One year ago, Discz was an idea that didn’t make it past the first round of a college pitch competition. Rolling Stone dubbed them “the Music Industry’s Hottest Recommendation Tool” in an impressive (and unsolicited) first press feature. But it’s the genuine enthusiasm from Gen Z and their spot on the app store’s top 10 list that proves Discz is right on time. So how did Discz go from a passion project to a viral app?
“We’ve just been 100% focused on building this product, and building it for our community,” says Bobby Pinckney, founder and CEO of Discz. “We’re building whatever we want to see, what our friends want to see. And we are probably the first age group of Gen Z to be able to do that.” That laser focus has paid off for Bobby and his co-founder and CTO Michelle Yin. Their intuitive approach to music discovery cuts the process of vetting a playlist in half with rapid-fire music recommendations based on your Spotify listening history. Now, the app is backed by Y Combinator, the top startup accelerator in the world whose alumni roster includes Airbnb, Stripe, Coinbase, Dropbox, Reddit and Twitch.
When Y Combinator took a chance on Discz, “They said, ‘you know, we don’t like to invest in music apps. But just because nobody’s cracked it before doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And we think you’re onto something.’” Keep in mind that these two “were normal college kids, and normal workers five months ago,” Bobby says. “This has all just been a crazy dream powered by our community.” While recent headlines reckon with Gen Z entering the workforce, Bobby and Michelle are a poignant example that the young generation is a force to work with. They are a determined duo focused on collaboration, community and innovation that serves a somewhat obvious gap in the market, except that no one else thought of it or built it so quickly.
Growing up in Tulum, Mexico, “my mom says she knew where I was in the house, because you just had to listen for the music,” remembers Bobby. He consumed music like the rest of us breathe air – insatiably and out of instinct. There is so much content out there and Bobby wanted to listen to all of it. “I wrote down in my notes, I would love to see a platform where I can get through a bunch of content really quickly and have fun with it and share it with my friends.” But it was Michelle who was both the inspiration and the catalyst for his current success.
Bobby and Michelle met while attending University of Southern California and bonded over their shared deep affinity for music. “We actually met because I was Bobby’s big sis in Greek life,” Michelle admits. “We always had this bond that was deeper, because we were both super passionate about music, tech and culture.” A talented classical violinist throughout childhood, Michelle knew that she wanted to “use tech to supercharge other things that I really enjoyed.” After graduating, Michelle traveled to Tulum with her family before starting as a Senior Software Engineer at Facebook. Bobby happened to be in his hometown.
While “[Michelle] was so excited about what she was doing,” Bobby was in a sort of senior year rut. “She kind of inspired me to do something crazy.” Desperate to push himself forward in some way, Bobby took Michelle’s advice and completed “an entire computer programming minor in [his] last semester of school.”
The opportunity to build the first demo of his app idea came in his Intro to iOS class. Then Bobby spent his entire summer post-grad working on it. He turned to Michelle for advice throughout the process because “she can build a world class product. I can’t!” he laughs. After launching the first version to the app store, Bobby received good feedback, but he had reached his technical limits. So he called Michelle again, this time asking for her help to take Discz to the next level.
Michelle left Facebook and joined Discz full time as Chief Technical Officer. She championed a redesign of the brand and product interface to better align with their shared values. At the beginning, Michelle and Bobby wanted to create a product that was “fun, super simple, effortless and personalized.” They defined two archetypes. The first archetype was pure music lovers, like Bobby. Music lovers who spend lots of time finding music for themselves, Michelle says, “want to open Discz and be in an exploration mode and sample lots of tastes and sounds.” The other defined archetype is the music curator who wants to curate playlists for a specific vibe, mood or even tempo.
Then they got creative with DIY growth strategies to grow a global platform. “Michelle really spearheaded this,” credits Bobby. “She spent hours DMing every person she’d come across on Reddit [music threads], just like, ‘Hey, check out what we’ve built.’” Meanwhile, Bobby was in New York handing out business cards at every party he could get to. As their fan base grew – “Two people online in Pittsburgh? Who are these people?” – so did their excitement about turning this project into a fully formed business. Zero users became 4,000, and then they began reaching out to people on TikTok.
“At this point we didn’t know we had anything that people wanted. We knew our friends liked it, we liked it, and we were really satisfied building for our friends and ourselves.” But a global community has rallied around them. In conversation, “everyone was like, how can I help? What do you need?” Michelle recalls. They realized they were building something special, especially for music curators who spend hours looking for new music on the internet.
More and more people are turning to TikTok for music discovery. A MRC Data study states that 75% of TikTok users in the U.S. use the platform to discover new artists, and 63% report that they hear songs for the first time on Tiktok. But Tiktok isn’t a full music streaming platform. Discz fills the gap by serving up new songs and seamlessly integrating with your Spotify library. As users preview songs, they swipe right to save the ones they like.
With features that mimic everyday interactions, Michelle and Bobby are listening to the culture and their users. “We are the last generation that really experienced the feeling of burning a mixtape for someone or how special it is to be given one,” says Bobby. Immediately I’m brought back to heartwarming memories of 7th grade friendships, bonded forever through a shimmering time capsule. On Discz, users create hyper-curated playlists, limited to 5 songs, which function as a sort of sonic mood board – a song for every moment. “We really wanted to bring that positivity back, those shared experiences [that] everyone can relate to,” Bobby continues. “Everyone across the world [can bond] over such a simple thing.” For me, this niche format is a bite-sized joy. I called my first Discz curation ‘lit on a pow day’ and added my top 5 songs for tipsy-shredding a mountain.
Thousands of songs are uploaded to streaming platforms every day. The co-founders didn’t want another algorithm to determine trends and reward mass consumption, or editorial playlists that determine which artists blow up. “We wanted a place where discovery is democratized,” says Bobby. So they created the “plug” metric to incentivize users to put people onto new music, songs that other folks may not have heard, like the ‘B’ side of the record and hidden gems rather than the Top 100 Billboard hits. It’s a thoughtful detail that is foundational to the experience of sharing music – the mutual joy we feel when our friends like a song we showed them.
Over two million songs are saved every week on Discz and music artists are knocking on their door, wondering how they can partner with Discz to serve their own fan bases. “They believe in us [and] the product we’re building,” notes Bobby. Of the artists releasing music from their bedroom, so many struggle to make money and navigate industry pressure to commodify themselves as a brand. On Discz, music is the connective tissue. As Bobby says, “I’m actually tasting the art.” Michelle sees an opportunity to help music artists “find their audience through the help of music curators, who are now the next generation of music bloggers and radio jockeys.” As she continues to build, Michelle keeps the music artists, curators and consumers in mind, who all have a massive impact on a song’s reach. She’s “reading between the lines to understand what’s really missing and using the clues to piece something together.”
;For all its breakout success, Discz is still in its early stages and the co-founders are intent on personalizing the app even more. Full of hope and fueled by passion, the next year will certainly be exciting as they cultivate a new landscape in the music community. “I think of the impact music has had in my life, in my heart, and how much comfort I find in music,” reflects Bobby. Thinking about the people who are finding new songs at the moment they need them most is what energizes Bobby to keep going. Together the co-founders are committed to one purpose-driven question, how can we build a dream music platform?