Xconomy’s Curt Woodward has a point…

Curt Woodward reviewed Murfie for Xconomy, and found some areas we need to work on.

First of all, I want to thank Curt for his review. It’s a thorough, fair, and objective take on Murfie from fresh eyes. Good stuff. Some bits of it make me cringe, but we find that sort of thing motivating – we’re obsessed with getting better.

This post is a reaction to and apology for the part of the piece that makes me cringe, and in coming days I’ll also write up some good news for Curt and anyone considering Murfie. Things already in the pipeline address some of his other points – we’re giving greater ease and flexibility for sending in discs, and improving our music player interfaces.

On to Curt’s experience. Anyone can shop at Murfie and buy new discs, customer accounts are free. That said, our core service for music collectors involves importing their existing CD collections and hosting them in Murfie’s cloud. That is a service members pay for. Curt’s review of Murfie therefore included trying that out by sending in a 25 CD kit, with which we gave out an automatic Gold Membership, and that’s where the trouble started.

Curt’s kit experience was far from ideal, and had one key frustration – he didn’t know yet if he wanted an ongoing membership at all, and yet he couldn’t opt out of the one we include with a kit. Since our memberships auto-renew by default and we handle subscription changes via our support desk, this constituted in Curt’s review an “insistence on getting me locked into an annual membership” with “no way to turn off the auto-renew on the Murfie website.”

OK. Yeah. Hmmm. I can’t disagree with that, and it does suck. It makes me feel bad that Curt found our service dodgy in this way, and he’s right to find it overly aggressive. We got this wrong. We should not ‘force’ an auto-renewing membership on someone who sends in a kit, or in fact at all. It’s also not reasonable at this stage in Murfie’s growth to have this be something customers can’t manage on the website.

Therefore, I apologize to Curt and every Murfie member for the lack of control on this up til now, and we’re going to do a few things to fix it:

1. We’ll clarify what paid membership is required for, and how many discs you can send in for free with one

2. We’ll make any membership that comes with a package or kit something you can decline

3. We’ll switch auto-renewal to an opt in anywhere a member buys or accepts a membership, add controls on the website for changing that setting, and keep the current warnings of upcoming renewal

We got here because our member collection hosting products are high touch and often involve some discussion with our customer. As we’ve grown we’ve always handled a lot of things via our support desk, because we have the greatest flexibility and agility that way, where we do our damnedest to satisfy each customer on any request. In this case that and our desire to make subscribing the default to help us grow led us astray. We should have added more user-control to subscription renewal a while ago, and we’ll do it now. I’ll let you and Curt know when it’s done.

Thanks,
Preston – Murfie Co-Founder

photo credit: hannah k

Irish Creating Their Own Luck, Attracting Investment

When government officials and business professionals meet here in Wisconsin to brainstorm ways to make our State a better destination for technology startups and to attract more investment capital, we often look for ideas from nearby states like Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio. It’s certainly important to understand what Wisconsin’s neighbors are doing to promote their tech sectors, but Wisconsin should really set a goal to be the leader, rather than just keep up, here in the Midwest and beyond. Perhaps it’s time to seek some inspiration from farther afield.

My business partner, Preston Austin, and I recently had the opportunity to spend several days in Dublin, Ireland because our company, murfie.com, was selected to participate in a gathering of 150 of the top new companies from around the world (an event called START) that took place alongside the Dublin Web Summit. While in Dublin, we spoke with a wide variety of people on the public and private side of economic development in Ireland, including Naoise Ó Muirí, the current Lord Mayor of Dublin.

It turns out that Wisconsin and Ireland have far more in common than our ability to brew and drink great beer. Ireland’s population is 4.7 million versus 5.7 million in Wisconsin. The Irish GDP is $217 billion versus $251 billion in Wisconsin. In both Ireland and Wisconsin, about 25% of the general population has a college degree, and we both host a strong public university system.

Both Ireland and Wisconsin have made it a priority to attract and grow technology startups and the sources of investment these businesses require. We’ve both established venture loan programs and tax credit programs for angel and venture investors. Ireland has several venture co-investment programs in place similar to those currently under discussion in Wisconsin.

Ireland’s approach to growing its tech sector appears to be working. Many venture funds have opened offices in Dublin, and these funds now account for $800 million in available growth capital for Irish startups. Not all of this capital is guaranteed to go to Irish companies, but 70% of the capital invested by these firms last year did.

