WeJam: David Tshulak
WeJam is a one-of-a-kind startup, using technology to create immersive experiences that lets people realise their rockstar dreams
Name of founder: David Tshulak
Date launched: 01/10/2020
Number of employees: 7
Age of founder: 32
What university, if any, did you attend? London Business School, Durham University
Ever wanted to be a rockstar but lacked musical talent? It’s a dilemma faced by many – and a question that founder David Tshulak aimed to answer by launching WeJam. Powered by technology, WeJam offers immersive experiences that give anyone the opportunity to be able to play their favourite song. Tshulak explains more…
Tell us what your business does:
WeJam is the world’s first and only immersive rockstar experience. It’s a tech-enabled group activity that takes place in a music studio, letting you start your own band, even if you’ve never picked up an instrument before.
Often described as a cross between Guitar Hero and karaoke, each session is led by a professional musician, and by the end of it, players will have learned to perform one of their favourite songs.
Our doors are open to everyone and we attract a whole range of groups – from families with young children, to corporates who come for team building and social outings.
Where did the idea of your business come from?
A few years back, I started to notice more and more competitive socialising ventures springing up all over the capital. From crazy golf bars, to escape rooms, and even axe throwing venues, something exciting was happening and I wanted to be a part of it.
As a lifelong musician, I started to wonder how you might combine music with this new form of interactive entertainment. After a three-month research trip to Tokyo, and much experimenting, the concept of WeJam was born!
How did you know there was a market for it?
Rightly or wrongly, it was mostly instinct. Without doing any research, it’s fair to say that a large number of people love music. Furthermore, the rise in immersive entertainment as mentioned above has also been well-documented in industry reports. Putting these facts together gave me the confidence that a market existed for WeJam.
But of course, we then tested this. Even with minimal marketing, we didn’t have any trouble attracting people to our product demo days. The great feedback we received from real customers confirmed that we were onto something.
What were you doing before starting up?
After graduating first time round with a music degree, I spent the next nine years in the TV industry – mostly inventing and creating new show ideas. This was followed by an MBA at London Business School and a short stint in strategy consulting.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Although it’s a cliché, I was that kid in the school playground that always had a scheme on the go! I started off selling sweets, then progressed to more expensive items, such as mobile phones.
Throughout university, I ran my own music agency, representing bands to play at private functions. Although I then spent most of my career working for big companies, I always knew one day I’d start my own thing – I was just waiting for that big idea.
How did you raise the money?
The business is self-funded.
Describe your business model and how you make money.
Our business model is rather simple: customers pay a fixed amount to take part in a session – just like you would if you were attending an exercise class, a music lesson or an escape room etc. We also sell food, drink and additional merchandise.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Without wanting to sound like a broken record, I’ll refrain from mentioning Covid. Aside from that, we’ve definitely had some interesting technical challenges along the way.
Just when we thought we’d cracked it, we’d start work on a new song and discover a new musical quirk that we hadn’t built our system to handle – for example, a song that changes time signature halfway through.
These things are incredibly rare in popular music and the easy thing would have been to simply not bother with that song – after all, there are thousands of other great tunes out there!
But these problems excite us, and luckily I have a great team, with some technical people far smarter than I am, who have helped to solve such issues.
What was your first big breakthrough?
I think seeing my dad and father-in-law play the drums and keytar respectively was a great moment. It was then we realised that not only could we get anybody to play the right notes at the right time, they were also having a lot of fun in the process.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
I certainly won’t be the first to share these thoughts, but here are three things that have helped shape the growth and success of WeJam.
1. Don’t do it alone
For many reasons, it can be extremely hard to launch a business alone. Firstly, there’s the sheer amount of tasks that need doing. Secondly, you can usually make better decisions if there’s somebody to discuss them with first. Thirdly, you’ll want somebody to share both your successes and struggles with.
This isn’t to say that you need a co-founder or equity partner, although there are sometimes good reasons to do so. You can also deal with the above issues by building a team and finding advisors.
2. Not all startups have to be tech startups
Sure, most businesses these days will benefit from, and use, some amount of tech in their day-to-day operations, however that doesn’t automatically make them a tech company.
Although tech is integral to the WeJam experience, ultimately we are an ‘experience’ company. The reason this distinction is important is that it can help you to define who the key hires will be in your company. Do you really need a super-experienced CTO, or might your funds be better spent elsewhere?
If, like us, you use technology but that’s not your main output, try to leverage existing solutions where you can. Even if you don’t consider yourself a ‘tech’ person, you’ll be surprised how accessible complex programming tasks have become through the myriad of SaaS products and the rise of no-code platforms.
3. Build low-cost experiments
In the early days, no doubt you want to preserve cash – especially before you’ve even validated your business. I’m a big believer in carrying out low or no-cost experiments to test your ideas with potential customers and gain actionable feedback. There are many good books and resources on building your MVP – The Lean Startup being a classic.
In terms of practical advice, I’d say don’t rush into building a fancy high-tech prototype when a lo-fi version might give you the same insights.
At WeJam for example, we knew we wanted to build an app that would show musicians where they are in the song as they play. Instead of diving right into a custom build, we used PowerPoint to display the music as separate slides, then simply had one of the team members move from one page to the next in time to the music.
This solution was much faster (and cheaper) than coding something from scratch, and also showed us that we needed to rethink our approach. Imagine finding out your approach is wrong after spending months and lots of money on something?
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
Right now, we are focusing on three main areas of growth.
Firstly, we are rolling out the original concept, both nationally and internationally. Our aim is to be in 100 locations worldwide by 2025.
Secondly, we are launching a B2B arm – partnering with major companies across the leisure, cultural, and entertainment industries to co-create permanent installations, pop-ups, brand activations and much more.
Thirdly, we have started work on an educational version of our product that can be used in schools. Based on early feedback from teachers and pupils, we are excited by the huge potential to disrupt classroom music learning.
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