Interview: John Kuch

Kuch was working at Seven, a mobile e-mail company, when Seven founder Bill Nguyen left to start la la, an online music service that enables users to find, buy, and sell CDs.

Kuch was working at Seven, a mobile e-mail company, when Seven founder Bill Nguyen left to start la la, an online music service that enables users to find, buy, and sell CDs.

This is the seventh company that Nguyen, an inveterate entrepreneur, has founded. This go-around is more personal for Nguyen and Kuch, however, as they often bonded over the discussion of music while at Seven. Kuch, who works on PR and business development at la la, talked to about working at a start-up, why la la, which officially launches July 4, is not – and also is – a Web 2.0 company, and how the band will help bands promote their work.
Q: Describe how you came to join la la.
A: When I joined Seven, Bill and I had always had really good conversations about music. I turned him onto some new bands, and he turned me onto some new bands. We found ourselves talking about music whenever we ran into each other, rather than work. When he started this up, he thought of me. [Joining] was something I could not pass up. I'm a huge music fan; I have thousands and thousands of CDs.

Q: When he moved onto la la, were you still working at Seven?
Bill is still the chairman at Seven, and has been for a year or so. Bill is the type of guy that can't sit still. He has ideas that are always flowing. So when he was hanging out with his son, he really got back into music. He has some friends who are artists, and he started talking to them about their situation. He came up with this idea based somewhat on having some more free time to listen to music.

Q: As a communications pro also working on business development, are you always thinking about how communications or marketing plays into your decisions?
I guess so. There are only four of us at la la that don't write code. What you're doing at a day-to-day business depends on what the demands of that day are. I'll do PR; I'll do business development; my role shifts daily. La la is mostly composed of really successful engineers that are drawn to the company out of a passion for music. They came from the ranks of eBay, Yahoo, and Google. We all wear a lot of different hats. But, like any savvy entrepreneur, Bill is always thinking about marketing and how communications plays in.

Q: There is a lot of media attention on Web 2.0 companies. Do you see the media landscape as being crowded and noisy or do you think that with so much media attention on the space, there's more of an opportunity to get your message out?
We keep our heads down and just focus on what we're doing. We've been reading the press, but we don't have the time to read every single article out there. Engineers laugh when they hear about Web 2.0, because AJAX and all those tools being used are things they were using back in 1999. But the attention this [space] is getting is great. There was a piece in Newsweek that we were a part of. But we're focused on building a great music store. I have noticed there is a lot of hype around online delivery of music, but it still hasn't really taken off yet. I think online distribution of music [will continue to be] significant. I love Rhapsody, I use eMusic, and I, of course, have an iPod. But sound quality from downloading is not near the quality for a CD. And consumers getting their music exclusively online today are ahead of the curve.

According to the IFPI, an international recording trade group, 94% of all music sales are CDs. And of that other 6%, 3% of music delivery comes from ring tones. So 3% of music delivery is from online delivery, and most of that is iTunes. They got a lot of media coverage, and they should, because the iPod is an amazing device. They've sold a billion songs through iTunes, but that took three years. And with nearly 50 million iPods, that's only 1 1/2 albums per iPod. That's not a real stunning success, but it's growing. What we're focused on at la la is: 'Where is that music coming from? What are people putting on iPods?' CDs are still the #1 distribution channel for music. No online music store has really learned how to connect fans to each other and then bridge the divide between digital and physical. That's what we're trying to. And if that fits into Web 2.0 because of the conversation we're trying to facilitate, then that's great. Unlike many other stores, la la's concept is modeled after a used-music store. We focus on physical CDs and facilitate this conversation between members. The physical aspects run against the grain of what is being discussed today in the press. We'll do digital downloads at a later date, but currently we're only focused on the [physical] today.

Used record stores were a place where fans could rally around bands. We're doing the same on a larger scale, by giving 20% of trading revenues back to artists. We'll also be adding in more features and functionalities to help artists promote themselves and connect with fans. The other neat thing about used-record stores is that you would bump into people who shared similar music tastes. At la la, you can click onto someone's image to see what else they have in their collection. It's almost like you're standing in the record store in front of the Led Zeppelin section, and everyone who likes Led Zeppelin is there standing with you.

Q: So will la la offer some service like UK's Rough Trade Shops did in the 70s, where it handled distribution for bands who wanted to bypass record labels and record on their own?
We'll be offering those bands tools to promote themselves on the site. We're still talking to artists about exactly how that will [work out].

Q: You said you were heads down, working on building a great product. But what specifically are you doing to let people know about it?
We're heads down, but we're of course aware of what's going on. We're responding to blogs. We're certainly contributing to the ongoing conversation. To date, we've been reaching out to traditional and blog media. We all love conversations, and the site is modeled around the conversation we've been having about music for years at concerts and record stores. When it came to approaching the media, we didn't really over-think it. We reached out to journalists and bloggers who we thought would enjoy a conversation about music, would appreciate the service, and would like to get an early look. We've been really opportunistic with our travel schedule. When we're in DC, LA, or New York, meeting with partners, we've also met with one or two media contacts.

Kuch, later continued, via email: I'm certainly aware of coverage trends. I'm a voracious reader and get a ton of newsletters from a variety of sources. I also subscribe to too many magazines (but the New Yorker and the Economist get most of my time.) Reading everything you can is PR 101, regardless of how many other tasks you have.
It's just that the underlying practices at la la are very different. When thinking about the story and how to position it, we felt what that what we're doing is unique and didn't try to pitch into the trends. Our story goes against the grain: physical CD as opposed to digital, giving 20% to artists rather than keeping every penny. It's better to set the agenda with new ideas, rather than follow the pack. Again, this is pretty basic PR 101 – differentiation.
Of course, aspects of la la are a bit 'Myspace'-y (the community and conversation that happens on la la) and this fits nicely into the trends (Newsweek's piece "putting the 'we' back into the Web.") However, the community aspect of la la happened as a result of our efforts to emulate conversations at record stores. Someone said la la is like MySpace for adults, this is certainly true as commerce is central to la la, every member participates and pays.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in