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Interview With Stripe - Australia’s First Mobile Radio Subscription Service

Today we are fulfilling our promise to bring you an in-depth interview with one of the designers of a new venture, Ben Haylock, from Sydney, Stripe - Australia’s first mobile radio subscription service and the first digital radio network to launch in Australia. It utilises broadband and 3G networks and allows you to listen to any Stripe radio station from your computer and most 3G mobile phones, wherever you are in Australia!.

In a recent email-based interview with Ben, he gave insights into his venture and how he is progressing with it. This is what he has to say:

Please tell us about yourself, your background and your interests?

Hi. I’m Ben Haylock, and I’m a designer of digital media content platforms. Work-wise, I love using technology to create experiences for audiences. My personal interests are riding enduro motorbikes, amateur cheffing and generally spending time with friends and family.

Please tell us about your venture/company?

Well, Stripe is Australia’s first mobile radio subscription service, and the first digital radio network to launch in Australia. Think of us as a service somewhat similar to XM and Sirius in the U.S., but we’re unique because rather than using satellite, we broadcast over the net and your 3G mobile phone. So there’s no need for a new device!

Who are the people behind this and how it started?

The company is privately held and has around twenty people right now in Sydney and Melbourne. The concept has been developed since about 2006, by our founder Glenn Wheatley, a radio and music entrepreneur. I began with the business as employee number two, working with Iain Bartram, our Managing Director. Stripe has been developed into a more fully-fledged start-up with the help of some fantastic businesspeople who are as passionate about radio and mobile technology as we are.

How long it took before it was up and running?

I guess that’s a hard question: the groundwork for the project was done between 2006 and mid-2007, and we got our first “alpha” running in about August or September 2007. Then we went into our very private beta phases, in November and December 07. Since then we have rolled out the content and the offering in stages, and we enter our commercial phases later this year.

What is the main objective/mission behind your venture?

Stripe has a phrase, where we say we’re “what you want on the radio” because we believe Stripe delivers what Australia wants: no ad breaks, fewer interruptions, more music, and the best content from around the world.

What services does it provide for consumers or customers?

When you subscribe, you get one login that can be used on broadband or 3G mobile. As a listener, your preferences are kept in synch between both the website and the mobile site. So you don’t have to compromise on what your personal experience is like: it’s “you”, however you choose to listen.

What type of customers you are targeting?

Stripe provides a radio solution for Australians who love their music. Our core target consumer is 25-34, with a skew toward males. With the breadth of music content Stripe has to offer and our syndicated content there will be a focus on niche audiences which will vary.

How many people are using your services?

As we approach our commercial launch, we’re working with a beta-testing “addressable audience” of twenty thousand people. Understandably, we have been scaling up our listenership carefully, to shake down the platform and the experience.

What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?

We engaged a word-of-mouth marketing agency to seed Stripe nationwide and gain valuable customer insights to further develop the product. Social media, viral seeding and highly targeted online campaigns will form part of the marketing plot.

How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are there any special mechanisms/tools in place to monitor the progress?

You have to always use a range of tools across a range of areas of the business. Tools for website performance don’t work well for broadcast media. So we try to use the right tool for the job, in key parts of the operational side, and create a “view” which spans them all. The philosophy could be expressed as “warehouse, analyse, report”, and we use commercial tools, open source tools, and in-house developed ones as well.

What is the monetizing/revenue model? Is there any new model, which is being tried?

It’s a subscription model, providing dozens of radio stations for about thirty cents per day. Providing an alternative to free-to-air radio without the “clutter” and with unique programming is where we create value for the audience.

Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?

Stripe does not have a direct competitor as we are the only one of our kind in Australia. There are similar business models built around downloads and music choice, rather than radio programming.

What are the main technologies used behind this venture?

Stripe uses a series of technologies that, as a whole, create the platform and the experience. We chose to go down a roadmap of using modern tech in a way that puts us on the leading, but not bleeding, edge of the industry.

I’ve worked in internet and triple-play broadcasting since 2001, and have seen many initiatives used in new media businesses. The ones that have tended to win out in the last few years have been the ones that are genuine standards, the ones that are inclusive of different use cases, and which have horizontally integrated solutions that are transparently available in the marketplace. Without giving too much away, our radio platform is predominantly what you would find in an FM or digital radio station, and our broadcasting is in MPEG-4 format.

What has been the easiest to use, out-of-the-box and helpful technology?

Probably, I’d say, the multi-stage processing and coding “engine” we selected. We have had fantastic, incredibly friendly, support from the vendor: even up to the point of us working with them to design the layout for future products. Our digital audio engineers and producers have been able to fine-tune, in real-time, just about every aspect of the “Stripe sound” at a level of fine granularity that is just amazing.

Are you using a lot of open source tool sets for this?

Across the company, we use open source software and platforms extensively. They provide us the ability to create our particular solution as customised, or as off-the-shelf, as we like. Our involvement in open source solutions has seen us get involved with coding communities. We’re good open source citizens, and fans of the open source movement: and contribute back so we can expose our fixes and enhancements to the world.

What is your operating environment (operating system) and what type of database you are using?

The radio production network is predominantly Windows Server, yet the radio broadcast network is mostly Linux/Unix. Our website and mobile site are built using a “Web 2.0” ethic of display and style, on .net, which is backend onto an open-specification Ruby-based web services platform. Database-wise, we use MySQL, and MS SQL as appropriate. In the office, the tech team uses Mac workstations.

What’s your thought on being an entrepreneur? How tough it is to start a venture in Australia?

It can be tough because we all read tales of “the land of technology milk and venture-capital honey” coming out of Europe or the U.S. West Coast. This is not my first start-up, so I knew what I was entering into when I saw the amazing potential of Stripe. My entrepreneurial spirit is fuelled by the belief in the outputs that dynamism and vision create. I’ve always worked in small teams, even when part of large organisations, and I love being an active part, a practising professional, of projects that have great minds who put in great effort.

What’s your thought on the start-up culture and innovation coming out of Australia?

§Isn’t it great, just being able to have friendly contact with others doing the same thing? We have a certain type of “larrikin professionalism”, where we spend a few hours at a Twitter meetup in a pub, say, talking tech, and putting faces to the dot-coms. Then go back to the coalface the next morning, and actually build the idea you were chatting about. It seems to me that the best aspect of the community is the young minds who are a nice mix of business-technology-entrepreneur-evangelist. Out of Silicon Valley, I have met Americans who are either business or technology: even in the start-up arena. There’s some subtle difference to the Australian start-up digital operative, I think, as a lot have come out of larger online or media businesses, they have a great grip on what will “fly”, and what will not, on the business development side of the venture

Thanks, Ben for sharing your thoughts with us. All the best for the future.

For coverage on other Australian startups, innovation, analysis, and tech trends, check out our coverage on interviews can be found here


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