Bridging the gap between creators and fans with Laylo co-founder Alec Ellin
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From having their database stolen and held for ransom (yes, really) to almost running out of money, Alec Ellin has hit every obstacle imaginable—but that hasn't stopped the co-founder of Laylo from forging ahead.
After launching a little over a year ago, over 4,000 musicians, merch sellers, podcasters and video creators now use Laylo's unique landing-page-meets-fan messaging tool to send millions of messages each month. The company recently secured $5m in venture capital from big names like Eldridge, Sony Music, The Orchard, and Y Combinator.
I recently connected with Alec to discuss his entrepreneurial roots and how he started his career in the tech and music industry. He also shared his thoughts on influencers, product development, and why Laylo hasn’t had to invest in marketing yet.
From blogger to founder
Alec’s entrepreneurial journey began way back in his sophomore year of high school. He launched a blog called The Laidback Life, where he interviewed musicians and shared his favorite songs and artists.
After gaining traction and growing to more than 40,000 monthly readers, Alec’s career began taking shape. He worked at Sony’s Epic Records and Velvet Hammer Management while pursuing a degree at the Newhouse School of Communication.
Alec soon realized he wanted to be in the music and tech industry. By his junior year, he had taught himself UI/UX design, becoming obsessed with helping fans find and spread their favorite music.
In 2015 he launched Darkchart, a competitive music discovery platform, and grew the brand to over 20,000 users in five countries.
Then Alec met Sajan Sanghvi, who was building a “significantly better” competing app. By 2017, the two had joined forces to create Laylo—what Alec calls the “Salesforce for artists and creators.”
“My entire career has been built around wanting to build better bridges between fans and creators.”
Why Alec doesn’t love the term “influencer”
When asked whether there’s an influencer strategy in the works, Alec said he doesn’t love the term influencer. It devalues creators. He believes creators are so much more than their follower count.
“To us, creators are the individuals at the forefront of media and culture and their follower count just backs up their impact, it shouldn't be the focus.”
How artists and creators are using Laylo
In the first year alone, Alec has noted several innovative use cases among Laylo users.
Creators aren’t only sharing Drop links for songs and podcasts, but also merch, tickets, makeup lines and even NFTs. Creators use the platform to automatically message fans directly through SMS, Instagram DM, Email and more, building hype and excitement leading up to a launch or product drop.
One example: Grammy-nominated electronic duo ODESZA announced an NFT art show. They also announced a Welcome to the Last Goodbye campaign that has fans “waiting with bated breath.”
In a full circle moment, Flume—one of the first artists Alec ever wrote about for his blog—will be using Laylo for his tour, merch, and upcoming album.
It’s surreal for Alec to be able to provide a solution for one of his favorite musicians.
“I'm constantly in awe that we get to work with some of my favorite creators in the world and that they genuinely love what we're building for them.”
Targeted product development at Laylo
Having built multiple products and tools, Alec and his team have found the key to building an effective product: solve one specific problem at a time.
That mindset has kept Laylo hyper-focused on building specifically for creators.
Musicians, podcasters, and video creators want one simple way to share their releases and connect directly with fans, instead of juggling half a dozen platforms, integrations, and features.
They’re not necessarily looking to create a sales funnel or automated email marketing series right away, but they do want an easy way to share drops and message their fans. Laylo prioritizes meeting their immediate need to connect.
“We've learned to hyper focus on the features that our users need immediately, and not to build things that sound dope but aren't a must-have for creators.”
Direct communication using Drop links
One of the biggest challenges creators face is navigating the ever-evolving social media algorithms. New posts aren’t guaranteed to land in the right feeds at the right time—followers can easily swipe or scroll right past a big announcement.
With Drop links, Laylo automatically notifies fans about new content, merch, and events, bypassing fickle social algorithms and connecting creators with fans directly through text messages and emails.
“We give creators a single platform to do all of their messaging, rather than needing to combine 10 tools together.”
Leaning on referrals
Big name creators are using Laylo landing pages and sharing with fans and other creators, including musician Willow Smith to YouTube and TikTok sensation Celinaspookyboo.
Up to this point, Laylo has done little to no marketing. All of its growth has come from creators sharing their Drop links and telling each other about the platform.
“While we're definitely planning on expanding our marketing strategy in the future, we're beyond grateful that our growth to date has come from people loving the product and telling their friends.”
Alec’s co-founder Saj always says: "If you build for everyone, you build for nobody."
In the product itself, Laylo demonstrates who the platform is for and how they solve a major problem. When a creator sees a landing page, they know exactly how Laylo bridges the gap to communicate with fans. Every creator Drop link includes the line, “Get notified about exclusive content, merch, and event drops,” making it very clear how Laylo can meet a need for creators.
Sharing Drop links not only brings in more fans and subscribers but also drives more creators to use the platform.
Direct fan messaging, simplified
For a UX-forward company with an acquisition strategy built around referrals, it’s essential Laylo’s registration process is too simple for users to pass up.
Creating a Drop link only takes three steps:
1. Claim your landing page link.
Laylo gives you a clean and easy landing page, fit for mobile and desktop alike.
2. Connect your Instagram profile.
Use your Instagram to automatically upload your profile picture and username information. Or, if you’re not on the platform, you also have the option to manually upload your picture.
3. Create Drop links and messages.
The Drop page allows creators to schedule and write messages directly to their fanbase. You can send announcements to all fans or segment your list.
Beyond drop dates and product releases, creators can select from email templates and share messages through SMS, Email, Messenger, and Discord.
What’s ahead for Laylo?
From a database heist to almost running out of funds, Laylo has experienced its fair share of hurdles—but Alec knows setbacks are a part of the process of building something great.
“My parents always told me that you only have big setbacks if you have a big vision. I've tried to keep that advice to heart and use it as fuel.”
Alec couldn’t be more excited about 2022 and the years to come. They have massive creator partnerships to be announced soon and a product roadmap jam-packed with exciting updates.
Still, even with all of their recent growth, Alec says it genuinely feels like they’re at day one. “A year from now, I think we'll look back and be blown away by what we've accomplished and the creators we got to work with,” he said.