Radial: Streaming ...

Radial: Streaming Music for the Developing World

An interview with Andre Thomas

Andre Thomas is an entrepreneur from Trinidad and Tobago, who co-founded Radial, an internet music-streaming service designed for the Caribbean and the rest of the developing world. During his recent visit to Washington, DC, we interviewed Andre to learn more about his startup, and his plans for growing the business. Radial is one of the startups that participated in the investment readiness and investor engagement training, organized by infoDev/World Bank's Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean. Follow Andre on Twitter: @dre4713


Can you tell us a little bit about your business?

Radial (http://www.getradial.com) is the Pandora and Spotify for the developing world. What that means is we are a social, mobile, music streaming service focused on the Caribbean with plans to expand to other developing nations like Nigeria, Ghana, Brazil and India. We found that the other services have a one-size fits all approach where they push western music to the masses. Radial treats each country’s music as the market and pushes that not only to the local market but also to the very large diaspora.

Why did you choose the music streaming industry?

We have domain expertise and deep connections within the Caribbean music industry. I have played musical instruments since I was five. My two cofounders are also in the music industry. Abay Israel has a Masters in Economics yet he still finds time to DJ twice a week. Kit Israel started off in GIS management but quit that job to produce music full time. He produced this year’s wildly successful ‘Kan Kan Riddim’ as well as the title winning song ‘Ola’ . We LOVE music and we paired that with our other skillsets to achieve success.

What's the market demand/potential for your app?

Popular streaming services have neglected over 450 million people in the developing world. The Caribbean alone has over 40 million people with over 8 million of them that have access to smartphone data packages. These are people that are very passionate about their music. Currently we are in beta with our MVP and have over 1800 users on Radial. We have used their feedback to develop the next version of Radial, which will be out soon for Android and iPhone.

How did you start out?

When I returned to Trinidad I could not listen to music on my phone because both Spotify and Pandora were not available in the Caribbean. I also found that the local radio DJs talked over the music consistently. I spoke to my friend Abay, who attended Morehouse College with me and is based in Michigan; he had the problem from the other perspective. Whenever he DJ’ed at an event, several people would come up to him to get the name of the song he was playing but there was no one place he could tell them to go to listen to the music. We brought his brother, Kit, on board because of his great work in the music industry and that’s how Radial was born.

What are the biggest challenges you had to face in scaling up your business?

Access to human capital as well as mentorship has been a major challenge for us. The startup community in the Caribbean is still very nascent. With that said, we have brought together a really amazing team of engineers, designers and business development based in both Trinidad and the USA, that share our passion. For mentorship and training we had to leave Trinidad and attend Start-Up Jamaica’s Boot Camp training event for entrepreneurs. This was extremely beneficial to us. Our mentor, Sandra Glasgow, is also from Jamaica and her advice to us has been invaluable. We have found these connections mainly through constant hustle and contact with the people at the World Bank via the investment readiness and investor engagement training of the Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean. The other massive challenge is access to financial capital. After you have bootstrapped and obtained customers you want to be able to move as quickly as possible and financial capital helps that.

Do you have any advice for people who want to start a new business?

Persistence and resilience! Be able to get something done through sheer force of will. Also, these attributes will not be possible without passion. Love what you are building. Oh, something that is also very important is to be a team player. Yes we are based on an island but “no man is an island”.

In your experience, what are the specific challenges that entrepreneurs in the Caribbean face in setting up a new business?

So many people, banks and corporations within the Caribbean are risk-averse. For a person to quit their job to start a new venture; this is never something that is encouraged. I am sure the role models must be there but they are not front and center. This lack of risk taking extends to the financial institutions. That is understandable on their part however other systems should be fostered by the government, universities, private sector and entrepreneurs to allow us to build this entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Caribbean. Personally, I believe the entrepreneurs must lead the way and proper regulation will follow. We need a few successes from the Caribbean and that will facilitate change. We aim to be one of those successes.

What are the next steps for your company?

We will continue to grow Radial to tens of thousands of active users and expand our library of music to Jamaica and Haiti. Currently we are in the process to raise capital in exchange for equity of our company. We have a plan of action and milestones we want to achieve with this investment and we make sure any potential investors will be well informed. Lastly, our team is complete, we will keep our heads down and do the hard work to improve Radial day by day.

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