The light bulb came on for Joshua Koterba in a parking lot outside a music store in Florida.
Koterba is the CEO of Gear Supply Company, one of this year’s startups in the NMotion Accelerator program. He is also a guitar player who was getting frustrated by his favorite brick and mortar music store.
“They didn’t have the strings I needed or the picks either,” Koterba said. “In the past year or two, they either didn’t have it, didn’t carry it, or it was too expensive.”
So he went to his car, ordered what he needed on his mobile device, and had it shipped to his house.
“Then I started thinking, wouldn’t it be great if I could get an order delivered to my house every month?” he said.
Finding a business model
Koterba started Gear Supply Company as a daily deal boutique site for musicians.
“But the margins weren’t quite there,” he said. “I wasn’t able to validate that concept.”
A new approach emerged based on the brand and connections Koterba had built.
“I fell in love with the subscription model,” he said. “We looked into starting our own line of products on a recurring revenue basis and found the margins were there.”
Gear Supply now offers a variety of hand-wound guitar strings and premium picks, as well as other supplies, on either a monthly subscription or single purchase basis. They launched in early 2015 and had 100 paying customers in the first week.
“We’ve been growing steadily ever since,” Koterba said. “We got an angel investment in November last year that really helped.”
Gear Supply is now up to about 1,600 monthly subscribers, making up about 60% of the company’s revenue, which Koterba said is now in six figures annually.
“We offer stuff that musicians are going to buy anyway,” he said. “We automate the process, provide consistent quality, and eliminate the drive to the store.”
The customer base is broad and international.
“We ship to all 50 states,” Koterba said. “And we have customers in Puerto Rico, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and the UK.”
Gear Supply’s marketing approach relies on word-of-mouth and social media along with some incentive-based promotions.
“We gave away a pre-assembled pedal board as an incentive for people to sign up,” Koterba said. “We gathered 41,000 e-mails in about a week.”
“We also gave away 1,200 coupons to leverage sign-ups,” he said. “Everyone was sharing it everywhere. We had a thousand people on the site at once, and we had about $500 of skin in the game.”
So why is a guy from Florida in a Lincoln, Nebraska business accelerator?
“I’m originally from Omaha,” Koterba said. “I’ve been in Panama City, Florida, for 7 or 8 years and there are very few founders. And they don’t talk to each other.”
One of the things Koterba likes about NMotion is the sense of community.
“My favorite part is being around like-minded people,” he said. “It makes me feel less insane.”
Gear Supply doesn’t seem like the type of company that’s likely to pivot during their time at NMotion. So what does Koterba hope to learn and accomplish?
“Our goal is to double our subscriber count and revenue by the end of NMotion,” he said. “And I want to get my eyes above the waves a little bit.”
One of the things Koterba says he is learning is to step away from some operational responsibilities.
“Brian and Beth are good at asking tough questions,” he said. “I’ve learned that I’m going to have to give up a bunch of the day-to-day stuff, learning to delegate and broaden my own bandwidth.”
Mentors have also been very valuable.
“The mentor network has been awesome,” Koterba said. “It’s an amazing resource that you don’t get just bashing your head against the wall.”
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.