Emerging country music star applies Lean Startup lessons

Hannah Chapplain (photo courtesy of

Last year we met Hannah Chapplain, a musician venturing into the world of entrepreneurship and digital media as a new client of Communitech and the Canadian Digital Media Network.

Chapplain was a bit of an experiment for Communitech. Her Executive-in-Residence, Marc Castel, knew it was time to shake up the music industry. He was tired of seeing talented artists having to wait tables to make a living. If more artists built their careers like startups rather than a calling, wouldn’t they have more success?

Castel decided it was time to test his hypothesis, and Chapplain, tired of working as a barista, was a willing subject.

In one year, Chapplain has seen the type of success many new artists see in three. Castel believes the success is due to her talent as well as the rational way she launched her career.

Using the LEAN startup method – a process that uses validated learning, customer feedback and iterative product releases to shorten development cycles and bring a product to market quickly with low cost – Chapplain first focused on how she developed her music, or rather, her product. Starting out as a pop/rock singer, she market-tested her sound with her fans, and found that they, and she, preferred a more country sound.

“She built 15 different songs – fully produced – in five different genres and then she tested them with fans,” says Castel. “She tested with social media – SoundCloud and Facebook – and found out what songs people liked the most.”

While changing genres is unusual in the music industry, it was paramount for Chapplain to develop herself as a money-making artist.

Today, she has a full-length country album to her name, has opened for leading Canadian acts and is preparing to hit the road to promote her album to country music radio stations and fans before launching her own tour.

“One thing I’ve learned is, as much as I’m an artist, I have to equate that to the business aspect of it. A lot of artists today don’t know how to make money from their art, and that’s a shame,” says Chapplain. “One way I’ve found to balance my company and art is that when I’m in tech mode I go in tech mode, and when I’m in artist mode – writing music, in the studio recording or on stage performing – I’m all artist.”

Chapplain’s success isn’t a surprise to Castel. While he’s satisfied with her achievements, he is focused on continuing to develop what he believes will be the next generation of the music industry.

“She’s a tech entrepreneur. [Her company] follows the classic startup genome model. It’s very tech-centric,” Castel says. “It starts with discovery and then validates it in the market – it shows that people are willing to pay for her content. She’s in the efficiency phase right now, building out her music platform’s back end, and then later this fall, we’ll be in scale where she goes on tour and reaches a very broad fan base.”

The artist as entrepreneur is powerful, argues Castel, because it allows artists to claim their own companies and build income on their passion.

Like any startup CEO, Chapplain has raised funding from investors, pitched her company to funders and carefully marketed herself. She has prepared for success the same way other entrepreneurs have. Castel is positive that his plan will work, and that the artist can have a successful exit.

Like other tech startups, Chapplain knows what her end game and successful exit is. “A successful exit would be to be signed to a major record label and also have a nice payout,” she says. “That would be a success to me: sell my company, sign to a record label and continue to pursue my music career.”

Kayleigh Platz
Kayleigh Platz
Kayleigh is a storyteller and researcher for Communitech, with a focus on sharing success stories. Born, raised and schooled in the Waterloo Region, she holds two degrees from the University of Waterloo. Kayleigh is passionate about social media, shoes and coffee.

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