In this edition of Interviews With Brilliant People, we are joined by Matt Younkle, an accomplished inventor and businessman currently entrenched in Murfie.com, an online music store that functions more like a used CD store than iTunes or Amazon (He’ll explain later in the interview).
Matt Younkle has experienced a lot of success as an innovator in product development, which includes the first food grown solely in space, and the world’ fastest retrofittable beer tap (the TurboTap). Younkle’s work has garnered recognition from respected publications (Popular Science, TIME Magazine) and prestigious events (Chicago Innovation Awards). Simply put, when Matt Younkle speaks, smart people listen.
Q: How did the idea for Murfie come about?
Matt Younkle: The idea for Murfie came about when I was searching for something to do with my own collection of 300+ music CDs. Over the past decade, I moved around a bit, and my CDs always moved with me. While unboxing the CDs from my most recent move, back to Madison, Wisconsin, I realized that I didn’t even own a CD player anymore. I didn’t like any of the existing options for selling or trading the CDs in my collection. They all were either too tedious and time-consuming (like listing each CD for sale on eBay) or they offered me a lot less than my collection was really worth. Murfie was created to fill the market need that I thought was missed by those existing options.
Q: For those that don’t already know, what is Murfie?
Matt Younkle: Murfie is a friendly alternative to online music stores like iTunes or Amazon for purchasing and downloading new music. Our approach is what makes us unique. Our selection of music is built by people who have shipped us their CD collections via free kits we provide, which are then listed on murfie.com as digital albums for sale or trade with other Murfie members. Any person who signs up on murfie.com is set up with an online personal shop to buy, sell, and trade their music. What’s particularly interesting about Murfie is that our users can download any albums in their collection in the digital format of their choice; this includes albums purchased, received in trade, or sent to Murfie as physical CDs.
Murfie aims to tip the scales back toward people in the music consumption model by creating a space in which users feel comfortable storing old music and acquiring new music. All transactions – buying, selling, trading – that take place on our site occur within a community of music lovers, with the user experience being supported by our team headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin.
At the present, we’re testing out different messages that describe our concept, but so far people have really connected with us as an online music marketplace that empowers users to request digital delivery of CDs.
Q: There are a lot of free file sharing programs out there that have killed a lot of CD sales. How did/does this impact your business strategy?
Matt Younkle: Well, our business is positioned at the intersection of CDs and digital downloads. We believe that the most valuable part of the CD is the music that’s on it, not the plastic it’s made from. Most people are surprised to learn that last year, 2010, was the first year in which the number of paid track downloads exceeded the number of tracks sold on physical CDs. In spite of the downturn in the popularity of the format, there were still over 200 million CDs sold last year in the U.S. Plus, over 15 billion music CDs have been sold in the U.S. since the inception of the format. So, Murfie’s pool of available content is enormous, and it’s actually still growing.
Q: You’ve experienced a lot of success in just a few months of existence. Has it been expected, and what are some of the biggest factors that have helped Murfie grow?
Matt Younkle: We’ve experienced terrific growth since our launch late last year, but we’re still a long way from reaching our potential. Based on user feedback and analytics, we deployed a major redesign of the site in early May that resulted in terrific improvements in customer acquisition and customer activity. The redesign was deliberate and expected. What was unexpected was a mention on a few trend-spotting blogs, like springwise.com, shortly after our redesign went live. The pace at Murfie has certainly quickened since then! Of course, the single biggest factor in our growth is the tremendous, smart team of people that we have dedicated to this business.
Q: As an inventor, you’ve also made a name for yourself with the TurboTap, a keg tapper that makes keg-to-cup pouring quicker and more efficient. What did you learn from building out that successful venture that helped you at Murfie?
Matt Younkle: Every new venture teaches many lessons, and bringing TurboTap to market was no exception. By far, the most important lesson I learned is that people are really what make or break a new business. Ideas are the easy part. It takes a solid team execute a plan, recognize what works, and change what doesn’t work. I also learned that R&D can stand for “Research and Drinking,” but that’s the topic for another interview…
Q: Building any business from the ground up requires dedication, a consistent vision, and leadership. What have you learned about yourself as an innovator and inventor throughout this process?
Matt Younkle: I’ve learned it’s impossible to completely let go of my inner geek. I absolutely love engineering challenges and software development. My tendency is to immediately look at every problem through a purely technical lens, but a lot of times, that’s not what’s best for the business – the most beautifully engineered product in the world won’t result in much if your business runs out of money before it has any customers. So while I never will be able to completely let go of my inner geek, attacking problems from multiple angles now means much more for me than an opportunity to use trigonometry.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for who we should interview next?
Matt Younkle: I would check into interviewing Nate Lustig, the Co-Founder of Entrustet. They’re another startup here in Madison that’s attacking a unique opportunity. Entrustet asks the question, “What happens to your digital assets after you die?” This is a topic that’s becoming increasingly relevant each day as more of what we do is moved to the cloud.