The Business: How Fusicology Made Profits By Bringing the Party to the People.
How many of us have been in this situation before: you get struck with a business idea that you know – you just know--could be a game changer. Over the next day or so you weigh the pros and cons of actually trying to bring that idea to life. You may consider the comforts of a job you already have; the uncertainty of becoming an entrepreneur...and before you can even get around to buying the domain name for your billion-dollar idea, you've given up; either discouraged when you can’t quickly determine a clear path to the end dollar, or just freaked out about being able to actually pull it all off. The once “great” idea goes straight to the mental graveyard, leaving only the “coulda-shoulda-woulda” regret around to haunt you (particularly on those days when boss or co-workers at your 9-5 are driving you to drink).
Don’t knock yourself too hard if this sounds like you. Many well-known entrepreneurs have often said that starting a business is a trip with no clear itinerary; less like piloting a plane and more like jumping off a cliff and assembling an aircraft on the way down. In fact, we recently had the chance to talk to one such entrepeneur to help explain the zen of metaphorical mid-air engineering.
This year, Fusicology.com, internationally recognized as a go-to website for the latest cool/progressive/underground events and parties is celebrating a huge milestone with their 10 year anniversary. The L.A. based company was launched in 2003 by Asya Shein who recently shared her story with us on how she turned bringing the party to the people into a profit. Get your parachute inplace and read on :
OKP: How did the launch of Fusicology come about?
AS: I was an agent doing bookings for Questlove, Pete Rock, J Dilla and a roster of about 25 other hip-hop, soul and house music artists. After 9/11 things kind of changed. People didn’t want to travel so much, flights got expensive. People were always contacting me about events asking me about what was up for the night? Where’s the party? Is there a dress code? Whats the cover? Who’s DJing? What time does it end?
A million questions because I was always that chick in the know, because of running an agency and working with musicians. I needed to develop something that people could to go to, because there wasn’t anything I could find that encompassed a progressive and soulful vibe for the type of events I was into. There was club-this and club-that dot com, at the time, and I was like, That ain’t me.
In August 2003 I was hanging out inBrooklyn with an amazing art director and graphic designer named Fuse Green. He’s pretty well known, he’s done stuff for Jay Z and a bunch of cool murals. I was hanging out with him and, alongside marketing wiz Gail Brooks, we came up with the concept together. He designed a logo, I accepted the first logo he presented, and I loved it. We came up with the concept to have it online, and Fusicology was born.
OKP: How long did it take to launch Fusicology after you had the idea?
AS: The first version only took three weeks, it started as an html newsletter with a splash page. One for L.A. one for NYC. It was an HTML newsletter with very minimal content. 90% of the links went to myspace at the time. Ironically, if you look at whois.net for October 2003, Facebook, Google, Myspace and Fusicology all launched that same time. Obviously we weren’t all talking to each other, but there must have been a crazy momentum in the end of 2003…about a month after we launched the HTML newsletter, we had a homepage.
OKP: When you first launched Fusicology, did you expect it to grow into a 10 -year business? What was your mindset at the time?
AS: My mindset was that this was a hobby. I’m going to continue booking gigs and test the waters out. I have no idea how I’ll make money on this or who’s going to care…when I saw that our open rates for newsletters were high, that’s when I knew we were on to something.
OKP: How did you define yourself then compared to now? Has the definition changed?
AS: We originally were ‘the science of progressive music and culture’…and then it became ‘the hub for’ progressive music and culture…and now, its finally ‘the source for progressive events, music, and culture. We added events later, but we always had the word progressive.
OKP: People think of Fusicology as the destination to find cool events, but behind it all, its primarily a digital business. Do you think that as an entrepreneur in the digital space, it’s a responsibility to be well versed in the computer technology involved, or is it better to defer that to a 3rd party?
AS: I really think that you should know as much as possible without it being stressful. No I don’t know how to code, but do I know how to do simple HTML and look for things and if there’s something wrong with my site be able to find a problem? I don’t know how to do everything and I definitely have people that do it for me on a daily basis, but I do know a little bit. If I have to do a small change, why not know a little bit of photoshop? If I need to make a small change to the homepage of the website, why not know a little wordpress? I think it helps everyone to immerse yourself…just to kind of know what the heck people are talking about, otherwise you’re probably in the wrong industry, and you shouldn’t be in digital.
b>OKP: Before you take us through some of the milestone experiences you had in operating Fusicology these past 10 years, what general pieces of business advice do you have for anyone out there trying to start a new business – particularly in the entertainment industry?
