Shawn Broderick, Now at Murfie, Says Innovation in Digital Music Is Only Beginning

Earlier this week news broke that Xconomist Shawn Broderick (center in the photo) was leaving the virtual goods exchange startup Oomba after a few months on the job. He joined the team when it acquired play140, the social gaming startup Broderick ran after he left his gig as TechStars Boston managing director.

Broderick—who lists his official title on LinkedIn as troublemaker—is the new vice president of customer development at Murfie, a Madison, WI-based startup enabling consumers to buy, sell, and trade CDs. (No, not just the digital files, but real, physical compact discs). Broderick’s been jazzed about that startup and its warehouse of CDs for a while now—even to the point of encouraging them to apply for the spring 2012 TechStars Boston class—so it’s safe to see he’ll have plenty of fun at this next role (he’ll be in Boston working remotely).

Read below for his answers to some questions (the first one isn’t a question, though) I e-mailed him about his move, the digital music space, and how he ended up working for a company that he once mentored. A big theme: iTunes and streaming are just the basics as far as the digital music revolution goes. (Oh, and I left the abbreviations in his response for the sake of color.)

Xconomy: You weren’t at Oomba that long after the play140 acquisition.
Shawn Broderick: Oomba and play140 shared a mutual investor who connected us back in 2011. Oomba’s interest in play140 was largely focused on its engineering capabilities, game and technical IP, and customers. Through the six months we were working together I was focused on transitioning those three things optimally and on working with the rest of the exec team to get the company on solid footing vis-a-vis financing and business development relationships. Those things having been achieved, Oomba was in the more-than-capable hands, and I was eager to see what might be next for me to attack!

X: How did the position at Murfie come about?
SB: I’ve been involved with Murfie since last summer—just nearly a year now!

According to my email archive, on 08/31/11 at 11:52 a buddy of mine emailed me the Murfie URL after reading about them in the WSJ a few days prior. By 08/31/11 16:25 I had purchased my first used disc and was already addicted.

Getting more and more curious about the company with each successive purchase I found out they were based in Madison, WI, which, quite coincidentally, so was Heidi Allstop, the CEO of , a TechStars Boston 2011 company I was mentoring. I asked her if she knew the guys—and apparently she had sublet space from them before she shipped out to Boston! It’s a small small world, for sure! She wired me up and within a few days I was helping them out as an informal advisor—and a gleeful customer.

I encouraged Murfie to apply to TechStars Boston 2012 as they were wrangling their first round of outside financing; and took on a formal mentoring relationship as they segued into the TechStars program, where I still actively mentor.

When I started casting about for “what’s next” after play140/Oomba, Matt, Preston and I had a number of conversations and things just clicked into place!

X: What room is left for innovation in the digital music space? What’s attractive about Murfie’s take on it?
SB: OMG! The music industry has only just begun to innovate within the digital space!

Making things like iTunes and streaming radio work are table-stakes. They’re the plumbing and infrastructure required to make “music on the Internet” work. That infrastructure is nearly sorted out now, and the real opportunities to vamp over it are just starting to happen!

I love the fact that Murfie is thinking about “my music collection”—not so much about songs or channels or whatnot. Music is such an emotional thing, and just about everybody has—at least at some point in their lives—experienced that deep emotional connection with all or some of their CDs (or LPs or Cassettes if you’ve been around as long as I have!). IMO, we have no emotional outlet like that online yet. I love what and others have been able to do at bringing the “collector” (the DJ, if you will) into the mix, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The Internet has done a decent job of leveraging status updates and pictures and videos as social objects; and some effort is being made with songs, but very little has been done to leverage my extensive music collection and my love and knowledge of music as social objects.

X: What big things can we expect to see from Murfie in the coming months?
SB: I’ve been told by the powers-that-be that I can’t spill all the beans! I can tell you that we’re working hard this summer on improvements to our CD buying/selling/trading infrastructure—and on getting our streaming product finished up and out of ‘beta.’ Behind the scenes we’re working on taking Murfie to the next level, leveraging our established infrastructure and business model—as well as others’ infrastructures—to bring compelling network effects to everybody’s music collections!

X: Can you explain a bit more about what Murfie does to be that emotional outlet for music, and make it personal beyond playlists and all that?
SB: Ah, but then I’d have to kill you. That’s the cool stuff we’re working on!

X: What lessons from mobile gaming can be applied to your new gig at a digital music startup? What are you excited about contributing to Murfie?
SB: Casual games are one part “a game” and one part “customer engagement.” Murfie isn’t getting into the games business (AFAIK!), but we certainly are actively involved in customer engagement. I’ve already started bringing to bear my experience in building consumer bases and leveraging same within Murfie.

X: Did you ever imagine you’d be working for a TechStars Boston alum, back when you were managing director of the program?
SB: LOL—no I didn’t. Each TechStars cohort always has great companies, but each cohort also has one or two truly special companies IME/IMO. Murfie was one of those truly special businesses with amazing people, an innovative, proven business model, tremendous traction, and a superb vision. All that said, I was way impressed with them before they joined TechStars.

X: What’s left of the original play140 now? How has the integration with Oomba worked?
SB: play140’s lead game TAG: The Acronym Game continues to run. The engineering team is working on some great virtual property technologies that will be backed into the play140 games when it’s ready. It was a seamless exercise—no drama (sorrry!).

X: What will your role as an advisor there look like?
SB: I’m working with the executive team at Oomba on an ad-hoc basis—whenever they need me—helping out primarily with fundraising processes and business development efforts.

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