A Journey Begins: Orfium Early Days

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Growth Stories

Our story begins in the -not so- distant 2015, with me doing my Ph.D. and a lot of freelance work, mainly to gain experience. I was paid by the university, but I could also see that the academic career wasn’t my thing. I had also just been rejected from a full-time position that seemed to be my dream job: refactor the legacy backend of an enormous global bank to APIs(I don’t think I should mention which bank). Architecture, coding, scaling, everything I ever wanted. The reason I didn’t get accepted? Easy. Too much academia in my CV.

Through a mutual acquaintance( my really good friend Vangelis), I met with Chris and Drew, an accountant and a lawyer from California. These two are the original masterminds behind Orfium. Their idea was to create a direct Soundcloud competitor while maintaining the crushing advantage of attributing a more significant royalty percentage to the artists. Our original distribution was 80% for the artist and 20% for Orfium, and we’ve pretty much kept this analogy ever since.

So, this was supposed to be just another freelance project for me, and it nearly never even began. In our first web meeting, we discussed the idea, and I just turned it down. It was something I wasn’t interested in at all, I didn’t like what I was hearing, and I wasn’t ready to commit time and energy to a project I didn’t believe in. 

 I almost turned them down for the second time when they reached out to me again, a few days after our first meeting. They asked how much money I wanted for the project. I named an outrageous price, and they just agreed on the spot. 

Now, the only reason an employer immediately accepts an offer without negotiating is that the request is too low. And I soon realized that what I thought was a ridiculous amount of money was way less than what I should have asked for the amount of work I had to put in this project. In my defence, I was only 27 at the time, relatively inexperienced, and entirely inadequate at calculating costs. (Partially, that was also the secret sauce that helped us survive the first few years. Startups are not about getting rich fast)

Here goes nothing

A short while later, my partner, Dimitris Papaspyros ( with whom we were together at the uni and today, EVP of Engineering at Orfium,) and I started working on the project. Even from the very first day, the flow was perfect, and our communication with Chris and Drew was excellent. 

 But, what we originally planned as a three, maybe four-month side project actually came to be our primary source of income for the next nine months. You see, it was at that time that the Greek referendum of 2015 took place, and the subsequent national capital controls enforcement by the European Commission. This led to university funds being frozen by the Greek government in case the negotiations collapsed and Greece was forced to exit the Eurozone. That meant we couldn’t get paid. For the first time, Dimitris and I realized that we needed to shift the scale and make freelancing our main job while keeping the university as a “side project.” 

That being said, we started discussing about prolonging the completion of Orfium. Could we somehow extend the scope of the project? We were not business guys, so we didn’t know exactly how to go about it, but our livelihoods depended on that very project(or this is what we were thinking in the midst of the crisis). We got lucky, and Chris and Drew proposed that they wanted to continue with us, so we didn’t have to worry about that anymore!

A match made in heaven

During all this, and despite the project taking more than double the time to be completed, our collaboration with Chris and Drew grew to become a partnership. Sounds funny, almost like a joke: an accountant, a lawyer, and an IT guy walk into a bar. But this exact combination was what laid the proper foundations and allowed Orfium to rise. Chris took care (and still does) of finance and strategy while Drew successfully navigated Orfium through the legal maze that the music industry and royalty attribution are, clearing any bumps and mishaps we might have run into. That’s why Chris is the CFO(former CPO) of Orfium today and Drew the COO.

So, in December 2015, Orfium goes live for the first time. In January 2016, we hired one more person to help with maintenance and improvements, Aggelos Arvanitakis, who worked with us for almost three years. At this point, no one knows who we are or what Orfium is, and we were already beyond budget. We started literally fishing for artists in SoundCloud by creating crawlers that scavenged for the artists’ contact info. We would then send them an email with an offer most of them could not refuse because at the time, our 80%-20%, as mentioned above, royalty split was the best in the market (and still is). So, slowly but steadily, we started having people joining Orfium and sharing their creative work with the world through us. That was the first big step we made towards becoming what Orfium is today.

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