AS: For starters, you have to sacrifice and work most nights and weekends or at least some. There’s no way around it. If you want to do a 9-5 then do a 9-5. I’ve never met anyone who disagreed with me on that.
If you get drunk every night its an enemy. That’s not to say that I won’t have a cocktail, but that’s not getting drunk. If you’re drunk, there’s always the chance you’ll wake up the next day headache, and then you’re useless.
As a woman there’s also a fine line between having fun and mild flirtation verses hoe-ing yourself out. I try not to do the cleavage/tight skirt thing. Maybe once in a while I’ll have a tight shirt on, but I always kept a professional demeanor, so that people won’t look at me like a throwaway clown.
And actually, to backtrack, I’d put communication skills as number one. Some people say its a ’48 hour’ rule, I say it’s a 24 hour rule for getting back to an email. If you email me at 6pm EST, I should email you back around the same time tomorrow if not a lot sooner. If you start to take your own sweet time on getting back to people, people will forget about you, and you won’t be viewed as professional…communicate, even if its just to say hey I’m on vacation or I’m traveling.
OKP: Last but not least--where's the party at? Which of the events you've been involved with stand out as personal favorites?
AS: I loved the Rock the Bells Concert in 2011 where everyone performed their first album. That was incredible, from Nas to Wu-Tang to Snoop, everyone did their whole first album at the show. That was probably my favorite concert because I’m such a 90’s hip-hop person; another event I really loved was the J Dilla and Miguel Atwood Ferguson 40 piece orchestra event we had out in L.A. that Common came out and did his thing at; and a Gil Scott-Heron concert shortly before he died.
Make no mistake about it - Fusicology may be a business that has helped many of us party (on probably more than a few memorable nights) but there’s plenty of hard work that went into it. Click through the images at top for some highlight's of Asya Shein’s 10-year history behind making a dollar out of 15 cents with Fusicology (and visit fusicology.com to find the next parties and events near you!)
A Brief History Of Fusicology:
2003 - Our lesson learned was that Gold & black doesn’t work on a website, and that we needed to have more content then just events.
2004 – Chris Haycock, the founder of the Do-Over party actually did a site redesign for us. We learned that clean white colors were much more effective.
2005 – We moved from an html newsletter site to a fully fledged website with contacts, our DJ Top 5, and banner ads. This was the launch of Fusicology 2.0
2006 – We had our first media buy this year. It was from Scion, and it was a substantial check. We also added more cities. We also expanded to seven markets that year and got a little bit of funding from friends and family.
2007 – After adding in the new markets from the previous year, we installed a completely new design and we were now in 14 markets. The new design was launched in March right before SXSW and WMC. As a side-note, we usually do our launches around then because its still the beginning of the year, and you’re able to break the news into festivals.
2008 – We added more cities, another site new redesign and we faced a big problem. The day the Chinese Olympics started on 08/08/08, the Chinese hackers took down over 100,000 websites including Pizza Hut with a worm. Our site went down for 10 days and people were actually hitting us up going crazy about it. We learned that people really loved and valued us and we developed a home page to take people to the newsletter while we worked on building a new site. We moved from ColdFusion to PHP backend for the site in only 10 days. It was no joke but it was awesome. We had people working around the clock. I can’t believe it got done.
2009 – This was the year we went really social, especially with Twitter. This was the year that folks left MySpace and focused more on Facebook so we put our attention on socials. It was a big year for us. I know the stock markets crashed, but it was a big year for launches for us.
2010 – This was the year we launched a mobile version of the site, and we started using Wordpress for the site with another redesign.
2011 - We launched our iPhone and Android mobile apps (that we still use).
2012 – Another redesign of the site. This has actually been a general trend each year to make the site continuously better. We also launched the Facebook event-synch app. It allows promoters to synch their events on Facebook directly to our website, so they no longer have to post on our website anymore. They can just allow their events to synch to our site and automatically within minutes that event is synched to our website.
2013 - Happy Anniversary!