations center (NOC), which is south of Denver in the Tech Center.
Why would a radio station customer use your services?
Zackary Lewis: The reason for going with any streaming delivery network, is the cost benefit. Specifically, at Liquid Compass, we focus on streaming radio. We're building the desktop media players, mobile apps, and providing the bandwidth to serve our customers audience in large volume, something that a typical broadcaster can't do themselves. An example, is they might have a T1 line in their office. If they're serving up 90K streams, you could have on average ten listeners accessing your stream before you hit your bandwidth cap. But, for Liquid Compass, we have between 2.5 million and 5 million listeners accessing the network at any time.
There's been an upsurge in Internet radio startups lately, like Spotify and Pandora. How does that affect your business and streaming radio, and where do you fit into that picture?
Zackary Lewis: It's been great for our business. It educates the marketplace about what streaming radio is. Our business model is completely different. We are the network, and we're enabling terrestrial radio broadcasters to compete against Pandora and Spotify. We have definitely morphed since our inception in 2001, when we started as an interactive marketing firm. We had focused initially on interactive web campaigns, web sites, and digital advertising campaigns, but we saw an opportunity to get into streaming of both audio and video early on.
For instance, we're streaming a lot of videos for 9NEWS, the Denver Post, the Colorado Tourism Office on Colorado.com. We identified a niche before our competitors in the marketplace, specifically audio entertainment. What that has allowed us to do, is to build a service specifically for radio broadcasters, to launch them online. In the early days of streaming, 2001 to 2003, there were lots of broadcasters who were not streaming, and it was an uphill battle of educating the marketplace on who were are, what we did, and how we did it. Wit the launch of Pandora, halfway through the decade, it really did help our business. It educated radio stations on what streaming is.
As far as today is concerned, we dropped interactive marketing and advertising services late in 2003, and after 2004 we focused solely on the streaming radio industry. Today, we provide packages that include everything from desktop apps to mobile streaming for radio broadcasters, which is why they come to us. We're providing, first, volume, so you can stream to a large audience and not have to worry about the capping problem. And, we are providing reliability, so that we can guarantee a broadcaster with uptime of 99.9 percent, which is piece of mind for them. It's the same reliability you'd want with a terrestrial signal and towers, and gives the same peace of mind for a stream as well.
We hear a lot from companies who started in the consulting area, and have been trying to figure out how to shift to products. How difficult was it to make that switch for you?
Zackary Lewis: It was taking a leap of faith, for sure. But, prior to that, our business was already shifting in that direction. We had more and more of our clients requesting streaming services, and the market kind of helped us go down that path, rather than us just taking a blind leap of faith. At the time we decided to make the move, and focus exclusively on streaming radio, we already had a large base of clients. So, it wasn't all that difficult. At the same time, we were able to refer our interactive media services customers to another company, which was also founded by one of the original founders of Liquid Compass and myself.
Where do you see the growth prospects now for your firm?
Zackary Lewis: It's huge. The evolution of radio is online. If you think about how people want to consume audio, they want to consume audio wherever they are, which is typically on the go. I'm sitting here at my desk, and I am listening to Trail 103.3 in Montana, which is a great station up there. My point is, people access audio and media wherever they are. They're no longer constrained to listening to the radio in the car, or at home. When we think about trends in listenership, Liquid Compass is in a great position. We're enabling both broadcasters to have a service where they can reach their listeners through desktop media and mobile media, we are also working on Internet-ready radios for the next generation of car stereos coming out of Detroit, Japan, and Germany. As far as a listener goes, it doesn't matter if they're at the top of a mountain in Vail, driving in Atlanta, or in Los Angeles or London for that matter. We can pretty much provide access to your favorite stations wherever you are at.
What the biggest thing you've learned since you've started, which helps to make a company successful?
Zackary Lewis: Every year, I learn something new. I think, however, that how to adapt to a marketplace, adapting to a clients needs and wants, is one of the biggest things we've learned. Early on, we had a large menu of offerings, but that menu made it very difficult for some of our broadcasters to know what we do. Especially with a name like Liquid Compass. As we grew, and the years went on, we became more clear to what our broadcaster's needs where, and we started to build solutions that specifically addressed their needs, rather than having a large menu of offerings. We figured out that business can be so much simpler when you have more or less an In-N-Out Burger approach. You can go to the menu, say you want a Double Double with Cheese, and you know exactly what you're getting. We've taken to that In-N-Out model completely, simplifying the options for broadcasters. We're not focused on offering the world of options to broadcasters, but instead identifying the needs that are germane to streaming radio.