Matej Harangozo is an award winning entrepreneur, music enthusiast, and innovative technologist. He is a driver of disruption with a track record of developing cutting-edge platforms and automation protocols.
He built a company “greenNEWit” from the ground up — starting with 0% credit cards to 50-plus employees and $5 million per year in revenue at its peak. During the same time, he bought and scaled an international franchise that employed another 35-plus youth employees in the Baltimore area. A serial entrepreneur and web/software systems visionary, he is currently co-owner and managing partner of Codaemon, an e-commerce solutions provider.
Recently, Harangozo made the pivot to something he is really passionate about: music. It is an industry he dreamt of being in ever since he was in high school. Through his quest to help independent artists, producers, DJs, and influencers get noticed, he created Open Source Entertainment, a record label and music business incubator, and Digital Science Media, its digital marketing arm. These two organizations are disrupting the music industry — representing breakout artists including Hello Sister, China Mac, the gospel record label Black Smoke Music, and many others under the hip hop industry legend Wendy Day to name a few.
Once recognized by the SBA as a Maryland Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Harangozo lectures at college universities and is a keynote speaker for TEDx and the Musician Mastery Summit. His companies have been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and The Baltimore Sun.
Harangozo’s unique upbringing in Eastern Europe and as a US immigrant has shaped his unique outlook on business, innovation, history, and culture. These attributes are the drivers behind his success and will continue to guide his principles and future endeavours. He resides in Hanover, Maryland with his girlfriend Courtney and their two dogs.
Where did the idea for Digital Science Media come from?
In 2012, I had my first townhouse and this was right around the time when I moved out of my mom’s house. This was during the early days of our startup, greeNEWit. I spent a lot of money on studio equipment so I decided to turn it into a company and came up with the name “Open Source Entertainment”. To this day, I remain a big fan of the open source mentality when it comes to software development. At the time, I was also a part of the national building performance institute (BPI) home performance technical committee that worked to define how to collect energy efficiency data and process information between all stakeholders (i.e, power utilities, home lenders, building contractors, appliance companies, etc). There was always the battle between using the open source methodology or something private. The BPI homeperformance.org committee decided to go with a standard that was a quazi (open source / third party tech) solution due to the lobbying and pressure from some of the big companies involved.
Given my experience with open source, I thought it made sense for my new venture to use this methodology. Many of the big name record labels did not practice solid and genuine business practices and created a similar pressure against the independent or DIY artist business model. They did not educate artists on how to maintain a brand that operates like a business, and therefore many artists were getting raked when it came to contracts. So, I figured there had to be a better way of running companies and to show artists how to truly benefit more from their art and all that it was. So, I had this idea of an artist incubator that would use open source methods to teach artists and their teams on how to be successful in the space… sort of my version of a modern ethical record label.
In high school, as a side hustle I started bootlegging CDs. I was the first person at my school to have the very first 1x CD burner. It was 1998 and it was the age of LimeWire and Napster… well before the iPod. The music industry didn’t know how to handle this new trend. In full transparency, a lot of my friends would sell weed on the side to make extra money. I was not a citizen. My mom would always say “Matej you must stay out of trouble or else you will get deported. Don’t do stupid shit.” So, what my friends were doing was not an option for me, but I thought burning CDs was a smarter way to create a solid side hustle. When I moved to America I started listening to hip hop even before I spoke English. My dad was always pissed about curse words and gave me a hard time for it. So, I used my Sony HiFi stereo system (because it could re-loop one to five seconds of a song) and erased the bad words of all of my favorite songs. This allowed me to still listen to the music I wanted when he was around. He never knew.
