How Celebrating The Little Victories Led To Brenden Mulligan Selling His Company To Sonicbids

by Tim Jahn on August 27, 2010

Almost a year ago, I interviewed Brenden Mulligan to learn about ArtistData, the website he founded to help bands and musicians update all their various sites and profiles across the web.  I was impressed, because it was just him and a small team creating this amazing tool being used by tens of thousands of musicians.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one that was impressed.  This past June, ArtistData was acquired by Sonicbids, a leading website for connecting bands and promoters.

I think that’s pretty freakin’ cool, so I asked Brenden to chat again to learn what the past year has been like for him and his company.


Brenden Mulligan:

So my name is Brendan Mulligan.  I started a company called ArtistData, which was an online platform that musicians use to basically update and manage their social networking profiles.  Started it in — I think we registered the domain name in 2006.

Really got it off the ground in 2007, as an actual product people would use.  And then it picked up.  Starting in 2008 is when we kind of really major released to the public, no invites required, anyone could sign up.  And then it grew over a couple years.

And in May of this year, we had about 25,000 artists that were registered.  It was a freemium based business model and was acquired in May by a company called Sonicbids which is the market leader in helping bands connect with promoters, and venues and basically find gig opportunities they didn’t already have.

Tim Jahn:

And the last time we spoke, I visited your office at the time, you were in the ITA space, the shared technology space, downtown Chicago.  And were you at the time looking into get acquired by another company or were you looking to sell ArtistData or —

Brenden Mulligan:

I think the best approach is you should never be looking to sell but you should always be talking about it.  And so I had talked to Sonicbids about a similar arrangement the year prior and we just had kept in touch.  One of the big conversations back then was wanting me move to Boston and that just wasn’t really an option for my wife and I.  So, we kept in touch.

The products just worked perfectly as one and I got along with their team really well.  And ultimately it came down to it would be okay if I wasn’t in the office with them.  So we kind of reengaged conversations and were able to work out a deal.

So, but you know over — I would say since the end of 2008, I’ve been in touch with all kinds of different companies about potential partnerships, potential acquisitions.  I mean it sort of, you kind of go out and try to talk to these companies about working together in any way.  And sometimes the conversation leads to, “Hey maybe we should acquire you.”  Sometimes it leads to, lets do a business development deal.  Sometimes it’s, lets do a cross marketing arrangement.  But, so I’ve been talking to lots of companies about lots of different arrangements.

Tim Jahn:

So as an entrepreneur, was this the goal for you?  Have you reached the peak of your career?  Are you going to sit on the beach now in San Francisco and hang out for the rest of your life?

Brenden Mulligan:

ArtistData was one of the most valuable learning experiences of my life and continues to be one of the most valuable learning experiences.  I’ve made, I made more mistakes than I can possibly count and so the fun part is down the road when I go to do something, start something else from scratch, I can’t wait to see how much easier it is and how different the mistakes I’ll make there.  I know I’ll make tons of mistakes but they won’t be as fundamental as some of the ones I made with my first startup.

I think if anything, it gets me really excited to engage both whatever that next project will be down the line but also I’m in this, it’s a brand new challenge.  There’s a whole new world of, I built a startup, we sold it, now we’ve got to integrate it into a company that I have no history with.

And so figuring out the best ways to do do that is a huge and exciting challenge that I’m enjoying so far.  But its definitely not, I don’t feel like anything is over.  It’s just this first circle is compete I guess.

Tim Jahn:

How has life changed for you since the acquisition?  I mean, are you living in a mansion now in Malibu and you’re sipping tequila?

Brenden Mulligan:

No.  The biggest change is before ArtistData was a very small team, it was just a few of us and then we had kind of people all over.  Sonicbids has a 50-person office in Boston that I’m spending about a week a month in.  So, it’s very different to go from a, “Oh, I want to make this change or I want to put out this press release.”  So anything that we did, a decision could be made and then it could be done in hour.  To an organization that has processes that are put into place to make sure that when we make those decisions, that they’re the right decisions.

