Raffi Khatchadourian is a Mathematical Economics major and incoming junior at Colgate University. A self-starter and talented entrepreneur, Raffi has established himself as the COO of indify, an emerging music startup, before many of his peers have even declared their major. Back in January, Raffi attended GA’s week-long Business Accelerator program in partnership with Colgate University. Since then, he and his co-founders have gone on to win $10,000 in funding from Colgate University’s Entrepreneur Weekend Shark Tank and $15,000 from Colgate University’s Entrepreneurs Fund. Read on to learn how this young entrepreneur transformed his passion for music and data into a successful early-stage startup.
First of all, congratulations on your recent win at Colgate University’s Entrepreneur Weekend! How did it feel to receive $25,000 in funding for indify?
Thank you. We are extremely grateful that we were given the opportunity by Colgate University’s Thought Into Action program to pitch our company at the Shark Tank competition during Entrepreneurs Weekend. Our main objective was to articulate clearly the business imperative for a solution like indify. Our focus going into the event was to present as well as possible on stage. We had three minutes to pitch our value proposition in front of Jessica Alba, MC Hammer, Neil Blumenthal, Jennifer Hyman, Greg Coleman, Daniel Rosensweig, and the entire audience. Both the panel and general audience then voted. The fact that we won first place was completely unexpected and extremely gratifying.
Tell us more about indify. What is it? What inspired you to get involved? Who else is on your team, and what is your role within the company?
indify is a data platform that helps professionals in the music industry discover emerging, unsigned musicians using a proprietary algorithm. The product ranks independent artists on their chances of future success. By creating this platform, we hope to provide music companies with the ability to monitor and analyze data relevant to unsigned artist popularity.
It was my intense passion for music, strong academic interest in data analytics, and entrepreneurial spirit that inspired me to join Colgate’s Thought into Action program. I worked diligently to develop indify from concept to prototype while clearly documenting our mission. I met Keshav Garg at Colgate University and it was immediately evident that we shared an interest in shifting the industry standard for identifying emerging artists.
We both saw the need to explore alternative and more efficient approaches to signing emerging artists, and because of our shared background in startups, we understood that responding to a real market need is what drives success for entrepreneurs. I think our prior experience in the music industry—we had both interned at Warner Music Group—gave us an intimate understanding of the challenges facing both emerging artists and music companies.
Our team consists of four people. I am one of the co-founders and the Chief Operating Officer. The other three co-founders grew up together in Scarsdale, New York. Keshav Garg is our Chief Executive Officer, Matthew Pavia is our Chief Technology Officer, and Connor Lawrence is our Chief Creative Officer. As the COO, I handle business development and strategy. This includes planning, strategizing and meeting with lawyers, venture capitalists, potential customers, and partners.
You and your co-founders decided to pivot indify from a platform to empower independent musicians into a data platform that focuses on ranking unsigned artists. What motivated this change in focus?
The pivot occurred after our team realized that there was a large talent gap between the independent and mainstream music markets. We realized that the unsigned musicians we love gain recognition in the independent music community, but do not receive the opportunities necessary to take their music mainstream. We want to help record labels, streaming services, and brands find the top unsigned artists at an early stage. Using data, we can empower independent musicians by connecting them with opportunities within the music industry.
Our original idea was meant to empower independent musicians by providing the artists with a website consisting of aggregated platforms on an artist’s page and a public ranking of those pages. Instead, we realized that we could empower artists by ranking their performance.
We now have a platform with a simple interface and proprietary algorithm where we publish emerging artist’s ranking in real time, which has caught the attention of industry professionals. The ability to monitor an artist’s progress, coupled with the predictive nature of indify, gives industry executives valuable insight to complement their business acumen.
You recently attended the Business Accelerator Program at General Assembly in New York. How did this program prepare you to take indify to the next level?
The Business Accelerator program at General Assembly provided me with the practical skill set to supplement my liberal arts education and actually build a viable business while still in school. Through case study methods, I learned about business strategies, modeling, product management, and digital marketing. Over the course of 5 days, I received hands-on instruction on how to form a business and build on an idea.
The program helped me take a big step closer to turning indify into a legitimate company. I was able to accelerate indify within the startup community and further our mission.
What were your biggest takeaways from the program and how do you think it has helped you as an entrepreneur?
I learned the importance of collaboration and taking calculated risks. I also learned that it’s critical to have an excellent understanding of my business model and the marketplace before building any product.
I went into the Business Accelerator program confident in indify’s business imperative and the enormous amount of work we had done to come as far as we had already. I left the program more open to advice and mentoring and willing to collaborate with others. I understand now that working with others and accepting their advice can help the business grow immensely—my instructors, mentors, and peers all helped to further develop mockups, a company pitch, a business deck, and more.
Bottom line, the Business Accelerator program helped me understand the fundamentals behind creating a successful business and the importance of figuring out our unique value proposition early on.
What’s next for you and indify?
We have been talking to interested representatives at major record labels, digital streaming services, media brands, and even television networks. Our goal is to provide a trial version of the product to potential customers and receive feedback within the next few months.
Eventually, we will launch our product for a subscription fee to all businesses that want to discover emerging, independent musicians. Any businesses that are interested in the trial should feel free to connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
What advice do you have for fellow young entrepreneurs?
It takes an immense amount of effort and commitment to be part of a startup, but many entrepreneurs know that already. For us, this experience has reinforced our belief that entrepreneurs must have a resilient and unflappable confidence in their product and a fundamental love for what they are building. People just like us are the ones who build products that change the world. My biggest advice is to ask, “Why not me?”
I would also say you have to have a strong understanding of your customers and target market before you develop any product. You should talk to 100 potential customers to further develop your idea at an early stage. Partnering with people that complement your skill set is also very important. You should never be afraid to develop a team or bring in the resources to develop your product to its fullest potential. There’s no room for ego.
Who is your favorite teacher and why?
All of my teachers have been helpful in their respective subjects. From learning about validating my market, to bringing my product to life and pitching, each instructor at General Assembly’s Business Accelerator program had a lot of offer. On top of the amazing instructors, we had a great group of motivated students with diverse skills. I am grateful to the students, career services faculty at Colgate, Thought Into Action alumni, and General Assembly facilitators and instructors for allowing me to participate in such a great program.