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Occupational Hazards: Julian Keenahgan, tastebuds.fm


Logged on: Julian Keenaghan

Logged on: Julian Keenaghan

Logged on: Julian Keenaghan

Alex [Parish, co-founder] and I came up with the idea for the site the morning after a house party in Alex's place a few years back. We were just talking about how hard it is to meet people with similar interests and realised we could build something that would let users import their music profiles from sites like Last.fm and Facebook and quickly get to that "wow" moment when they see their matches.

Tastebuds is a place to meet people through music. Our 170,000 users around the world build a profile for themselves based on their music and other tastes. They can then discover other users who share their interests to make new friends, find concert buddies, go on dates, that kind of thing.

Our users are often young music lovers and concert-goers but also include people looking to expand their social network. They find music makes that process easier and more fun.

We put the first version of the site live in June 2010. Within a few days, much to our surprise, we started to get some coverage from online media and people started signing up. Three days after putting the site live we were featured on a huge tech news site in the US. We got so much traffic that the site went down. Alex sent me a message saying "this could be life-changing" and he turned out to be right.

Most of our users are in the UK or the US. However, we have a small but loyal cohort of Irish users which is growing all the time. We're well aware the Irish are among the most passionate music lovers in the world.

We've had loads of people meet on the site and get married, including quite a few in my own circle of friends. We were recently invited to DJ at the wedding of a Tastebuds couple in LA. Unfortunately, we had to pass on that one.

Some of the most interesting stories we hear are where people from different parts of the world get together. A guy from Germany got in touch saying he had just moved to Brazil to be with someone he met on the site.

Getting involved in an internet start-up was definitely always in the back of my mind. I did a work placement with a start-up in Dublin during university, through which I managed to get some amazing exposure to technology start-ups and work with entrepreneurs.

From the start, we've tried to focus the site on what you like rather than what you look like. Users shouldn't have to browse through endless lists of profiles to find someone that catches their eye. Finding someone through a song they've shared feels more natural and fun.

One of the pitfalls of traditional online dating sites is that people often don't get replies to their messages. We've found that using shared music taste as an ice-breaker goes a long way towards solving that problem as the reply rate on Tastebuds is higher than on any other dating site we know of.

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One of the most important aspects of working on an internet start-up is prioritisation. There are so many ways to improve your product and so many directions you can move the company forward that it can be easy to lose focus. We're very busy now with our launch into mobile and trying to turn it from a start-up into a sustainable business.

During the week, for any waking hour, I'm basically connected and in work mode. At weekends I try to distance myself a bit, but with a smartphone you're only one vibration in your pocket away from being drawn back online. It's something you have to be conscious of as it's important to give your mind space to wander, but in my line of work it's pretty unavoidable.

There probably are times when my parents have wished I would get a normal job. They've always been supportive, though, even if a bit bemused by the idea. Apparently my mum heard me being interviewed about Tastebuds on the radio once while driving and nearly crashed the car.

In conversation with Tanya Sweeney

Julian Keenaghan is co-founder of dating site tastebuds.fm

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