Mike Wagman: Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur

Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur is Rithm co-founder and CEO Mike Wagman, whose company is about to pass one million users in less than six months since launching, has just put out its Android app, which is featured by Google, were named Canada’s Hottest Innovative Startup at the CIX conference in November, and have just been selected as a finalist for Startup of the Year for the 2013 Canadian Startup Awards.

Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
I’m co-founder and CEO of Rithm, a fun and engaging platform for music sharing. Rithm allows you to send your friends songs personalized with videos, photos and dancing emojis. Industry publications like TechCrunch have called it “Snapchat for music.”

Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
Two years ago I left my job as a corporate lawyer in New York City to start MavenSay, which is the development company behind Rithm. MavenSay is also the name of our first product, a social recommendations app. My dream is to build innovative media platforms that millions of people can enjoy. That wasn’t happening at the law firm.

What did you notice was missing in your particular industry? How did you fill that gap?
I think there’s sometimes a lack of strategic vision from founders in the tech industry. And I think this can come from an underappreciation of non-technical areas like human psychology.

As a non-engineer start-up CEO, I don’t write code. But I’m a keen student of human behaviour and I think that can provide an advantage when it comes to creating and selling exceptional products and getting stakeholders on board.

What makes Rithm different from other music-sharing platforms?
Rithm is the most fun and expressive experience for sharing music with friends. Other popular music services, like Spotify and Songza, have focused on music streaming and discovery. But music is so full of emotional meaning. When you hear a song, you think of a friend, a memory, a moment or a feeling. Only Rithm unlocks this expressive power of music.

What steps have you taken to ensure Rithm’s longevity?
The only thing we can do: provide a superior user experience and continue to evolve in smart ways.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part is talking to really smart people about interesting issues and tough decisions. Whether it’s with our team in the office, fellow entrepreneurs around the world, or my wife at home, I love strategizing about our business.

The most challenging part is the emotional rollercoaster. Running a start-up requires a lot of perseverance.

What is one sign that you’ve seen over the years to suggest that your work/life balance is off?
I pissed off my wife on our honeymoon by getting distracted with some emails. Taking time away from my phone is something I’m working on.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I would love to continue developing businesses that excite me and can have an impact on people.

What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
Being an underdog – trying to raise financing, recruit talent and strike deals with strategic partners in an industry (tech) where I was a newcomer. I overcame this with help from my two business partners, who were also largely new to the tech world when we started. We’ve just been on an obsessive quest to grow our business and outperform the competition.

What does success look like to you? Does Money = Happiness?
I think happiness comes from having great relationships with family and friends and doing stuff you believe in.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Rithm is on a roll. We’re about to pass one million users in less than six months since launching and just put out our Android app, which is featured by Google. We were named Canada’s Hottest Innovative Startup at the CIX conference in November and have just been selected as a finalist for Startup of the Year for the 2013 Canadian Startup Awards. (Speaking of which, please vote!)

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
You have to work hard and take risks – and you have to act with urgency. Otherwise, it’s never going to happen.  

Where is your favourite place to wine/dine in your city and why? (Toronto).
Tough call, because I’m a big eater. Our first product, MavenSay, is largely about people recommending their favorite stuff like where to eat. I tend to gravitate towards casual spots. For Italian: Pizzeria Libretto and Terroni. In my neighborhood: Playa Cabana. Near the office, especially in the winter: Khao San Road and Momofuku. For late nights: Bar Isabel. I also love trying new places. And I always make a big dent in the menu.

When you’re not working how do you love to spend your “Me” time?
Playing basketball or hanging with friends and family. My wife and I watch a lot of movies and TV shows on the couch.

Where is your favourite place to travel? Why?
Best place I’ve ever been is Jericoacoara, in the north of Brazil. It’s just got an incredible vibe. Google Image it. 

If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?
‘Feelin’ It’ by Jay-Z or ‘One Big Holiday’ by My Morning Jacket.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
Daydreaming of what else I could be doing.

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
I like to support causes relating to education. It’s important to me that other people, especially young people, be given the same equality of opportunity that I’ve enjoyed. The next generation will need a world-class education to move our world forward.

What to you is notable?
Doing what you love and being authentic. Earning your success.

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To vote for Rithm as Startup of the Year for the 2013 Canadian Startup Awards, click here.