Q&A: Last.fm's founders sold for $280m. Now they're launching Lumi

Lumi launched at 2pm on Thursday. Will it ever be as big as Last.fm?

Remember the Last.fm founders Felix Miller and Martin Stiksel, who, along with third co-founder Richard Jones, sold the business for $280m (£140m) to CBS in 2007, just five years after it launched?

After taking a two-year hiatus, Miller and Stiksel are launching another discovery platform - not for just music, but for everything.

From their HQ in London Fields, the pair have created a service that is like Last.fm for everything online.Lumi uses your browsing history to make recommendations to you - recommendations for anything: content, websites, products, anything online. All the searches are presented in a very colourful and fancy style, with lots of images. Free to download, users need to install an extension on their web browser to use Lumi. You don’t need to select categories, tick boxes, or subscribe to feeds, as it makes suggestions based on your browsing history.

Now Miller and Stiksel claim that Lumi has the potential to become even bigger than Last.fm. How will they do it? I ask them for anwers:

Q. Hi guys! So after the mega Last.fm sale, how did Lumi come about?

Martin: The concept of Last.fm was to make it easier for people to find music. But through the years we realised that concept is really strong and goes beyond music. We thought there need be more applications, not just for searching music but for everything. So after selling Last.fm we took a little break and started researching this concept.

Felix: Lumi was born out of the frustration with the state of technology, because as a consumer the experience wasn’t satisfying us. We started to think about the ways we can improve the experience and at one point we realised that there’s a big idea in people’s user history. Martin had expressed this concept to me and said: “I’ve been browsing the internet for 15 years and have nothing to show for it.” I think that was our eureka moment.

We realised that all these years that we have been producing knowledge by visiting sites [are] being wasted. We thought: we can use all of the users’ history and create a different way people browse the internet.

Q. So did you always know you would start an online business after exiting Last.fm?

Felix: After exiting we thought we’d do other stuff. We didn’t exactly know what we’d do, but we didn’t think we’d go into the online business, to be honest.

Martin: Starting a company again from scratch was very daunting and we knew it’s a long and laborious process. We know it’s always easier the second time around, but we were back to step one. Having said that, the idea was too strong for us to let go of.

Q. So why should we use Lumi? What’s the USP?

Martin: The great thing about Lumi is that it demonstrates the knowledge in your browsing history. So you sign up and you install the extension and it works with your existing browser. How it works is that based on your existing browsing history we give you recommendations. You don’t need to tick any boxes, you don’t need to subscribe to any feeds and you don’t need to follow anyone. The knowledge is already there and we help you use it in a much better way than now.

It’s like Last.fm for everything. For example, if you are looking for shoes on the Selfridges website then Lumi will give you relevant suggestions, be it about a new design or an article about a new trend, Lumi will recommend everything to you. Mind you, the results could could be everything from a popular yet obscure blog to a New York Times article.

Felix: In a person’s browsing history, there is a complete representation of him or her. Nowadays, any destination, product, news, anything that’s published has some kind of track record. So giving the user the power of using their own web history, we unlock a complete understanding of that person.

Q. So why did you decide to call it Lumi?

Martin: We were looking for a nice, simple and easy name. The idea was of shedding light on the ocean of the internet that is too big for you to navigate yourself. A search light to help you find stuff was the idea behind it.

Felix: Exactly, so the internet is becoming a big place. Well done innovation, but how about finding stuff there? How can navigation become better? Lumi shrinks the pages of relevant searches and gives you recommendations of things that you will actually use.   

Q. How have the early stages of building Lumi been?

Martin: We operate out of an office close to London Fields. We launched a prototype in December and opened it to some users and got a good response. But the more users the better as it’ll create a good amount of recommendations.

Felix: People were surprised how well Lumi understands them, and that’s a great vindication of our hunch.

Q. How do you fund the business?

Felix: We funded the business ourselves and a few friends and family members pitched in. We’ve completely bootstrapped the company, so no VCs at this point.

Q. What’s your business model?

Martin: Effortless discovery is the headline of the business. So there can be a number of commercial experiences, just like how Last.fm made money through people clicking on music recommendations - so there’s always something there. But at the moment we’re completely concentrating on the user experience.

Felix: Also we want to make it clear to the users that we don’t want to make money out of their data. Even with Last.fm, the data powered the platform and we monetised the platform and not the data. We wouldn’t do it with Lumi with either.

Q. Is there a timescale?

Felix: We will see how this pans out. With internet businesses, you can plan only for the end of the year. But free forever for the user is our desire.

Q. Using Lumi means the company has a very detailed profile of you, your browsing history and your data - should we be scared?

Martin: I think it’s the other way round - you are in control. It’s built on the premise that it’s a platform where you can get something back from your own browsing history. Data is secure and anonymised, even we can’t see it. It is on the servers and we’re not interested in looking at selling it at all.

Q. But surely if you partner with brands, they would want the data?

Felix: We don’t want to monetise the data. It’s going to be a part of the agreement with any partners. We will try to monetise the experience and not the data.

Q. So what’s that one lesson you’ve learnt from Last.fm that will help you scale Lumi?

Martin: We’ve kept it really simple. We want to do one thing at a time because with Last.fm we did many things. It becomes very daunting going forward.

Felix: The main lesson for me was that if you have a concept that’s easy to use and doesn’t require a user’s input, but at the same time is highly relevant to the user, it will work.

Q. Finally, what are your expectations from Lumi? Will it become bigger than Last.fm?

Martin: The concept is really strong and it could be much larger than Last.fm. It’s a challenge but I think we can achieve it.

Great, thanks for your time and all the best with Lumi!

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