If you google "Wohnzimmerkonzert" – which means “living room concert” - nowadays, you get well over 200,000 hits and lots of corresponding offers. In 2014 it was quite different, back then the term was hardly known and such a music experience was an exclusive affair. At a birthday party for a friend in the music industry, Miriam Schütt and Marie-Lene Armingeon were able to enjoy a concert which took place in a private apartment for the first time. They were immediately impressed by the intimate atmosphere and the direct contact with the band and quickly agreed: They wanted to make an evening like this an experience for as many people as possible!
The two founders have known each other since their school days. After graduating from high school, Miriam decided to study business administration, while Marie-Lene studied to become a teacher. Their shared love of music made it easier for them to decide to go into self-employment and jointly launch the startup SofaConcerts. With that name, they coined a term that had never existed before. Fortunately, it quickly became clear that they were not alone in their enthusiasm for the idea. Their platform had only been online for a few hours when the first artist from Canada signed up.
Music works everywhere
The concept worked internationally right from the start, not least because it is as easy to understand as it is to implement universally. Bands and musicians introduce themselves on the SofaConcerts website, including their location and musical style. Private persons, who would like to have a concert at their home, for a birthday, a wedding or just for fun, can choose the act that appeals to them the most. This then results in the classic living room concert. Of course, the gazebo is also suitable as a performance venue, or the office and the store, because quickly not only individuals, but also companies had discovered the offer for themselves.
So from the beginning there was no lack of demand, nor of support from institutions of the city of Hamburg. In 2014, Hamburg Kreativ Gesellschaft established the Music WorX Accelerator (now called Inkubator). This support program specifically for startups from the music industry is unique in Germany and has few equals internationally. SofaConcerts was one of the first teams to be accepted into the program and benefited above all from the targeted networking. Even today, there is a good connection to MusicWorX.
SofaConcerts is also a tech startup
One of Hamburg's most successful startup programs is InnoRampUp from IFB Innovationsstarter GmbH. More than 140 young companies have received a total of nearly 20 million euros since 2013. According to the call for proposals, "technologically highly innovative business models" are primarily in demand there. Now, SofaConcerts may not appear to be a typical tech startup at first glance, but operating a marketplace that functions as smoothly and conveniently as possible also requires a fair amount of IT expertise. The funding from InnoRampUp made it possible to hire CTO Robert Heinen, who still works at SofaConcerts today.
Emotional videos attract attention worldwide
For many startups, raising awareness and related marketing activities are often costly challenges. SofaConcerts attracted media attention early on, with the most prestigious local newspapers appearing at the very first press event. Music is a highly emotional topic that touches people regardless of their background and identity. SofaConcerts plays this card skillfully and convincingly in videos. In 2016, a clip featuring a sofa set up in the middle of Hamburg that becomes the scene of a spontaneous concert caused a worldwide sensation. The wave of the viral campaign spilled all the way to Brazil, with a total of over 32 million contacts.
Another coup was the undercover appearance of popular German musician Bosse, who made a living room appearance under the pseudonym Jimmy Folks. When he was unmasked, the surprise was great and the next hit video was in the can. Thanks to such successful campaigns, SofaConcerts was able to build a lucrative side business. The startup now also develops musical marketing concepts for well-known companies. The marketing on their own behalf is often done by the customers. They share their experiences of happiness on social media, give top ratings and sometimes even inform local media about the event.
When it comes to public attention, there is hardly a better address for German startups than the TV-show "Die Höhle der Löwen” (the German version of “Shark Tank”). An appearance there sends demand and sales soaring to unimagined heights, at least in the short term. SofaConcerts was approached several times by broadcasters, and in September 2019, Miriam and Marie-Lene had their airtime in the main evening program. The deal did not materialize, as their ideas and those of potential investor Georg Kofler were too far apart. Nevertheless, the hoped-for boom followed, with access to the platform temporarily tripling.
Corona provided an additional business model
Temporarily, too, because just a few months later the business collapsed completely. The Corona pandemic made concerts of all kinds impossible in the spring of 2020, and the money had to be paid back for events that had already been billed and had now been canceled. A shock, but the team of SofaConcerts did not fall into shock, but stamped a new business model from the ground within a few days. Now you could order musical greetings from musicians and give them away as a video. A woman who received a digital cello concerto for her 90th birthday spoke of the best gift of her life. The media were on the scene again, even the news program "heute" reported, and some artists even earned better than before.
This offer, born out of necessity, still exists today and gives SofaConcerts even more economic solidity. Right now, the demand for live concerts is huge, there is an enormous pent-up demand, but who knows if and how the situation will get worse. The startup was profitable after just a few years, which is why it held back on finding investors for a long time. In the meantime, selected business angels have come on board. One of them is Folkert Koopmans, head of the concert agency FKP Scorpio and, among other things, organizer of the Hurricane Festival. This year, the pop band 2ersitz from Leipzig, who got some of their first engagements through SofaConcerts, also performed there.
SofaConcerts is a perfect fit for Hamburg as a city of music
The startup thus sees itself as a launching pad for talents who often make you wonder why they aren't already famous. Some have even become big, such as Lea, whose albums regularly reach the top 10 and who has made numerous TV appearances. Or Meadows, whose song "The Only Boy Awake" has garnered more than 42 million views on Spotify. There are currently around 7,000 acts from 25 countries on offer, and even though the business focus is on German-speaking countries, activities abroad account for 40%. SofaConcerts manages all this with a compact team of ten people. Marie-Lene has meanwhile withdrawn from the day-to-day business, but remains a partner. Peter Wilhelm has joined the company as managing director.
The company's center is and remains Hamburg, a city of music with an international reputation since the rise of the Beatles.