81: David Kalt – Creator of Reverb and Chicago Music Exchange
Our guest tonight is David Kalt from reverb.com. Since launching reverb.com in 2013 David has been busy working side by side with his growing team to make the online marketplace the best place for musicians to buy and sell new, used, vintage and handmade music gear. As the company evangelist and project visionary, David has grown reverb.com into the most popular music gear website in the world.
Can you tell me a little about yourself and your role at Reverb?
I started my career in the music industry as a recording engineer in the early 90’s. Then I pivoted and started my first software company, which I sold in 1998. Later on, I started an online options trading firm with a couple of partners, which we sold to Charles Schwab in 2010. I decided I wanted to get back into the music industry so in 2010 I purchased the iconic music store, The Chicago Music Exchange. I used that business to learn the industry and from there I was able to experience some real pain as a customer of selling instruments online with the other marketplaces or channels at the time. That’s what spawned Reverb.
For anyone listening that doesn’t know about Reverb or what services you offer can you explain what you guys do over there?
Reverb.com is an online marketplace for musicians. We connect people and companies that want to buy and sell music gear and there are a lot of them. If you aren’t a musician you don’t have an appreciation for how obsessive musicians are about instruments and electronics, pedals, effects, recording equipment, microphones, brass instruments, DJ equipment etc. It’s a pretty broad category of musicians, gear heads and things of that nature.
Is it fair to say you guys offer an easier eBay for musical instruments?
Yes, on a basic level. We’re less expensive and we have a lot more features. We really focused on where the shortcomings were within eBay and we also focused on price as a pain point for sellers. We have a 3 ½ purchase fee versus a 10 percent fee which means more money in the seller’s pockets and lower prices for buyers. At the end of the day musicians have some influence but in general they are very working class, middle class, people in general and saving money is really important in that regard.
Your company grew double in 2015. I read how you feared your staff would not have that direct exposure to the platform anymore. Your solution was to have the customer experience every employee’s responsibility through something called the contest. Can you tell the listeners a little more about that?
At the end of the day Reverb is a product experience. When you come onto the site I want to bring a smile to your face. I do that by making sure there is tons of great inventory, the search is good and when you check out it is fun and pleasant.
When there were only three of us it was easy to move things and fix things and try new things, but now we have 100 employees and 10 million visitors every quarter. I realized one day that I had employees that were not active users of the product. The only way I could make all employees actively use the platform and learn what the product is and also help improve the platform was to do the contest. We gave them $1,000 and set them on a mission to buy and sell small electronic pedals. The goal is to buy and sell and then at the end of the month not to have lost any money but to have made a little money and whoever buys and sells the most in a 4 week period is the winner and they get a bonus.
I recently saw a picture of John Oats from the legendary Hall & Oats rockin a Reverb t-shirt online. That’s got to feel good right?
It’s great. Being in the music business and selling gear we do have a lot of relationships with artists. Ironically, because we’re so music oriented artists love using our platform. They love sharing their stories with us but they also love selling their unused instruments and they are constantly in there buying things.
How is technology and innovation helping Reverb progress?
While we’re in the music industry we are first and foremost a tech company. We have 35 engineers here and we come to work thinking about how we can create a great experience. If you’re into synthesizers from the 70’s we’re going to learn that about you and make it part of the experience. In order to do that, we have to have really good technology and good user experience.
What’s next for Reverb?
Nine months ago we launched something called Reverb Lessons which is a marketplace for students and instructors and a way for you to find a mentor and improve your musical career. We’re also looking at video instruction and paid content where you can master a skill or component of your musical ambitions online.
If anyone listening wants more information or to reach out to a member of your team what’s the best way of doing that?
Our website is www.reverb.com. The Reverb app is on Android and IOS.
Please also see check my related article from my INC column: How an Entrepreneur’s Frustrations Created an eBay for Music Gear Marketplace