Maker Spotlight: Good Vibes with Keenen Charles

Maker Spotlight: Good Vibes with Keenen Charles

Keenen Charles is a 25-year old maker from Trinidad & Tobago. He is a software developer who also writes about a variety of topics, such as making products, self-development, and culture. Keenen has several side-projects under his belt, including InboxReads and TapTag. His main focus right now is his latest project: Wave Radio, a community for sharing and discovering new music.

Keenen has been building side projects in his spare time for as long as he can remember. His first real product launch was a mobile app called TapTag in 2015. Using AR and location data to create a new kind of social network, the idea was ambitious: "it was a solution looking for a problem and it eventually failed". That project taught him the basics of what it takes to make a product, and it didn't stop him from building and launching more since then. Last year, he found the indie maker community: "it’s been really inspiring to find so many people with the same itch to build products".

Keenen sports a 130 Day Streak on Makerlog. Flexibility and consistency are key: "honestly, I’m not very strict when it comes to how I work. Every day I just try to get one thing done, big or small. Some days are more productive than others and I think that’s only natural. I used to be impatient and want to maximize each day but every step in the right direction adds up eventually. As long as you’re passionate about what you’re working on it’s easy to show up each day and make some progress on your goals."

To keep his productivity constant, Keenen uses simple methods, like maintaining a to-do list. A Trello board is especially useful to him to organize and prioritize tasks, easily visualize what he's working on, and what he should work on next. Public accountability is another important aspect of his daily work: "there’s also something really rewarding about sharing your completed tasks publicly on Makerlog and Twitter. It feels great to look back on every little task you got done in a day and how it all adds up".

Keenen's activity on Makerlog

His main project, Wave Radio, is a community for discovering and sharing new music. It's the place for you to go to find new music. When you share a song, you earn points. The more people listen to and interact with your song, the more points you get. Every week, the user with the most points wins, and a new playlist of great songs curated by the community is released.

Wave Radio's landing page

The idea came from Keenen's own struggles to reliably find new music. It’s a lot of effort to follow artists, blogs, and critics to know when new music is released and if it’s worth listening to. Mainstream music streaming services base their recommendations on the artists you’ve listened to before, which limits your potential for discovering songs outside of your typical listening habits. Wave Radio is a solution to this cognitive bias.

People still do a better job when it comes to music recommendation. It's not unusual to go to a party with friends and discover new songs by socializing. The idea for Wave Radio was to recreate the joy of sharing new music with someone, and using this feeling to create a community that will encourage music lovers to recommend what they like. The community can then curate what's being shared, and you obtain a new fantastic playlist to check out every week.

Keenen had the idea for Wave Radio early on last year, but it took him a long time to decide to build it. Hesitant at first, he doubted he could manage to successfully encourage people to share music, so he took a lot of time to refine the core gamification ideas until he was confident with it.

He started building the website in the summer of 2018 and got a lot done quickly by reusing code from his previous projects. Then, he hit a bit of a roadblock a month later. The project was put aside for several months: "it was probably a lack of confidence in the idea and in my ability to grow it after my previous project failed". Some introspection time and encouragements from other makers got him to overcome the situation. He spent some time refining the website, before quickly launching a beta. After another iteration, he officially launched in May 2019: "writing code was the easiest part of the process".

The biggest obstacle for Keenen was deciding when it was ready to launch. There’s always a temptation to add one more feature before launch, but it’s never-ending: "eventually, I just had to decide I’m going to launch on this date and limit my scope to hit that deadline".

Regarding marketing, his focus so far has been on SEO and social media marketing. A lot of content is generated by the community each week. Songs and weekly playlists, in particular, are a good way to draw in users from search engines who are actively seeking new songs to listen to. That content can also be used to bring in traffic from social media. Some tweets blew up just because of an artist's mention: "there’s still a lot of work to do to convert that traffic into users but I think it's a promising strategy".

The biggest thing he has learnt from making Wave Radio has been the power of gamification techniques and incentives and how they can influence a community: "I’ve had to adjust the points system I use to get the community working in the way I envisioned. At first, users were incentivized to post as many songs as possible to win. I never expected that the reward of points could be so attractive. To fix it I’ve actually had to find ways to decrease how much each user posts to increase the quality of their posts".

There are a ton of places for music discovery so it’s a field filled with competition. Keenen's approach has been to just focus on what makes Wave Radio so unique. The community-first aspect of the product gathering passionate music fans, and its inclusiveness, being open to music of all types, are the key values differentiating his website. Every feature Keenen makes reflects those values. Eventually, it leads to a product that has something no one else offers.

An advice he gives to the new indie makers out there - just get started: "A lot of times you might be hesitant because you don’t have a perfect idea or you’re not sure if it’ll work but when you’re just starting out I think it’s more important to get in the habit of building and sharing your work publicly. Make projects that excite you and fit your interests. Even if it fails, the knowledge and experience you gain will be valuable for your next project."

Want to learn more about Keenen? Go check out his Twitter profile.