Industry Insider: Unitea Founder Ketan Rahangdale

We talk to Unitea founder Ketan Rahangdale about creating the service, and connecting fans, brand and charities in a more equitable way.
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Ketan Rahangdale

Ketan Rahangdale

Streaming music often feels impersonal and cold, putting more money in the pockets of wealthy tech investors far away rather than directly into the hands of musicians or the causes they care about. Payouts are low and artists often get lost if they don’t get premium placement in big playlists. There haven’t been direct payment options to artists until very recently and the connection to charity is often not there or rarely given much attention. Unitea is a streaming platform that looks put those front and center.

Started in 2019, Unitea is a streaming platform that is built on a digital rewards-based community, with the rewards provided by brand sponsors and by Unitea. This is done through various partnerships with artists and events. Users connect their Spotify account to Unitea and by streaming music earn Karma, which can be spent on events, merch, charitable initiatives and more that brands and artists put on the platform. Unitea takes a “data licensing fee” from brands and pays artists a “data royalty” based on the Karma redeemed for their rewards, which is equal to 50 cents per redeemed stream. So the artists get paid more and users earn rewards from streaming.

One caveat is that it is an iOS first app, so there are some bugs for Android users. It may not work as well for you now, but that hopefully change in the future.

To get a better idea of how this app came to be, its future and the problems it is trying to solve, we chatted with Unitea founder Ketan Rahangdale for an Industry Insider feature. Download the app here.

How did you get into the music business?

I started DJing/producing and playing around with Serato when I was 12. Then I started promoting shows at 16, started my own consumer electronics audio-technology company at 18, and it took off from there...

Where did the idea for Unitea come from?

Being an Indian-American from a small town (Tallahassee, FL), DJing and producing music helped me fit-in and assimilate with the folks around me. That feeling of “turning people onto” new music they love is the best! I figured if I could help artists unite with their most loyal fans when they listen and share music with their friends, that would be awesome.

What is the problem that Unitea is trying to solve?

Our mission is to empower artists and culture through data monetization and data transparency. We are a loyalty platform for music fans. Fans are rewarded for their passion, artists earn more money and own their music fan data, and brands win by converting these fans into devoted customers via these exclusive rewards.

Social media companies have turned into giant data-tracking ad platforms helping to destroy democracy around the world. What will Unitea do to not become that?

Our Mantra is, "Data and relationships belong to the people who build them." If someone gets your engagement data, you should be able to “opt-in” and control who’s getting it, and be rewarded for sharing your data with something tangible in real-time. That something tangible is Karma. We want to reward you with Karma for building relationships with brands and artists. Not be a platform that sucks your data, sells it to brands, gives you no control over who specifically is viewing it, and never rewards you for your engagement.

How does the platform make money? How do artists monetize their followings, especially since they make less and less from streaming services?

Brands sponsor artist rewards through investing in artist Karma economies, generating data royalties for them. Unitea takes a platform fee for those investments.

What is the goal of Unitea in the next few years?

To reward everyone with experiences and rewards from their favorite creators (sports, music, fashion, etc.). of tangible value for being social and leading culturally relevant lives.

How does Unitea deal with fraudulent numbers?

You get auto-banned from the app if we believe you’re using a fraudulent number/ duplicate account via IP tracing.

When I downloaded the app, it forced me to connect to Spotify. If I didn’t want to connect to my Spotify or didn’t have a Spotify account (tidal, Apple, Deezer), what would I have done?

At the bottom of the screen you can just tap “skip for now” and be able to browse rewards, festivals, lineups, create schedules, and add rewards to your backpack.

How did you get involved in creating Bluetooth 4.0? What would you like to see in an upgraded or reimagined iteration of Bluetooth as the “internet of things” becomes more ubiquitous?

Specifically, I used to DJ at a young age, and my parents didn’t want me out after a certain time when I was a freshman in high school. I noticed it would take me a long time to set up my equipment and take it all down. That was when I had the idea to make a wireless high-fidelity bluetooth dongle that could plug into any 3.5mm aux jack and turn that device into a bluetooth device to save me time. We got into the engineering of it all, and ended up working with Digikey, EIR, and CSR on perfecting the Bluetooth CSR 8670 codec, which ended up getting integrated into every Beats By Dre device since 2012, and was ultimately acquired by Apple and integrated every device they made since the 5th generation iPhone. The codec was recently sold to Qualcomm a couple years ago.

What skills and attributes are you looking for in potential employees at Unitea?

In a year of an unprecedented pandemic where there’s been limited live music, I’ve noticed none of the current Unitea squad can fare too well psychologically speaking without music. That’s why we’ve helped produce and do fan engagement for over 12 livestream music festivals or series this year! So we look for people passionate about music, being tastemakers within their spheres of influence, whom also have an inclination for technology and what builds the best fan/consumer experience.

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