Companies here in Wisconsin often visit (or even relocate to) the coasts to gain access to pools of venture capital this large. I’d love to see that change. While I have no intent to give up my Capital Autumnal Fire in favor of Guinness, it’s worth looking at the similarities and differences and seeing what Wisconsin and Ireland can teach each other.

Pass It On: 2012 Forward Tech Festival

Calling all Wisconsin entrepreneurs (established OR aspiring!)—the 2012 Forward Technology Festival is taking place right now, right here in Madison, WI. One of the event planners is Matt Younkle (you know him as CEO & Co-founder of Murfie), so I asked him a few Qs about the fest and local startup communities in general.

Here are the As.

Sum up the 2012 Forward Technology Festival in 3 sentences or less.
FTF is the premier event series for Wisconsin entrepreneurs that has grown to 16 events over 11 days. The format encourages cross-connections across all areas of tech: software, web, biotech and nanotech. Many of the events involve free beer.

Who’s wearing their event-planner hat in order to make this year’s festival happen?
The best part about this event is that it’s organized by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs. More than a dozen startup founders from around Madison are involved in making things happen, including Preston and myself here at Murfie.

Is there anyone in particular who should be psyched to attend the fest?
FTF is perfect for anyone who has founded a startup or is thinking about starting something.

Why do you think the Midwest, specifically Madison, is gaining steam as a hub for high-tech development?
It wasn’t that long ago that launching a tech company was incredibly expensive. In that environment, smaller markets like Madison were at a distinct disadvantage. Tools and techniques for launching companies are now widely known, and the capital required to launch a startup is as low as ever. Take away requirements for major capital, and Madison looks pretty attractive. We have the necessary IQ (Madison has the most graduate degrees per capita of any city in the U.S.) and work ethic required to succeed, without the attitude.

In your opinion, what are the key ingredients to building a robust tech scene?
An environment that fosters creativity, innovation and great ideas, and the talent and capital required to turn those ideas into reality.

Got any nifty tips for aspiring entrepreneurs? (Things at Murfie are going pretty darn well.)
Stay lean: involve real customers as early as possible in your product development process. And, start building your network now, so you’ll be ready when you need to raise capital later.

A Solid Fundation

Fundation? Yep, I purposely misspelled that. I wanted to give a nice shout-out to the fact that Murfie is solidly funded for the year. In January 2012, we closed a funding round of $1.4 million, which gives Murfie a solid foundation to forge ahead with new phases of development. The funds will also help us scale up our technical and operational infrastructure as well as sharpen up our marketing initiatives.

Here’s the full press release »

So, why are we speaking of this solid fundation again? Well, some folks were quite dispirited by the recent unavailability of album art and audio clips on our site… but with our solid resources, Murfie is actually in great shape. Thousands of CDs arrive from our customers every week, sales and trades continue apace, and we’re presently negotiating to restore licensed access as well as contemplating options and alternatives.

If you’ve got any looming questions for us, please feel free to give us a shout at info@murfie.com. The crew at Murfie is there for you!

Murfie, Funding and TechStars

This post belongs to Murfie Musings–a series where folks at Murfie and our guests take the time to share what Murfie is up to as well as explore issues that matter to media ecology.

It raised a few eyebrows in the tech-startup business press when we announced raising money in conjunction with joining the TechStars Boston 2012 class. If we’ve already raised capital, the thinking goes, then what’s the point?

It’s true that a crucial objective of many companies at TechStars is raising their first real round of seed capital. Turns out there are also plenty of funded companies that participate in TechStars, too. Murfie can now be added to this growing list.

I’m a competitive guy. Most entrepreneurs are. The competition to make it into TechStars is intense for a startup at any stage of growth, and it’s an awesome group that gets selected to participate. I think that what our team has built is incredible, and it’s great to see recognition of that via our invitation into the TechStars community. We’re midway through the second week of the program, and I feel privileged to be surrounded by such an amazing bunch of entrepreneurs.

So why TechStars for Murfie? Because seed funding is only one small step along a long path toward success. We need help developing our marketing strategy. We need help simplifying our message. We need help nailing our metrics. We need help establishing strong connections to additional capital for our next big raise. Murfie has a long way to go, and we want to be able to crush it every step of the way. That’s why TechStars is absolutely the perfect place for Murfie right now.