Interview With Mir Hwang
Describe your product or service & the problem it's solving:
“The antiquated talent booking process has caused a major disconnect between artists both big and small, and the venues where they perform. It has also limited the ability of talent to book gigs seamlessly and has made it difficult for venues to locate the right talent. With live music returning gradually after years of being on pause, technology is taking center stage and putting more dollars in the hands of artists, as well as the venues they are playing at.
GigFinesse is a music technology company founded by musicians who recognize firsthand the challenges that come with performing in the live music industry. It is an easy-to-use platform that connects live music venues of all sizes and tastes with thousands of artists from all across the country, allowing them to curate shows that are perfectly suited to their music preferences. This also allows talent and venues to maximize their returns by leveraging proprietary data from event-goers.”
How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? Tell us the story!
“I fell in love with music by playing in bands and putting on shows with my friends. Eventually, I became a touring musician and was intimately familiar with the intricacies and frustrations of booking live entertainment. It wasn’t long before I found myself immersed in a community of artists who were equally desperate for a better way to source gigs and perform. In the summer of 2019, my cofounder Ryan and I decided to take a leap of faith. We forwent Google and medical school, respectively, and set out on our mission to improve the live music landscape for both artists and venues alike.”
How are you funded? I.e. type of funding, number of funding rounds, total funding amount.
“$3.6 million raised to date of seed funding.”
How big is your team?
“30 people and growing.”
Who is your target market? How did you determine this?
“The concert and event promotion generates over $50B a year in the United States alone. It’s our mission to power venues worldwide with quality entertainment and to help artists find their stage. [The] main target market is ticketed and non-ticketed venues in major cities. Non-ticketed venues include hotels, restaurants, and more. Currently, there's 236,000 live music establishments in the US. GigFinesse determined their target marketing by defining a clear business model canvas and surveying competing solutions in the market.”
What's your primary marketing strategy?
“Word of mouth. Having a good product and a strong mission has been our best and most effective way to scale, especially with limited capital.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“Satisfaction rate — venue staff/ownership can review every gig booked, and keeping the ratio of positive to negative reviews in the upper 90% is a key goal of ours (and one that we have accomplished thus far)
Total bookings processed by the platform: The clearest reflection of both volume and traction.
Total payout generated for working artists: A key indicator of both traction and our success in following through on our mission.”
What was the biggest obstacle you encountered while launching your company? How did you overcome it?
“Having founded GigFinesse in the summer of 2019, we have been faced with plenty of curveballs. Just as we were starting to get a semblance of what our product should look like and how it would better solve
As tough as it has been, we have learned to run a very disciplined and tight operation through it all. For the immediate future, GigFinesse will continue to run lean, making smart use of capital with a focus on sustainable growth.
GigFinesse has faced multiple obstacles. GigFinesse hit a big speed bump early on when the pandemic shuttered every venue in the city for more than a year. Mir packed his bags and moved to Austin, Texas, where the clubs stayed open, finding new avenues and opportunities while others closed.”
What is something that surprised you about entrepreneurship?
“Most startup stories I’ve been exposed to follow a very similar trajectory. Come up with a great idea, build a prototype, pitch to investors, get funding, secure attention from the media, and then experience hyper-growth. I was convinced that I already had a great idea, and with that out of the way, everything else would fall into place. The biggest challenge, I thought, would be appeasing my mother when she found out her son was no longer going to become a doctor.
Early on, it seemed as though I was right. The first few months of GigFinesse were smooth sailing: we won non-dilutive funding from various startup competitions, connected with amazing mentors, and found dedicated early customers who helped us develop an MVP. I now know that the Dunning-Kruger Effect is very real!
Unfortunately, the honeymoon period did not last long. Just as the business, product, and team were starting to take shape, COVID-19 hit. The pandemic instantly wiped out all of the progress we thought we’d made. As the entire live music industry ground to a halt, GigFinesse was right back at square one.
I still vividly remember the day my team and I rented a U-Haul and moved out of New York City. The plan was to crash at a team member’s parent’s house and just “wait it out” for the month or so we thought the pandemic was going to last. One month quickly turned to six. I was wracked with anxiety and guilt. I felt responsible for my team, including my co-founder, Ryan, whose lives and careers were put on hold.
Getting in front of investors was nearly impossible, and those who would take my calls were questioning the viability of the very industry I was building GigFinesse to serve.
Post-pandemic solutions for the entertainment sector were suddenly in vogue, and in-person experiences were out. I was told again and again that live music would never fully recover.
Instead of pulling the plug then and there, we decided to deploy the little cash we had left in a last-ditch effort: we had to see GigFinesse through, even if it meant just a few more months.
With just a suitcase and a backpack, I ventured down to Austin, Texas. I sublet a tiny dorm room and went on foot, door to door, trying to talk to more customers, all while tutoring chemistry on the side to pay the bills. This would be the do-or-die test for GigFinesse: can we grow in a completely new market with no connections, no understanding, and no proof of concept?
Luckily for us, our product resonated with several key partners in Austin. Many of those who took a chance on us then are still some of our most valued clients now.
As individuals, we tend to overestimate what we can do in the short term and underestimate what we can achieve in the long term. Day-to-day progress can seem slow, as with any start-up, and sometimes this can get discouraging, especially for dedicated teams working around the clock to make things happen.
Looking back, however, it’s blindingly obvious how much that daily effort can, over time, compound into major results. Our most recent funding round is one such example. It is the result not of successful pitches or friendly meetings, but of the entire GigFinesse team working bit by bit every single day.”
What is your #1 piece of advice for startup founders?
“There’s a ton of great advice I’ve received from people along the way, but one that comes to top of mind is following the 33% rule. The 33% rule states that One-third of your network should be people you can learn from, who once stood where you stand. One-third should be people in the same boat as you, peers who inspire you. The last third should be people who you can mentor, so you can give back to the community that nurtured you.”
More on GigFinesse
GigFinesse is a music tech startup founded by Mir Hwang and Ryan Kim that facilitates the booking of live entertainment between performers and venues.
Mir Hwang, founder of GigFinesse, joins the podcast to discuss how his startup is providing a much-needed service to creatives and venues alike.