I also figured out that when you put a high quality headphone into a microphone jack, one of the speakers becomes the microphone. I had some friends who were rappers. I would get some instrumentals, like Madonna instrumental breaks or other songs, and then have my friends rap over it. I always wanted to have a record label. I was — and still am — a big fan of Tupac. He was very dedicated to educating his community and helping people be in business for themselves. I created my own label: Infamous Records. I added that logo to every CD I burned along with the words “Executive Producer Matej”. And of course this was using all cash money and bling bling fonts [haha]. Needless to say, I was the go to guy if you wanted a mixtape. I would burn the new DMX CD, for example, for $5 a copy. But if you wanted a custom mixtape, that was an extra charge of $10 to $15 a copy. I also dabbled a bit with music software. I got DJ software my senior year and would create simple beats here and there. I ultimately put that on hold as I needed to think more seriously how I could support myself financially, but I always knew one day I would find a way to get into the music industry.
The time that was most instrumental in making the shift was from 2010 to 2011 when I was co-founder of a booming energy startup. I had more money and free time so that allowed me to invest and get into this venture more seriously. I initially spent about $15,000 in studio equipment and set up a recording room in my basement. My girlfriend at the time was a singer and that helped push me into it as well. I taught myself to use pro tools, how to record vocals, how to create instrumentals and so on.
Now — fast forward to 2020 — through Open Source Entertainment and Digital Science Media we are helping independent artists, producers, DJs, and influencers get noticed all while disrupting the music industry. We support breakout artists including Hello Sister, China Mac, the gospel record label Black Smoke Music, and many others under the hip hop industry legend Wendy Day to name a few.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I have business partners associated with each company I’m involved with, and I meet with them daily. I also have a virtual assistant from MyOutDesk who manages my calendar and a great deal of the day-to-day admin tasks. Early mornings I attend scrum meetings with our team leads and engineers from Codaemon, and I do the same thing with Digital Science Media. I knock that out before 11 am ET. During the day, I am working on business development, doing ops clean up, and then toward the end of the day we circle back and have a final scrum meeting with the project teams and developers. I have a final call with my business partner Tolu from Digital Science Media. He is supporting our full time employees and keeping things running. Any time in between is always reserved for content creation and sales calls. I created the demand for my music business through creating engaging, solid, and valuable content and posting it daily. So, that initiative will never stop. Plus, it’s the most enjoyable aspect of what I do.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The lean startup methodology is something I live by. In the marketing world it’s all about testing, testing, testing and process, process, process. The software development industry is more process heavy, but still allows us to be creative when we come up with solutions that are really conducive to our client’s business growth. We spend time as a team implementing and validating our ideas and then mapping out our plan of action. Sometimes we have to reverse engineer our success. As an entrepreneur, I’ve never been afraid of failure and building agile teams who bring innovative ideas to the table is crucial.
What’s one trend that excites you?
In music, the DIY method or being independent is becoming more and more attractive. The tools and systems available to support that are greater than ever before. There is a lot of demand for those types of services, which is good for us.
A: I’d like to also share one trend I hate. People getting into entrepreneurship are being sold this idea online that you can start a business by being a coach or trainer and selling webinars about whatever you want for $30 – $300 per webinar or video. There is a lot of BS information given out by digital marketing agencies and false promises. That trend is stronger than ever… it’s going to hurt the American population. Especially with COVID. People are more desperate for income and are buying into this. It’s also concerning that companies are aware of what they are doing and sell based on dreams and not reality. Everyday I see a new marketer online selling courses on how to get up and running tomorrow. Education is key, but understanding how to evaluate credible information is even more important.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Learning how to say no.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Follow my true dream and stick it out. Also, read more books written by the entrepreneurs that have succeeded in the industry you want to succeed in. Don’t follow the money. If I would have stuck to music from day one and said no to others… who knows where I would be today. But I have no regrets. I learned so much about running a business, scaling a business, managing people, and many other invaluable life lessons that have shaped me into who I am today.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
