“It combines my passions, music and technology, in a unique way that serves local musicians and music lovers,” says entrepreneur and CEO Jake Kerber of Locusic.com. Admittedly, it took a while to find this combination that he hopes will someday be his full-time day job.
With Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science degrees from Iowa State University, Kerber embarked on a successful career that led him across the country. He relocated with career advances and traveled extensively while serving as a lead IT consultant for Tallan, a technology focused consulting firm based in Hartford, Connecticut. The travel and consulting sowed two seeds that would later take root in the rich soil of the Iowa heartland; he heard a lot of local bands, and he got used to working independently. So much the latter that shortly after he and his wife relocated to the Des Moines area to be in her native Iowa, he formed KerberTech; his own IT consulting firm contracting with clients such as Wellmark and Pioneer.
“A lot of my family ran their own businesses, eight of my ten siblings to be exact, so I always wanted to do that,” explained Kerber. KerberTech was, and continues to be, a commercial success, but Kerber would learn in 2011 that running a business and being an entrepreneur were not necessarily synonymous. “Locusic was quite a bit different than KerberTech. Being a tech start-up is a bit more challenging than starting a consulting business, and I needed help,” he recalls. Fortunately he would find the help he needed at the BIZ, with Executive Director Mike Colwell.
“At Start-Up weekend in March of 2011, I pitched an idea for a local streaming music service. I’ve heard a ton of great local bands, and I wished there was an easier way for more people to find out about them and hear them – a venue that would showcase their talents,” Kerber says of the genesis of his idea. The idea was chosen to advance during that Start-Up weekend in Des Moines. “At the end of the weekend it still seemed viable, so I took it forward,” he recounts.
Going live in October of 2011, as a streaming music service that focuses on local artists, Locusic provides users multiple genres of music to choose from and routes them artists in those genres who are based within a fifty mile radius of the location from which the user logs in. “I know a lot of people in local bands that are talented musicians but they simply cannot get the exposure they need to break out. The radio is controlled by national marketing machines with little local input,” explains Kerber. “Locusic gives the local artist exposure, while providing the consumer with a sample of what they can find on the local music scene.”
The service is free to artists and to users, with the revenue stream coming from advertisers that have the ability to reach targeted demographics through online text and audio advertising. Kerber envisions premium services for talent and subscribers that would provide additional revenue for added value at some future date. Currently the service is live in Central Iowa (120 artists and 1,000 users), with the Twin Cities being the next market, which Kerber expects to bring online in the next few months. From there he hopes to study the needs of his users and refine the model. “A year from now I hope we have settled on a sustainable model. Five years from now I hope we are nationwide, if not global,” said Kerber of what he hopes becomes his full-time job.
Before such dreams entered his head, however, he needed to find the catalyst that would move him from a viable idea to a sustainable business. It was here he learned the difference between his consulting business, which was really a mere transition from his corporate career, and a tech start-up, which was a true entrepreneurial endeavor. It was at this point that the Business Innovation Zone and Colwell stepped into the picture. Colwell’s extensive experience with start-ups and mentoring entrepreneurs was just what Kerber needed to take Locusic to the tipping point and beyond.
“I had worked with Mike briefly on a project with KerberTech, but when I started working on Locusic, I knew I wanted to work with him. His value as a mentor and business coach is just unbelievable,” explained Kerber.
Through regularly scheduled meetings, Colwell provides Kerber with a sounding board the solo entrepreneur would otherwise lack. “I run key ideas and plans by him for a sanity check. He also provides his own great ideas and the accountability to keep me on track,” said Kerber.
While it helps that Colwell himself has a strong technical background, his real value comes in helping Kerber build the business model and connecting him to the resources he needs. “He is a huge help in connecting me with the right people. If I’m struggling with something, he will immediately know someone I can talk to for support,” states Kerber.
Colwell’s connectivity is an inspiration to Kerber, who hopes to be a huge help himself connecting local musicians with local music lovers.