The Bandcamp team is spread out all over the world, which means we don’t have lunch together, we don’t bump into each other in the hall, and we don’t have impromptu across-the-table conversations. In short, we don’t do many of the things that are often considered crucial to any startup’s success. To make up for this, we’ve developed a fairly disciplined system of communication that includes a daily company-wide video call, a comprehensive wiki where all of our projects are documented, lots of one-on-one Skyping, and a few in-person meetups each year.
Our most important mode of communication, however, is our group chat system (we use IRC). We all have it open all day long, running side-by-side with whatever else we’re doing, and we use it to ask each other questions, share links, coordinate feature rollouts… all of the stuff that elsewhere might happen in a hallway or over a desk. But what this system lacks in eye contact, it more than makes up for by being fully participatory (nobody is ever left out of a conversation), persistent (conversations happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), and most critically, archived and searchable (so regardless of when you’re offline or for how long, it’s easy to read the transcript and get caught back up).
The coolest part of our chat setup, though, is that it also doubles as the heartbeat of the business. In addition to the room/channel where the team communicates, we have another channel where a script announces every signup and every music sale, in real time. It looks like this:
We originally implemented this site activity ticker for the simple reason that we wanted to celebrate every signup and sale. It’s fun, helps focus everyone’s energies on our core metric (artist sales), and acts as one of our warning systems when things go wrong (the few times the feed has stopped, we could practically hear the flatline tone from the heart monitor). But it also has had an amazing, unintended side-effect, and that’s that it’s a brilliant tool for music discovery.
For years now, we’ve all glanced over at the feed a few times a day, been intrigued by an artist or album name, clicked it, and discovered new music that we loved. At some point someone suggested that we should add album art to the feed, at which point someone else said yeah-we-should-but-this-is-ridiculous-we-should-share-this-with-everybody.
So now we do. Take a look at “Selling right now” over on the new home page. It’s a bit of a firehose at times (particularly Tuesdays around noon PST), but it turns out that “someone just paid money for this” plus “this cover looks cool” is a great filter. It’s kind of like lurking at the checkout counter at Tower on a Saturday in 1997, and the line has three switchbacks and the clerks are ringing people up as quickly as they can, but in this case the Tower is at least three times bigger, you can listen to everything that’s being bought, and the customers are from every corner of the globe. Yes, you may end up questioning some of their taste, but just as often you’ll go “Whoah, what is this!? This is awesome!”