A lot of American corporations are out to get the consumers and don’t care about the wellbeing of individuals, rather they are more interested in profits. You see this commonly in the industry that makes our food. Capitalism is a gift and a curse. So, as an American consumer you really have to be educated. A lot of what you see you have to take with a grain of salt… don’t get fooled to take action that some corporation wants you to take.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Continue to stay positive, improve, and not care what other people think. A lot of entrepreneurs will fail or give up too early because they are pressured on ideas or the opinions of others.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Narrowing down services or offerings for the business. Less is more. Being more focused on core competencies. For example, doing everything in the digital marketing space is not something we need to try to do. We need to learn what we don’t do well and what we’re experts at. If you can’t narrow it down, create a process around it and delegate it down the line, you can’t scale a business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Having to depart from and shut down the energy company. Mid 2016 I was offered a buyout by my two business partners because our visions for growing the company were diverging, and we were facing some hard times ahead. I was losing my passion for the industry and also couldn’t fully articulate my vision of taking greeNEWit online — the vision for the national online marketplace for residential energy efficiency products. I lost the vote to my two partners who wanted to try to get into some real estate investments to grow and save the business that way. Turns out that their option didn’t do the trick and since I couldn’t clearly articulate the vision I thought would save the company, we’ll never know if my idea would have worked. Ultimately, the company went out of business and was forced to shut down. It was very hard and took a big emotional and financial toll on everyone involved. The way I got through it was reading (listening to) books about entrepreneurs that had been on similar journeys and learning about their struggles. It is largely the stuff below the surface you wouldn’t know unless you consumed those books. It gave me the power to realize I need to look at this as the journey of being an entrepreneur, and embrace this failure because it will lead to great learning and new opportunities.
One thing that got me through losing that business was choosing to not take a job or work for someone else. My lifelong buddy at the time connected me with AARP for a job opportunity. Without really even trying, and based off my LinkedIn resume alone, they offered me a job after just one interview. It was to be the “Intrapreneur in Chief” making $130,000 a year. That offer gave me the confidence and courage to say no to that and stay strong. I told myself I was going to give myself a year and a half and see if I could build another business. It was tough. I started driving for Uber and Lyft. I was living off of savings and the little income generated by my basement recording studio. I used Uber and Lyft profits strictly for marketing dollars. I started my “Matej H” entrepreneur instagram page in November 2017. From what I knew about the digital marketing industry, I estimated that I would need to market my brand on a very tight budget for one and a half years before any solid business came in based on the online influencer status I seeked to create. Since the very first post on my instagram page, I vowed to invest $5 a day in Facebook/instagram marketing to reach my target audience and my future customers. I have never stopped advertising my brand online. Now, I spend $30-60 a day marketing my instagram, Facebook, or YouTube. I was pleasantly surprised that demand and business started coming in before the time frame I initially projected. Now, I have a full blown recording studio in a commercial incubator space downtown Baltimore that I still rent out to artists. That is also where the digital marketing arm “Digital Science Media” now resides. In addition, I am managing partner of Codaemon, an e-commerce solutions provider that has helped bring another stable financial revenue stream to my life.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
This is something I have personally had success from at an early age, and it stands the test of time. Learn how to detail cars and go to high roller places: golf courses, night clubs, restaurants etc. Either ask if someone will let you clean their car for free or charge a small fee. You can make huge tips for rich people or make a profit based on volume. It’s a good side hustle idea.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I upgraded to an annual Audible membership for about $110. It’s the best. Books got me through the depression when one of my major businesses failed. I try to listen to at least one new book a month. I never read fiction. I read everything about how companies got started, failed, and genuine stories told by entrepreneurs, or books about human psychology. It’s very empowering.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Google. Hands down. Drive, calendar, emails, google meet, etc. And it’s all free if you don’t want to pay for the business version.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio. He is an American entrepreneur and created one of the biggest hedge funds in the world and did so based on principles he had developed while running Bridgewater Associates. He approached it scientifically, so every problem they faced turned into a learning lesson. They documented their learning and created a library for problem solving strategies. Now they have a software built over the last 20 years, that gives them a path to solve problems 99% of the time. I love the way he thinks. I love science and lean methodologies. Engineers are always looking at processes to make it more efficient.
What is your favorite quote?
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.
- Current trends and predictions in the music industry.
- The way we consume music, how to be a disruptor and focus on alternative income.
- Lessons learned: how to change the status quo.