AWS Startups Blog

HAAWK: Creating the TurboTax of Music

Ryan Born Photo by Jeff Vespa/@jeffvespaWhen developing a startup, it’s important to think about your company in the simplest terms possible. For Ryan Born, the CEO and co-founder of HAAWK, a company that helps to monetize and enforce copyrights on user-generated video and audio platforms (think YouTube, Facebook, and SoundCloud), his mission is simple: to create the TurboTax of music rights management.

“TurboTax made it possible for the public to do their own taxes,” says Born. “There’s certainly still accountants and there’s certainly big accounting firms, but you have the ability to do your own taxes. We teach our clients how to do their own publishing. We’re educating them,” Born explained. “We basically open up a lot of the—I don’t want to necessarily say secrets—but complex stuff and try to simplify it so that people can do it on their own.”

From this very simple idea, Born has built a company a company culture that enhances HAAWK’s mission by reflecting its core values. “All of [the employees] have a bit of a culture of love of music, whether they’ve been managers of bands or are musicians themselves. It’s [a culture] of care for rights, care for music, and also it’s a laid-back environment,” Born explained.

But this love of music and desire to make licensing accessible to artists didn’t come out of nowhere. One of Born’s key successes as an entrepreneur began at his previous startup. His experience at AdRev, which helped budding YouTube creators manage their content, helped Born and his co-founder Benjamin Barger to create the cool, educational culture that is the basis for HAAWK today.

“When we sold AdRev (which is also known as AudioMicro Inc.,) I actually had no intention of starting another [music or media] company.” But with Born’s entrepreneurial spirit, a new idea for a startup soon found him. For Born and his team, the future of the music industry is helping artists to sort through the legalese and monetize their own work. “It’s giving [the artists] the tools that empower them,” Born explained.

It is from this mission that Ryan and his team developed a culture of education that fuels all that they do. “We really want to make it so that it’s not only accountants [and music publishers] that can speak the [music industry’s] language. I want to say, ‘No, no, no, we can actually teach you to do it on your own. Our tools make it quite simple to do that.’ So there’s a real educational emphasis in our culture. ”

With a killer team around him and a strong culture in place, Born hopes that HAAWK will be able to emulate TurboTax’s success in the world of music publishing. Through recently acquired tools like Royalty Claim, HAAWK is able to help artists, songwriters, and publishers to locate and unlock newfound royalties without the aid of an expensive in-house staff, administrator, or attorney.

“It’s essentially a tool that lets you find unclaimed royalties, licenses, and entitlements and empowers rights holders to directly collect monies that they might otherwise not know are due to them. You do not need to sign away your rights. You can do it yourself.”

And it is this simple, clear focus on empowering musicians that gives HAAWK its robust organizational culture.

Michelle Kung

Michelle Kung

Michelle Kung currently works in startup content at AWS and was previously the head of content at Index Ventures. Prior to joining the corporate world, Michelle was a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, the founding Business Editor at the Huffington Post, a correspondent for The Boston Globe, a columnist for Publisher’s Weekly and a writer at Entertainment Weekly.