Music made accessible to target audiences

Catherine Lückhoff is putting all of South Africa's Afrikaans music in one place: a dedicated music streaming service called Liedjie

Catherine Lückhoff is putting all of South Africa's Afrikaans music in one place: a dedicated music streaming service called Liedjie

Music and culture are intrinsically linked, and Catherine Lückhoff knows this. Her company NicheStreem aims to offer fans curated music-streaming solutions that meet their specific needs — a home for the music they love.

Online streaming is the future of music, and NicheStreem has built a scalable music streaming back-end that can be used to bring multiple streams to its users, each targeted, branded and curated to a specific audience.

Its first stream, Liedjie, is aimed at the Afrikaans music market in South Africa and the expat community.

Niche doesn’t necessarily mean a small market. Afrikaans music makes up 58% of domestic music sales and demand for the music is high. For example, annual events such as “Afrikaans is Groot” sell in excess of 90 000 tickets within six hours, at $20 each. Afrikaans music fans are a cohesive, tight-knit and loyal audience.

Before Liedjie existed, there was no one place Afrikaans music fans could go to access all their favourite music. Now, NicheStreem has licensed all available Afrikaans music across multiple genres and made it available on Liedjie — an on-demand streaming service with offline listening features.

Being Afrikaans, Lückhoff has an innate understanding of how closely Afrikaans culture and music are linked. She realized that the same holds true for lesser-known niches such as “Highlife” (Afro-pop) and the 85 million Nigerian fans of “Naija gospel”. The latter community will be the next target to receive a NicheStreem service. Lückhoff recognised that the opportunity lies in giving casual music fans a service built with their specific tastes in mind. This was the birth of her idea to build a scalable music-streaming platform that can support multiple streams, each branded, curated and promoted to a specific niche audience.

Comprising an A-grade team, an international advisory panel and prominent local angel investors, NicheStreem was established in February 2015. During her sabbatical in 2013, Lückhoff travelled to The UK, US, Costa Rica and Nigeria to meet music label executives, founders of streaming services and start-ups, and representatives from social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. She became keenly aware of the wealth of information that is out there, but more importantly how crucial it is that this knowledge is adapted and applied to an African context.

A firm believer that start-ups should guard against being seduced by their own story, Lückhoff set about appointing an advisory board of experienced music and mobile industry professionals. “We are tackling something that has been done before, challenging the status quo of music streaming and daring to do it differently. When we get it right, it will be a globally scalable business,” says Lückhoff.

She also hired an A-class team for NicheStreem. In September 2014 a detailed request for proposals was sent to the four biggest global streaming back-end providers, including MediaNet, 7Digital, 24/7 Entertainment and Omnifone. After an extensive three-month due diligence process, MediaNet was selected as NicheStreem’s official back-end provider. With an advisory board, team and a back-end provider in place, the company raised $250 000 in seed capital. Its post money valuation was $1-million.

“As a start-up, simply trying to survive from day to day is a challenge, but it is one that keeps us focused and motivated,” says Lückhoff.

She believes that this even harder to pull off locally. “As a start-up in South Africa we face our own set of challenges, whether it is raising money in a nascent startup funding ecosystem or navigating the [Reserve Bank] waters [concerning] foreign investment into a local entity.”

Previous ventures

NicheStreem is Lückhoff’s third company. She started her first venture MANGO-OMC in her fourth year at university in 2003. The company was one of the early pioneers of online PR campaigns in South Africa and worked extensively with major clients. In 2011 Catherine joined Bozza, a start-up funded by Google Ventures and Omidyar that built an app for talent discovery in Africa.

After a two-year tenure at Bozza she embarked on a four-month sabbatical, returning to start business development and strategy firm HQAfrica in 2013. The company’s clients included PriceCheck and 24.com, both Naspers Group companies, as well as Mozilla FireFox, WeChat (TenCent Holdings) and The Dating Lab, which contracted the firm to assist them with launching and expanding operations in East and West Africa.

In 2013/2014 Catherine served on the board of The Silicon Cape Initiative — a community of tech entrepreneurs, developers, creatives, angel investors and venture capitalists who are passionate about entrepreneurship and the roles they can play in the future of South Africa.

In her career so far, Catherine has been named one of the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans, was recognised in the Topco Top Women in Business and Government and was included in the first Old Mutual Do Great Things start-up guide. Even in her own time, she takes advantage of the power of online audio, claiming “I’m huge fan of podcasts — Startup by Gimlet Media, TED Radio Hour, The Moth, Radiolab, Serial, Stuff You Should Know – and listen to them while I cook.”

She has also spoken across the world on a variety of topics, ranging from how content drives the uptake of technology to African music streaming services and innovation in Africa. She is passionate about mentoring and does so for programmes such as Sw7, Launch Weekend, Innotech and Spark-Up. Lückhoff is a nominated member of the African Leadership Network and a judge for the GSMA Glomo Awards 2015 and 2016.

In a short space of time, NicheStreem has been recognised for its platform, its approach and its innovation, and now the company is actively raising money and building networks to give it the advantage it needs to scale and succeed.

Examining valuations of regional streaming services across the world, it is not impossible for NicheStreem to attain similar targets with the support that Endeavor can provide. Its business model lends itself to both B2C (selling to consumers) and B2B (selling to other businesses), and has the option to license its technology to big consumer brands and telecoms companies. With the right support and mentorship, the business has the potential for exponential growth and a lucrative exit.

Find out more about NicheStreem at nichestreem.com

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