Startup Spotlight is an ongoing series which profiles Canadian wireless and mobile technology startups.
This month, we spoke with Tom Metzger, the CEO of Groupanizer. Groupanizer Technology Services Inc. is a Vancouver-based startup company founded in 2009 that offers software-as-a-service to musical groups of all genres around the world. Their subscription-based platform simplifies group management tasks for choir leaders and facilitates collaboration amongst choir members.
What’s the story behind Groupanizer? “Choir management” isn’t your everyday business challenge.
You are absolutely right – Choir Management doesn’t stand out as an emerging vertical! And in the early days I didn’t know this was going to turn into a successful business. I was really just solving my own problem. I have been a choir director for a large men’s choral organization, and I discovered that it was a ton of work. I thought there had to be a better way, so in 2009 as a computer science guy and a choir director, I built the first version of the system. As it turned out, I had five choruses sign up to be customers in the first month! Clearly I had hit on something my peers were eager to have. I had to start considering the possibility that this was the start of a business.
We went from a “one man” shop in 2009 to a two-person operation when my wife, Kari, joined me in 2011. I’m very fortunate that I happen to be married to a woman with amazing business skills. We ran it as a twosome until 2013, when we decided to bite the bullet, raise some money, hire some people, and swing for the fences. The past two years have been an amazing, terrifying, educational, and nail-biting ride; but we are really starting to have an effect on the music world, helping hundreds of choirs around the world to be better musicians, better managers, and better business people. If we do our job right, we’re going to help hundreds of thousands of musical organizations to be sustainable, and that’s a life mission I can really get energized about.
When speaking with your customers about Groupanizer, what elements of your solution seem to resonate most with them?
Our customers have all been “doing business” for years or decades, but most of them are still stuck using paper-based solutions that would be very familiar to a choir director or choir manager in the 1940’s. Clipboard-based attendance sheets to sign up for performances, magnets on board to arrange the group into standing positions, ledgers to keep track of dues and invoices, and on and on. Some have graduated to electronic versions of the same tools, like Excel or even Google Docs, and most have fairly primitive websites.
The big advantage we provide for music groups is the same thing that every Fortune 500 company discovered in the mainframe era, which is automation. We give them a subscription-based, online, integrated set of tools to run their whole organization. Therefore, they can throw away ten different ad-hoc solutions and really simplify their lives. Instead of writing out 95 invoices for annual dues, they can click a few buttons on the site and have it send out and collect them all automatically! The database of members is integrated with the database of music, so they can keep track of how well each person is learning the repertoire. The database of music is integrated with the database of events, so the system can tell each member what they need to rehearse each week with an automatic, personalized email. None of it is rocket science, but when you put it all together, it cuts the workload in half, and that’s worth the price of admission for almost any group. When they hear about Groupanizer for the first time, they start with denial, and then they really get excited.
At first glance, it looks like the fundamental elements of your software could be useful to other organizations outside of the music community. Any plans to expand your reach?
This is an interesting question that we’ve debated many times in the past few years. We want to reach a bigger market by offering Groupanizer to new group types like sports teams, associations, churches, clubs and so forth, but we don’t want to lose our focus on our core market. We know there’s a need because we’re often asked by non-musical groups if they can get a Groupanizer site, but would we “just turn off all the musical stuff.” But how can we have the best of both worlds?
Fortunately, we’ve built a very modular platform, so our strategy when the time is right will be to find partners and white label the technology, so you’ll be seeing similar products for other group types, “powered by Groupanizer.” It’s one of the elements of our business plan that some investors really like to hear.
Where does Groupanizer stand today? Would you say that you’ve reached a point where you’d call yourselves successful?
We’ve already done a lot to improve the lives of tens of thousands of singers, musicians and group leaders all over the world, so that’s certainly something we are proud of. Having said that, I won’t really feel like we’ve achieved the next level until we reach break-even. To get there, we’ve built a really wonderful, committed sales team, and amped up our marketing team with some amazing, proven talent. We’re already seeing the start of a “hockey stick” of paid customers in the past four months, so (not to jinx it) we anticipate break-even in the fourth quarter of this year! I’ve got a very nice bottle of Bordeaux aging for the occasion.
As our advisors often say, when you cross over into profitability, the whole game changes, and some things get a lot easier. But we know with a million groups in our market and limited time before serious competition emerges, we’ll have our work cut out for us. Personally, I’m really excited to get to a phase where we are accelerating towards the technical vision I roughed-out in the early days because even though people love what we’ve built, we aren’t even one-tenth of the way to where we want to be.
Learn more about Groupanizer by visiting their website and reading Tom’s previous article on the Wavefront on Wireless blog: “Our Version of ‘Equity Crowdfunding’: Groupanizer’s Story”.