Lorenzo Brewer is arguably the hottest name in music you’ve never heard of.
The 23-year-old is the son of a world famous author and a renowned academic, has been compared to Steve Jobs and has attracted funding from a clutch of big-name investors.
Brewer speaks three languages, admits to never wanting to be an entrepreneur and confesses to never having bought a single record.
However, if his business nkoda takes off, Lorenzo Brewer could be a musical superstar in his own right.
A talented pianist, Brewer was struck at how expensive and inconvenient it was to buy sheet music. At the same time he recognised how Spotify had opened up music – and so the seeds of a business idea were planted.
Today nkoda has partnerships with over 90 leading publishers, giving it access to 110,000 titles from Mozart to Adele and 30 million pages of music.
The company’s search tools are driven by artificial intelligence and the app has been compared to Spotify and Netflix.
The app is available in 11 different languages and has been downloaded in 135 countries.
MusicalAmerica included him in their Top 30 Professionals of the Year list, describing him as the ‘Steve Jobs of music publishing’.
“My ambition for the company is to be able to say we have provided a resource for the whole world where people can play, practise and perform music wherever they are and wherever they come from, ” he told BusinessCloud.
“I don’t think there’s a limit. We know there are 100 million people who play music in the world. We see nkoda as an access business that is empowered by technology.”
Brewer is the son of two academics. His mum Stella Tillyard studied at Cambridge and his father John Brewer at Oxford. They met at Harvard and had two children.
His dad is a retired history professor while his mum is a famous author, best known for her work Aristocrats, which was made into a BBC mini-series.
“When I grew up I thought all adults wrote books because every adult I met and came into contact with wrote books,” he recalled. “It was a very academic background.
“I come from a space where the interests in my family tended to be literary or artistic. Music has always been a space that has been mine.”
Brewer was educated at a North London comprehensive and was set to go to university to study music and a possible career as a composer when he suddenly saw a business opportunity while listening to Spotify.
“Spotify was empowering because it meant you could listen to all the music you wanted to. It meant the only limitation you had was the amount of time you were willing to spend to learn new things.
“You could start, as I did, listening to jazz and ended up listening to hardcore contemporary and classic music. You weren’t limited and that was the experience I wanted to bring.
“The idea of paying for music is folly. Born in 1995 the idea that I would ever contribute money to the music industry was hard to fathom. I’ve never brought a record. “I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. I never had that ambition. It’s one of the reasons why I feel very lucky.”
Brewer was introduced to Sundar Venkitachalam, who became his co-founder at nkoda and CTO.
The aim at the outset was to create a subscription-based model and answer two key questions.
“Do you have enough content for it to be valuable?” he asked. “The second is are you delivering it in such a way that the service you are providing is valuable? A successful subscription business is the combination of these two things.
“There are plenty of beautiful services that don’t have enough content and they’re probably going to fail. There are plenty of services that have lots of content that are poorly organised and hard to use and they’re going to fail too. The key is to mesh these two things together.”
Brewer has so far raised around £10m and said a lot of money has been spent on safeguarding the security of the platform. The monthly subscription costs £9.99.
London-based nkoda employs more than 40 staff and has attracted some prominent investors including legendary City investor Anthony Bolton, former Dragon on Dragon’s Den Nick Jenkins and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason.
KM Capital, which is headed up by Adam Kamani, co-founder of online fashion retailer prettylittlething.com, has also invested an undisclosed sum.
KM Capital’s corporate finance executive James Merryweather told BusinessCloud: “I am sure Lorenzo would have been successful at whatever he decided to turn his hand to but luckily for us he focused on nkoda and we met him at the right time to become investors.
“We’ve been really impressed at how he’s taken on a big industry problem and is opening up sheet music and performance to the Spotify generation.”
Brewer said the company was now working on some new features including fingerprint technology for printed scores.
The only thing that takes up more of his time than business is his passion for Liverpool FC. “Music and football are probably my two loves,” he admitted.