Lessons Learnt from the failure of Rormix
Written by Keith Andrew
There’s a tendency amongst the tech press to focus almost solely on successes. Scan the pages of any industry website or magazine, and you’ll see startups from all over the globe telling their ‘rags to riches story’; a moment of genius realised, pumped full of cash from eager investors from all over the world before, finally, the idea becomes a household name that rewards all parties with riches.
In reality, tales such as those are very much in the minority. In 2015, Forbes reported nine out of ten startups actually end in failure. It’s a stat that may result in any up and comers reading this to sink their heads into their hands, but it would be an error to think that a “failure” in the startup world necessarily means failure as a layman would understand it.
There’s every chance that company you think disappeared without a trace actually made quite a splash along the way.
“UK Investors don’t have a lot of patience and rightly so as they want to see a return quickly. I think they wanted to get more involved than I was comfortable with. Back then, I didn’t know how to tell them to back off,” opens Amman Ahmed, one time CEO of music discovery platform Rormix. “Because I’d taken their money, I somehow felt like I owed them. I valued their opinion and their direction because they had sold their companies for millions but, when I look back at it now, I should have said ‘this is how I’m going to do things, take it or leave it…or fire me.’ That would have been simpler.”
Ahmed’s honesty is enlightening. After years of growth and of an expanding media profile, Rormix – which connected music lovers with unsigned acts – finally shuttered in November last year. Once Amman started to things his own way, Rormix started to grow a lot quicker but by that time it was too late, the company had run out of cash.
Music to his ears
“I guess I’d say Rormix started out because of frustration, frustration with YouTube. There’s a lot of great content on there, a lot of unique content, but it’s actually very very difficult to find,” Ahmed details.
“I saw what other people were doing, and they were all focused on big label artists, and that was it. I was accidentally coming across good unsigned stuff on YouTube, but I wasn’t discovering enough of it. Some of the stuff I saw was unbelievable, just really really good underground indie content. I thought, ‘there’s a gap here’, and so I started up Rormix, funding it myself with £60,000 of my own cash.”
Ahmed was able to self fund at the start because his other business – Roundwaves, which creates and distributes music designed to keep pets calm – was already successful. Once Rormix found an audience, however, it was clear some outside investment was also required. “In total we raised like £350,000 from investors,” he continues, Rormix went on to attract the attention of US rappers, Hollywood movie stars and UK grime artists, to name but a few. “It was good, we were growing pretty well, but then for me at least, that’s when I think I lost control. I think things has grown a little bit too much, too quickly.”
In Ahmed’s words, this was all new to him – “for me, everything was a first” – and, as a result, he was too keen to listen to other people’s advice. “The lesson is, follow your gut feeling, always,” he offers.
“It got to the point where loads of different people’s ideas were coming in, and this is where a CEO has to learn, learn how to direct all that advice. If I was to do Rormix again, I’d need to scale it properly, and I’d need a lot of money so I would still go the VC route. However, this time I’d take my time. I rushed into the deals too quickly with Rormix, and I think if I’d stepped back a little I could have got a better deal.”
That difficult second album
Like every good entrepreneur, however, Ahmed hadn’t put all his eggs in one basket. The aforementioned Roundwaves – which previously had been a project relegated to his spare time – now became his focus.
“I had self funded Roundwaves with £1,000 when I left uni. It started off with us looking into helping people get to sleep, and then I signed an artist in El Salvador to my record label so all the content he creates is exclusive to us,” Ahmed details.
An early attempt to sell the music directly failed, so Ahmed looked to YouTube – giving away the music for free and engaging with anyone and everyone to build a fan base.. “YouTube then invited me to be a partner, and this was back at the time it was very very difficult to be a partner. The first channel was called Easy Sleep Music. That started pretty well, and then from there we grew out further.
“I was like, I’ve cornered that niche, so we looked into how music could affects pets. We put out something for cats and dogs and tried all these different techniques, laying out music in different ways and pumping out as much content as possible. Some stuff worked for dogs, some stuff worked for cats – we listened to our fanbase, basically. The whole thing has really started taking off in the past year.”
Roundwaves, Ahmed is naturally keen to note, has since been featured across the American media – ABC, NBC and Fox News all covering the platform in recent months, with Sky News and the Daily Mirror on this side of the pond also dipping their toes – and has achieved its success without outside funding of any kind.
Thank you for the music
Rormix and Roundwaves are, of course, completely different businesses, despite their collective connection to music. Ahmed isn’t conflicted enough to let his success with Roundwaves change his perspective on the ride he had with Rormix, however. Indeed, it’s that very Rormix experience that’s helping inform the plans Anmed has lined up for Roundwaves.
“The one thing I’ve learned is, it doesn’t matter how many businesses you’re invested in or how much you’re worth, if I don’t agree with your opinion I shouldn’t listen,” Ahmed concludes. “With Rormix I think I was naive. Deep down I had a feeling and I knew what I was doing and why I wanted to do it. We were doing well, we were growing, but when the company was running out of money, no one cared apart from me. I was like, ‘I’m going to follow my gut feeling and try something new’. I took a new approach to the business I’d wanted to take from the start and it was working…but it was too late.
“In short, I’d say if you feel you need advisers, then you’re probably not ready to run a business just yet,” Ahmed ends, with a chuckle. “my biggest mistake was running rormix like a democracy”. If Roundwaves is anything to go by, success may just be a matter of time. If you learn from your mistakes, there’s every chance you’ll be more than a one hit wonder.
“I am grateful for the Rormix experience, my investors, my team and my advisors because without this I would have continued to sit on my cash cow business roundwaves as a “lazy entrepreneur”. My experience with Rormix allowed me to go back to Roundwaves as a sharper leader and as a result smashed all my revenue targets for 2016 by month 8 of this year”