10 Minutes with Catherine Lückhoff, Founder and CEO of NicheStreem
After hearing Catherine Lückhoff chat to aspiring entrepreneurs at the Future Females launch last week, I was drawn to her. Amongst stories of her start-ups and ambitions, she also mentioned that she has a favourite word: “irrepressible.” It is defined as “not able to be controlled or restrained.” With her irrepressible tenacity, Lückhoff has smashed goals and stereotypes, and made South Africa very proud. Here, we chat to her about never giving up, finding inspiration in people and using the fact that she is a woman as motivation to work harder and smarter. There was no person I’d rather sit down with and chat to about business this Women’s Day.
Born on a mission
NicheStreem is Catherine Lückhoff’s third company. In her 4th year at university in 2003, she started her first venture, Mango OMC, which was one of the early pioneers of online PR campaigns in South Africa. In 2011 Catherine joined Bozza, a Google Ventures and Omidyar funded startup that built an app for talent discovery in Africa. And in 2013, Catherine founded HQ Africa, a business development and strategy firm.
Between 2013/14, she served on the board of The Silicon Cape Initiative – a community of tech entrepreneurs, developers, creatives, angel investors, and VCs who are passionate about entrepreneurship and the roles they play in the future of South Africa.
Catherine has been named one of the Mail & Guardian’s “200 Young South Africans”; was recognized in the Topco Top Women in Business and Government, and included in the first Old Mutual “Do Great Things” start-up guide. She is a nominated member of the African Leadership Network and a judge for the GSMA Glomo Awards 2015 and 2016.
She has spoken across the world on a variety of topics, ranging from how content drives the uptake of technology, to African music streaming services, to innovation in Africa. She is passionate about mentoring and does so for programmes such as TechStars, Sw7, Launch Weekend, Innotech and Spark-Up.
For those that still don’t know, what is NicheStreem? Tell us about some of your biggest achievements to date.
NicheStreem is WordPress for music and audio streaming. We build and power affordable, audience specific audio streams for untapped markets. Our platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and application platform-as-a-service (aPaaS) enable customers (mobile operators, brands, organisations, artists, etc.) to develop, run, and manage streaming services without the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure typically associated with developing and launching a music or audio streaming service.
NicheStreem was an FNB Innovation Awards Finalist in 2016 and was selected to participate in the world’s first PeaceTech accelerator, backed by Amazon Web Services, in Washington DC in 2017.
I am always very grateful for the lists I have been included in, however, I believe my biggest achievement is having recruited and worked with exceptional people. In any company, your most valuable asset is the team, and I have been fortunate to work with some of the best people in the business.
Where and when was the idea for NicheStreem born?
The inspiration for NicheStreem was sparked by a number of things however the biggest driver is the underlying belief that there must be a way to make music streaming profitable. Looking at my own listening behaviour, I realised that we all tend to listen to the music we love repeatedly. The idea of 40 million tracks doesn’t excite me. What does make me happy is the idea of having unfettered access to all the music I already love and discovering music I didn’t yet know I would enjoy. Something akin to picking and paying only for the TV channels that excite you. So I decided to build my own music-streaming platform – one that will offer fans a home for the music they love, at a fraction of the cost while still earning enough revenue to pay artists and make a profit.
During a four month sabbatical in 2013, I travelled to the UK, US, Costa Rica and Nigeria to meet music label executives, founders of streaming services and startups, and representatives from social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. I became keenly aware of the wealth of information that is out there, but more importantly how crucial it is that this knowledge is adapted and applied to an African context.
I’m Afrikaans, and I also have an innate understanding of how closely Afrikaans culture and music are linked. I realized that the same holds true for lesser-known niches such as “Highlife” (Afro-pop), and the 85 million Christians in Nigeria who listen to “Naija gospel”. There was an opportunity in giving casual music fans a service built with their specific tastes in mind. This was the birth of the idea for NicheStreem – to build a scalable music-streaming platform that can support multiple streams, each branded, curated and promoted to a specific niche audience.
Once you have an idea, what is the next step in executing?
The hardest part is taking the first step. Once you do though, the rest will fall into place. Remember, an idea is only as good as the execution. Draw up a to-do list and start from the top. First order of business: Go to Shelf Company Warehouse online and buy a pre-registered company. Once acquired, ask your accountant to apply for a name change and submit three possible names for consideration. Make sure that the URLs for those names are available before you submit.
What’s your advice to new founders searching for investors and capital?
Don’t accept “dumb money”. Startups are only as strong as their ecosystem so make sure you raise partners and not just money.
What’s the one thing no one tells you about starting your own business?
It’s not that they don’t tell you, it’s that you simply won’t understand how hard it will be until you have experienced the trials and tribulations first hand.
How do you think startups can still place emphasis on Marketing, even with a tight budget?
Necessity is the mother of invention. As South Africans, we are especially creative. So start by having many ideas, no matter how crazy they may be. Don’t be afraid to think out of the box and use all your available resources online and off. Now read “1000 True Fans” by Kevin Kelly.
What’s your attitude to competitors and how do you deal with them?
I conform to Peter Thiel’s thinking: “When you’re very competitive, you get good at the thing you’re competing with people on. But it comes at the expense of losing out on many other things,” Thiel says. “If you’re a competitive chess player, you might get very good at chess but neglect to develop other things because you’re focused on beating your competitors, rather than on doing something that’s important or valuable.”
What do your responsibilities as business-owner and CEO include?
As a startup CEO, I am involved in every aspect of the business from product development to marketing, fund raising to team management and everything in between. My most important role, however, is to guide the vision of the company.
What’s next – what are some of your goals for NicheStreem?
To be the PaaS music streaming company of choice.
What personality traits of yours do you attribute to your success?
I don’t give up.
Which books or audiobooks do you recommend to any budding entrepreneur?
- Blog: https://theheretic.org/
- Books: Tools of Titans by Time Ferriss and Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.
- Podcasts: StartUp and Reply All both by Gimlet Media and Girlboss.
What kind of social pressures have you felt being a female entrepreneur in business, and how have you dealt with it?
Unfairly, we have more to prove. On the up side it forces us to work harder, be smarter and never take success for granted.
What do you think the future holds with regards to women in previously male-dominated industries?
The future is female 🙂
What impact do you think innovation and evolving technology will have on business in 10 years’ time?
Hopefully, we will all be working smarter and not harder.
What advice would you give young, aspiring entrepreneurs?
Don’t give up.
What advice would you give women, who might be wives and mothers, who want to leave their secure jobs to chase their dream of founding a start-up?
Everything you want lies on the other side of fear.
Who is your inspiration, and why?
People with grit and courage. Giving up is easy. To keep on keeping on is the true test of character.
Meltwater remains one of the leading advocates for women’s empowerment within the tech arena. Should you have suggestions for any other irrepressible businesswomen that you’d like ten minutes with, Tweet us at @Meltwater.