We're a tribe of music fanatics, technology enthusiasts, business model nerds and some guy who just keeps showing up to drink our coffee - all with one shared mission - Make Way For Music.
We imagine a world where mis-spellings on paper and wrong equations in spreadsheets don't keep people ...
Technologist and entrepreneur Marcus Cobb defied the odds. Born in poverty in a tough neighborhood in El Paso, he moved from abuse, neglect, and quasi-homelessness to Microsoft’s youngest team leader in a matter of a decade.
His fascination with computers and passion for programming, coupled with just enough support at just the right times, helped the young African-American man forge a path forward. That path eventually led him to create Jammber. It’s the first serious platform for managing payment and paperwork for the entertainment industry, a company that champions efficient fairness in aid of the underdog.
It feels natural that fairness and transparency are guiding ideas for Cobb. He saw some of life’s darkest sides, from juvenile detention to disrupted education. He knows all too intimately what it means to be treated unfairly. However, as Cobb relates in moving detail in NFL linebacker Tim Shaw’s recent book, Blitz Your Life, he also learned how to muster limited resources and grow them into something formidable.
“I grew up in a lower income area of El Paso, TX, surrounded by gangs, drugs, and a variety of other factors, which would have probably lead me down the path many young minorities in those situations find themselves in. Except for a few differences,” Cobb notes. “I had access to computers and computer labs since I was in 2nd Grade at Hacienda Heights Elementary School. The computers and seemingly endless books at the library, even book mobiles, kept my imagination open and would lead to this career.”
Cobb may not have had support at home, but his community--caring neighbors, teachers, principals--offered constant support for his interests, from science fair projects to robot building. It showed Cobb what a difference a few, committed people can make--even with limited resources. Jammber is a testament to that: From bootstrapped startup, Cobb has grown the company in a few short years, thanks to $1.5 mil in seed capital and interest from major music business players. The company has Letters of Intent from major labels and big indies like Big Machine.
Race shaped Cobb’s experience, but never cast its shadow over his hopes and sense of his own ability to succeed in technology. “I didn't know being black mattered so it didn't to me,” Cobb reflects. “Not as a weakness or a shortcoming of any type for sure. Being one of the best is often a result of being one of the most passionate. True, I've been the only black technologist at most organizations I've worked at, but I was one of the best and all they really cared about was if I was adding value. It was peculiar because it was rare but if anything it was my job to expand the ‘brand’ of what it meant to be black...beyond sports and hip-hop. At the same time, I was just being me.”
Though Cobb has been an avid music fan and performer for much of his life, he came to the business side of music indirectly. After a number of modest attempts he eventually started and sold a software company, but realized after years of technology he was ready for a change. “I was burned out on coding. My partner and I just walked away from our successful consulting business,” recalls Cobb. “I had money saved up. I decided to do what I wanted. Something I was passionate about.”
He loved fashion, but didn’t have the usual skillset for developing a clothing line. “I was a technologist my whole life. I became a lingerie designer. I couldn’t draw or sew, but I could tell a story and build a team around it.” To turn tales into intimate apparel, he tapped into a community online filled with people willing to barter and collaborate, to make something happen. It resonated powerfully with Cobb’s own experience. “They were like me: They wanted to create the next amazing thing, even more than they wanted to make money. Money is important but creatives need to create.”
The spirit of this community, the supportive enthusiasm instead of dog-eat-dog competition, got Cobb thinking. Several challenging projects involving musicians and bands revealed a whole set of interlocking problems in the music business. “Here was this other creative industry I loved, but plagued by inefficiency and century-old business practices.” What if he could help create a collaborative space in music, similar to the one he’d found in fashion?
The idea morphed over time, from more freeform social platform to focused project and business management. “The biggest problem in music is that people don’t get paid,” Cobb states. “There are reasons, some of them unpleasant, for this. But one big one is the limited resources for dealing with an extremely complex set of business relationships.”
Another challenge: People in the music business seemed to accept the status quo, even if they despised it. “When we talked to people in the industry, they were focused on a different problem set entirely. Why did they tolerate this?” Cobb asks. “Because it had always been that way, and because they loved what they were doing.”
The Jammber crew decided enough was enough and sketched out some ideas for a platform that would relieve the main pain points. When they presented their idea at a pitch session for a business accelerator in Nashville, Project Music, investors in the room were skeptical. “We had a standing ovation from the musicians there. But two investors pulled me aside and said you’re making a huge mistake,” recalls Cobb. “One of those investors later became the first to write a check. She told us we lost our marbles in April, but wrote the first check in November. She saw the problem and saw we were creating value.”
Cobb and his team united existing resources (partnering with leaders in payroll and HR ADP) and bleeding edge technologies (blockchain and real-time metadata generation) to build a platform that covered all the bases. It’s attracted enough investment for this lean company to meet very ambitious goals, as Cobb has his entire life.
“We’ve been fortunate that it’s been easy to close capital because of our momentum, but they haven’t already seen the value, the potential. I see a lot of potential. I’ve been in growth companies before,” remarks Cobb. “I know I’m in one now.”
Beyond financial consideration and growth, however, Cobb sees Jammber as an extension of his experiences, the hope, commitment, and desire to give back. “When you're a product of that kind of collective support in that kind of environment, it creates this core sense of obligation and deep, deep empathy,” muses Cobb. “When we saw stacks of returned paychecks that never made it to musicians all over the country, and we learned this was systemic, it struck that chord in me. I knew this is what I'm made for, using technology to help improve and enrich lives - and this is music, music is important to all of us. We had to do something."
Jammber is a pioneering platform serving the creative industries with simplified, intuitive ways to track credits, payments, and paperwork in one single, handy place. Based in Chicago and Nashville, the company got its start at the Project Music accelerator, quickly acquiring over $1.2M in investor funding. Now available to the public, its early clients include Brooklyn Basement Records and Grammy-nominated producer Dave Brainard, and there are more to come. Dozens of letters of intent have been received by top players in the industry including Sony Nashville, Warner Nashville, Big Machine Label Group, and 7 time Grammy award-winning producer Reid Shippen.