Episode 40: Creating a Platform for Music Discovery While Ridesharing

Welcome back to Tech Forward, listeners! For this week’s episode, I’m excited to share my conversation with Sean McKenzie, Co-Founder and Director of Driver Engagement at Steereo. By combining the power of music streaming with the popularity of ridesharing, Steereo is a music discovery app that gives emerging artists exposure and valuable data, while compensating rideshare drivers. Sean is an award-winning entrepreneur and a 3-time founder with a strong background in brand strategy, consumer insights, and market forecasting. He also serves as an advisory council member at Fund for Public Housing. Today on the show we’ll be discussing his career path, his approach to hiring at Steereo, and some of the ways he uses his experience to give back to his community.

The idea for Steereo came from a chance meeting between Sean and his team, and a Lyft driver with excellent musical taste. Realizing that rideshare drivers often act as DJs for their clients, Sean proposed the idea for a platform where up-and-coming artists could allow drivers to stream their music. The benefits are twofold. Along with the exposure to a larger audience, artists on the Steereo platform also gain access to a wealth of data, including where, when, and even how loudly it gets played. Drivers are compensated for this airtime in turn, accumulating funds over time much like a fare meter. When it came to creating the app, Sean noted, “People of color are great at creating content that lives on these innovative platforms, but they aren’t necessarily creating those platforms where that content lives. If there’s a demand for this, why not us? Why can’t we build it?”

This passionate attitude has been a common thread throughout Sean’s career trajectory. As a 3-time founder, he cites every step of the journey as an important part of where he is today. For any listeners out there considering pursuing their own ambitions of entrepreneurship, Sean has two key pieces of advice. First and foremost, don’t wait for a perfect product to launch — “When it comes to building tech products, great can be the enemy of good enough. Don’t let great slow you down. Get your core function nailed down, put it out, let your users break it and then iterate from there.” Furthermore, he recommends maintaining that lean, early-stage passion as much as possible as the business grows. “Even when you have more resources, treat your product as if you don’t.”

In addition to his work at Steereo, Sean is also a member of the advisory council for New York City’s Fund for Public Housing. At a time when more people than ever are in need of affordable housing, federal funding for these programs has unfortunately dwindled. “My entire existence can be attributed to affordable public housing. I am a direct result of these programs and they just aren’t really there anymore. It’s important for me to give back in this way, because our experiences shape who we are and how we view the world. If I can shape a kid’s viewpoint and their confidence, then that is my life’s work, beyond anything else I do in the tech industry.”

Sean, thank you so much for coming onto the show and sharing with us the work you’re doing both with Steereo, and with the Fund for Public Housing. Thank you as well to everyone out there listening, reviewing, and sharing the show. See you next week!

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