For some, their million-dollar idea strikes while in the shower. For others, it’s scribbled out on a notepad on their nightstand moments before falling asleep. For Matt Younkle, however, his flash of genius struck while waiting in line. For beer.
His frustration with the slow moving line at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s student union led him to create TurboTap, an innovative draft beer distribution system which delivers beer three times faster than traditional taps. Younkle’s product is now used at stadiums and ballparks across the country, including Wrigley Field (go Cubs).
Since turning his novel product into a full-fledged business, Younkle has shifted his attention toward solving a new problem- what it means to own your music. Murfie, Younkle’s latest creation, blends the digital and traditional models of music ownership. Buy a 2nd-market CD through their store, and they keep a digital copy for you to access through the cloud at any point.
I reached out to Younkle to talk more about his background, beer, music, early age entrepreneurism, and Madison, WI.
Tech Cocktail (TC): You came up with and built the TurboTap while still at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind this? What are some of the pros and cons associated with getting such an early start as an entrepreneur?
Matt Younkle (MY): The Memorial Union (the University of Wisconsin-Madison student union) is best known for its incredible setting overlooking Lake Mendota. It’s also a bit unusual among college student unions because it serves beer. As you can imagine, the venue is very popular, and on many nights you’ll find people waiting in lines to purchase beer. Inspiration to create the TurboTap struck for me while I was waiting in a long line at the Memorial Union to purchase a pitcher of beer. It seemed to me like there should be a way to pour a pitcher of beer much more quickly than 45 seconds. TurboTap pours beer about three times as fast as current systems, with less waste.
I’ve always been passionate about technology (I’m an engineer by training) and entrepreneurship (my first business was a paper route when I was 12 years old). If you’re following your passion, I see very few drawbacks in getting an early start.
TC: Were there any legal hurdles that you had to jump over in starting Murfie? Starting a business whereby you resell CDs and retain a digital copy of the media must be uncharted territory, at least the best of my knowledge. What, if any, legal obstacles did you encounter in creating Murfie?
MY: Murfie is trying to answer the question of what it means to own your music as media playback and listening continue their shift to online modes. Our thesis is that true ownership of your music will continue to matter. Our process for preserving this ownership, as far as we know, is entirely unique in the industry and it provides the ownership benefits of a music CD with the convenience of digital music files. We’ve even filed for a patent on the process.
From a legal standpoint, our approach is quite simple in that we merely combine existing well-established rights that consumers have with respect to their media. The important thing to know is that every album listed for sale on the Murfie marketplace is backed by a unique physical copy of that CD stored in our warehouse on a one-for-one basis.
TC: What other obstacles do you face and/or anticipate on facing in regards to Murfie moving forward? Which is the greater competition: iTunes, Amazon, or music piracy?
MY: We have a ton of challenges ahead of us in 2012 as we scale the business. For example, we vastly underestimated the number of CDs that people would send us, and now we’re scrambling to put systems in place to handle this increased volume. This is a high-class problem, but it’s still a problem we need to solve.
Our biggest competitor is the status quo. Whether it’s iTunes, Amazon, Best Buy, or piracy, everyone has their preferred way today to obtain music and manage their collection of media. Our challenge is to pull these music consumers outside of their comfort zone just enough that they’ll try Murfie.
TC: How do you intend to compete in such a crowded, established field?
MY: Murfie competes well in three ways. The first is price; the prices for albums in the Murfie marketplace are amazing. The second is ownership; you really own the music you purchase on Murfie, not just a license to listen to the music in some restricted way. The third is community; within the Murfie marketplace, you are often purchasing music from another music lover like you.
TC: The Murfie Headquarters are based out of Madison, WI. Can you tell us a little bit about the startup scene in the area? Pros, cons?
MY: Madison is a great fit for Murfie. Our headquarters is downtown and adjacent to the University of Wisconsin. We employ a bunch of student interns, and most of our core team has a degree or two from UW. The Madison startup scene has really been coming into its own over the past few years. Companies like PerBlue, Networked Insights, StudyBlue and Alice.com are all in fast-growth modes. Groups like Capital Entrepreneurs keep startup community connected.
As for pros and cons… the biggest pro is that Madison is not Silicon Valley: housing is affordable, salaries are reasonable, and office rental rates are amazing. The biggest con is that Madison is not Silicon Valley: access to startup capital is a challenge, the overall talent pool is smaller, and it’s tougher to get your startup noticed.
TC: What’s the one piece of advice that you’d like to offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?
MY: No one has more passion for your ideas than you! Building a business is not rocket science. It’s mostly about deciding to do something and then taking action. Get out there and make it happen!