June 1st, 2011
Turn up the bass: The birth, life, and exit of the BassMasta
[Editor: Another guest post from Dale Davidson of TrekDek. This time out, Dale took some time to sit down with Dan Christopher to talk about the experience of creating, maintaining, and eventually selling of his Web startup, BassMasta, from Portland. Eight years later, Dan has a successful exit under his belt---and a wealth of experience on the world of starting up and cashing out.
And so, without further ado, the story of BassMasta.]
The Birth of BassMasta.Net
In 2003 Dan Christopher decided he wanted to be a rock star. Just kidding. He did however start to learn to play the bass. As Dan combed through the list of sites dedicated to guitar tabs, he realized that there was a definite shortage of websites for aspiring bassists. In a classic case of an entrepreneur scratching his own itch, Dan decided to build a site dedicated to bass tabs.
From the very beginning Dan wanted the site to be a money making project. A friend of his had built his own guitar tabs website that was generating a sizable income and Dan believed he could do the same. By the end of 2003 BassMasta.net was up and running.
The Entrepreneurial Experience
It’s almost axiomatic in today’s start-up scene that one should have a co-founder if you’re building a company. However, we are completely forgetting that Dan was a BassMasta, not a bass beginner. Dan built the site, marketed it, provided community support, and performed both the exciting and sometimes tedious work of managing an online community. Judging by the metrics, he was succeeding. At one point BassMasta.net was receiving nearly 10 million hits a month and it is still the number one result if searching for “bass tabs.”
Part of the excitement of building an online business was the possibility to be absolutely mobile. No, I don’t mean a BassMasta iPhone App. When BassMasta started putting out a livable income, Dan took his work with him on a backpacking trip through Europe. He worked out of cafes while absorbing all the awesomeness Europe had to offer. It was actually very Portland of him (I’m sitting in Tea Chai The on 23rd NW writing this article).
Of course, being an entrepreneur isn’t all fun and croissants. Being a solo-founder allows for full creative control, but it also means no one else is vested in the success of the project.
“You know you can be having a great time building a relationship with your users,” said Dan. “But then that one problem user shows up and ruins your whole day.”
According to Dan, there were times when he wished he had a co-founder as it would have lessened the workload and been emotionally easier. Though not substitutes for a co-founder, Dan relied on his wife and PIE for support.
“When I started working in PIE there were Thursday night ‘family dinners’ where everyone would share their progress on their various projects. The PIE community was a great outlet for giving and receiving feedback and support.”
In 2006, BassMasta.net started receiving various complaints and general threats of litigation from the music industry. Though Dan believes that open sourcing tablature is perfectly acceptable, the threat of legal action forced him to consider selling the site. Dan had previously received several offers from various companies but none of them offered a price he considered reasonable… until Songster came along.
Songster had been an advertiser on BassMasta.net and was interested in the high amount of traffic it generated. They made an offer and both parties went through a month of negotiation before an agreement was reached.
During the negotiation process, Dan was able to take advantage of another PIE resource: Surj Patel of GigaOm. Surj has been involved in the tech industry for a very long time and was able to advise Dan on different aspects of the sale and various negotiation points.
“Having Surj help me throughout the process was fantastic,” said Dan. “With Surj’s advice I was able to avoid hiring a lawyer and paying a bunch of legal fees. More importantly, having Surj there helped me focus on seeing the whole process through. It would’ve been tough to do it on my own.”
Dan and Songster weren’t the only parties affected by the sale. Songster planned on taking down the site and redirecting the URL to point at their own site. Dan notified his users about the sale and received an overwhelming response from the community.
“This site was like a second home. Here I’ve laughed till I cried, learned more than anywhere else (not just bass wise), and actually mellowed out a lot,” said one user. “Dan, you’re a great man for making this site, and we appreciate all your hard work… A generation of bassists were inspired here and the legacy will live on.”
“Bass Masta…i bought a bass when i was 18 and got nowhere..couldnt afford teachers or to buy music,” said another. “Now i’m 37 and last year because of your site I bought another bass and I have loved every minute of it, Ive learnt songs you could never buy music for. Thanks so much for your hard work. I hope all your plans for the future work out. Three cheers for the Masta. “
If anyone needs advice on building a community of loyal fans, I would ask the BassMasta.
I asked Dan what he planned to do next now that he has a successful exit under his belt.
“I don’t know yet. I’m already brainstorming other projects I could start, but one thing I definitely want to do is take a vacation,” said Dan. “My wife and I haven’t had a real honeymoon so I’m thinking maybe Fiji or Belize.”
The vacation is well deserved. He did already make one purchase though: a brand new bass guitar to commemorate his time as the BassMasta.
Congratulations Dan and we look forward to seeing your next project! Until then? You can keep up with Dan on the BassMasta Facebook page.