Heather Andrews loves making special events truly special. She founded CustomSong.com to do just that. Using the CustomSong.com platform, customers can work with talented artists to create a recorded personalized song to celebrate events like anniversaries, weddings and graduations. In addition to songs for individuals, CustomSong.com has created songs for business promotion and motivational purposes. Customers simply visit CustomSong.com, choose from a library of artists, and provide information for their song, like personal stories or memories. The CustomSong.com artist will create lyrics for the customer to approve and then record the custom song.
How did you get started with your business?
Before I started this business, I loved the special events industry. When I was in college, I worked for a couple of summers as an event planner for my university, and I really loved that.
After leaving college, I went to work in marketing for an online custom t-shirt company that created custom apparel for all types of occasions and groups. That company was very focused on customer service and ensuring complete customer satisfaction. I loved hearing the customer stories of how happy they were when they were at their family reunion and everyone got excited about their t-shirts, or at their wedding when their guests loved their custom-printed koozies as favors. Hearing the happy customer stories really had an impact on me and inspired me, and that’s what made me know I wanted to be a part of creating something unique for special events.
I’ve always loved music and the way it can hold memories of special moments in our life. It just kind of hit me one day – the idea for a custom song. I fell in love with the idea of any person being able to create a completely custom song by working with the talented artists that would become a part of a special memory for them.
From there, I started working on a prototype and researching the idea. It took more than a year for me to bite the bullet and move full-speed ahead with the development and launch of the business. I’m so glad that I did, because I got to hear so many customer stories that were happy, and this time it was about having a custom song that has brought joy to them and their loved ones.
How did you fund your business in the beginning? Have you taken on any additional funding since?
I have personally invested my own savings. I decided just to take a big risk and put that money into the company. After that initial investment, we’ve been operating by bootstrapping. I really believe that to show a proof of concept for a business, a company should support itself operationally and only bring in outside capital when you’re ready for growth and expansion.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
I have actually had a lot of experience running an online business with past jobs and past companies that I’ve had. I’ve also worked with some very knowledgeable and talented people throughout my career. But, of course, this is a new concept and a new business, so there are always challenges that need creative solutions. The key is to keep learning as you go.
For me, what I’ve learned is that the most important thing is to always be thinking about your customer and what creates the best experience for them. Be flexible on the back end and know how to really put the necessary changes in place to make the company into something that works.
Who was your first customer?
Our first customers were our friends and family. But our first real customer that we acquired who was new to us was for a 28th anniversary; a son was ordering on behalf of his father who was ordering for his wife. It was a beautiful song that included “I love you” in the couple’s native Norwegian. We started getting our customers through Internet marketing and PR.
What was the biggest mistake you made in your first year?
As an entrepreneur, when you’re starting out, whether it’s your first business or your fifth business, there’s going to be mistakes along the way. You realize that those mistakes are worth their weight in gold because they change the course that you’re on and can lead to success or really valuable learning.
The only real mistake I would say I made that I would go back and change is not investing more into our website design. I was very focused on the features and functionality of our platform. I thought I could worry about the improved design later. I’ve since realized that a great design, especially a responsive design for all of today’s different Internet-connected devices, is critical to creating a great customer experience.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
The best thing that we did is something that we continue to do: test and test again. We test all of our new ideas and marketing plans. We test when we’re trying to reach more markets. What we did from the beginning was we didn’t let ourselves get too caught up in what we thought would work and what we thought we knew. We kept an open mind and have been very surprised by what works and what doesn’t.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
The most rewarding thing is absolutely hearing our customers’ stories and knowing the impact that we’ve had on them and their loved ones. We create songs for them that inspire magical moments and bring a lot of joy to our customers. Sharing in their excitement is 100 percent the best part of running this business.
What’s the most difficult/challenging thing about running your own business?
The most challenging thing about running a business is the roller coaster ride that you’re on. There are so many highs and lows, and you have to keep yourself motivated through all of it. Taking a risk is scary, and you want to back out at times, but you have to go through those bad times and remember to really appreciate the good times.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
The most surprising thing has been the various people you meet and how they want to support you and see you succeed. We’ve had friends and family, customers, media and local business groups that have stepped up and done whatever little part they could to help us succeed. It’s just been overwhelming. It’s something we definitely appreciate.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
I admire Marcus Lemonis from CNBC’s “The Profit,” and my former boss, Marc Katz, the CEO of CustomInk. What I really admire about them is that they both lead businesses with great integrity and they very strongly believe and trust in the people they work with. To me, they’re great examples of how business can be done while still being a person of strong character. They’re role models, and I try to implement what I’ve seen them do into my own business practices.
What I’ve Learned
What advice do you have for others starting their own business?
The biggest piece of advice is to be patient when you’re offering something new, especially. It takes time to get the word out about your product. It takes time to build that market. You’re going to face challenges that you don’t know what to do with, but be patient, take your time, be smart, and you’ll figure it out.
The second piece of advice is to always stick with your values through all situations. Treat everybody with respect, because you never know when someone’s going to change the course of your business for the better.
What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
If it’s truly a wish, then I wish I would have known the secret formula for success! But that’s not possible!
There’s so much that you learn along the way that you are not able to foresee. I don’t think there’s anything anybody could have told me that would have changed anything. It’s just about learning as you go.
About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing, located in San Jose, California.