And so, I’m making, going through the adjustment from basically saying, “All right, well we change the website like this” to having to figure out, “Well how is this going to effect the entire engineering team?  Where do we need to put this in the product road map?”  And that other people are controlling.  So it’s different, but it also, it took a little few months to figure out how to work in that environment.

And I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I can now identify the things that we need to do from a product standpoint for Sonicbids, things we need to do to make sure that the ArtistData product can be transitioned well.  And then, the best ways to get it done within the organization.

Tim Jahn:

What’s been the biggest challenge in the past three or four years from when you started and registered the ArtistData domain and I mean, until now when you’ve kind of joined a bigger organization?

Brenden Mulligan:

I think that, I mean, since joining the bigger organization, the challenges have all been, hey lets make this product a lot better and not having any understanding of the legacy behind it.  But so, but that hasn’t been the biggest challenge — I mean, the biggest challenge is prior to the acquisition role around learning some of the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur and dealing with those, and having to deal with them immediately.

So starting a company, and not really knowing what that meant and then just diving head first in and suddenly being like, “Oh my god, we brought on the CEO and he quit today, what do we do tomorrow?”  And like, and that’s a huge challenge.  And then, but a week later, a month later, the challenge is over and then is challenge is, “Oh, my god, our biggest competitor just launched what we’re building and hoping to launched in three months.  What do we do tomorrow?”

I mean, I had times where I was, I very briefly was looking to raise a little money at the end of last year.  And I had a time where I’d put together my entire pitch centered around this one idea about expanding ArtistData to do this one additional feature.  And I had the deck together.

I was literally about to close my computer to go to meet this investor and I got a — I saw on one of the music industry blogs, an announcement that my major competitor did the exact same thing and had announced it and it was live.

And so I, sitting there and being like well, I can’t go and look this guy in the face and pitch this because it’s no longer a new idea.  I’m like, those kind of moments were both the most challenging and the most fun.  And managing my personal relationship with my wife and trying to explain to her that although the world was falling apart that day, the world really wasn’t falling apart.  And like working through that.

Tim Jahn:

That’s insane.

Brenden Mulligan:

But you know, that’s the kind of stuff that happens.  I mean, we had, there was plenty of examples of things like that.  And I’m sure, and that’s the thing, that’s why we say I know I made a lot of mistakes and I didn’t see a lot of things coming.  But that’s the way it will always be.  And I’m sure that will continue to happen forever.  But that’s also what makes it fun when that doesn’t happen and maybe you’re the one who killed someone else’s plan or like you’re the product that just skyrocketed that day.  Like it’s worth it.

So my wife and I always said that we have to celebrate every little victory because there’s so few of them.  But they’re great victories.  So its like, oh, we got a — there’s a company that might be interested in buying ArtistData, lets go out to dinner and celebrate just that before we learn tomorrow that they’re not interested anymore.

Like you have to take all the good moments and just love them and then you know, you have these little peaks and then valleys, and peaks and valleys.  But hopefully at the end, everything’s moving in the right direction.

Tim Jahn:

You know, you joke about celebrating the smallest victories.  But I really do think that’s such an important part of the journey.  And how important do you think that is having someone there with you get a burrito with and say, “Hey, this great thing happened today.  It might go away tomorrow but it happened today.”

Brenden Mulligan:

And I think it’s important.  It was especially important for me because I didn’t have a team of cofounders that we would all go out with and celebrate the victories.  You know, I had a great team of supporters that were all very supportive and advisors, and board members, and people who were working on the product as well.  But there wasn’t that time to be like, we should celebrate the victory we all just had.  So my wife very much filled the role of both the celebrating, but also the worlds falling apart, we need to figure this out.

At first she would react — it was like she sort of figured that I — that most entrepreneurs’ just cry wolf.  “Oh the worlds falling apart.”  And she’s like, “Oh, my god, I’ll put all my plans on hold.  We need to get this figured out.”  And then a couple months later, she’s like, “You know what, it seems like every month something major happens.”  I’m like, “Yeah, it’s a good point.  That is true.”

So then that’s when she was when she was like, “We need to stop focusing on the negative and start focusing on the positive and celebrate all the little victories.  And we’ll do — all the other crap we’ll deal with.”  But having her there was a huge part of what made it fun and what made it possible.

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