Zane Barbao, a senior management and ship student in Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, spent his high school years feeling as though school and the work he was doing was meaningless. Barbao felt he had no outlet to apply himself.
One place that he did find solace, however, was in music. Much of his childhood was spent singing with his parents in the car and teaching himself how to play guitar. As his love for music continued to grow, he says he developed a special appreciation for songs with multiple artists on one track.
With note that Barbao made the decision to attend college only in the summer after graduating high school, he began to find meaning in his classwork, and realized that starting a business was his calling. That revelation came during an entrepreneurship class his junior year, where he was challenged to ideate and generate the concept of a new business in a class project. An idea, which in Barbao’s case, has since evolved into a company for which he is the founder and CEO.
Barbao took this as the perfect opportunity to bring his love for music into his newfound passion for business. The assignment had been to come up with a new business idea, formulate a business plan and get feedback from the class. As he began brainstorming, he made a note of the fact that the most successful songs in the R&B and HipHop genre are when two or more artists collaborate and feature each other on their songs.
But he also identified an unmet need.
“Featuring is so desired, but the process of collaboration is expensive, difficult and risky—especially for amateur artists,” he said.
From this, came the idea of Feature Finder, a social music platform that makes the process featuring more accessible, entertaining and competitive. With the creation of an app, artists would be able to upload their completed tracks with a 30- to 60-second gap in the vocals for other members of the app to record a verse and submit their vocals as an “attempt.”
All other users on the platform, both artists and non-artists, could then vote on their favorite attempts with the original artist, then being allowed to select one out of the top three to use as the featured verse on their song.
Once the assignment was complete, Barbao continued to formulate his idea as he realized that the concept of an app that could potentially revolutionize the process was not something that should just remain an idea for a class assignment. This was an idea that could develop into something incredible.
“I became so obsessed with what Feature Finder could become that I sent emails to everybody I could think of and texted all of my friends asking for somebody with a background in software. On top of that, I literally went door to door asking people in the computer science building on campus if they could build me a prototype,” Barbao said.
After his initial search, however, he was still unable to find someone with the technical skills needed to bring his idea to life.
When asked about his fears following his initial lack of success in finding software development support and his understanding of the statistical odds that most business startups face, Barbao said, “The thought of not taking the sounded much scarier.”
This drive and passion that Barbao carries for his business led him to find Harbert College’s New Venture Accelerator, a space for students, faculty and recent graduates to cultivate and develop their entrepreneurial research, skills and techniques—a place where new ideas can be tested, evaluated and potentially turned into successful businesses. Within days, Zane was connected to a software developer who was able to create a prototype for his app and within weeks, he had his own office in the New Venture Accelerator, as well.
From there, Feature Finder has grown from a concept to reality. Today, Barbao is running his business out of the provided for student entrepreneurs and is surrounded by like-minded individuals who share the same passion for their businesses as he does for his. He also has daily access to entrepreneurs-in-residence who have ample experience in building businesses that he can go to for advice and support.
Barbao has built a team of software developers, industry specialists and data and financial analysts who have been able to make his idea come to life, and, as of April 14, Feature Finder is now available to download on the Apple App Store.
He has also pitched his business ideas to industry professional judges and, so far, has competed and placed in the top five for the Harbert College of Business’ Halloween Pitch Competition and tied for third place in the 2022 Tiger Cage Pitch Competition. He came home with $7,500 to fund and further develop his business.
Barbao’s journey started with his contemplation of not going to college at all, to taking part in a class project that led him to the thrilling concept of creating something that was entirely his own. In a matter of two college semesters, Barbao has managed to take an idea that started as a class project to a fully functioning technology company. His ambition and passion for business is truly inspiring and his story is just one of many in the New Venture Accelerator.
More information about cultivating a business idea or growing an existing business is available by contacting Lou Bifano at the New Venture Accelerator.
(Written by Lia Junghans)