Taking a long sigh, an underground mixtape mogul logs off from a live Q&A session with customers. Inside his two-bedroom downtown Kansas City apartment, Mark Serrano stares out a window overlooking the corner of 12th and Walnut streets.
“Online I have this huge community, itʼs overwhelming,” said Serrano, referencing his staggering global user base of more than 11 million.
But the rise of his web-based startup, MixTape Monkey, and its internet following didnʼt just appear overnight. Founded in 2011, the platform has been focused on Serrano’s desire to carve his own niche in the world of hip-hop mixtapes.
His idea: Become an influencer by curating the best of the best music.
“I just thought … I can be a person who says, ‘Hey, this is the good stuff, and if it’s not on this platform, it’s not worth listening to,’” he said. “I have competitors like Datpiff, Live Mixtapes, Spinrilla, and to a degree, you can either upload for free or pay to get uploaded, and I am more of an enforcer. If I donʼt believe you’re good, I donʼt care how much money you have, it’s not going up.”
Starting from scratch, Serrano taught himself to program, he said. Focusing on improving page speed and search engine optimization, as well as providing an instant download feature, the platform began to draw in users across the globe.
Taking chances, Serrano invested in artists early — before they were signed to major record deals, providing the entrepreneur with a reputation that laid the foundation for many online listeners who are drawn to diverse genres and cultures. By not being genre biased, he believed he could reach a broader group of people, he said.
The strategy worked, Serrano said, building an audience of users that’s more than five times the population of Kansas City.
“I can visualize the data to a map. I have pushed so much data. I think itʼs worth 150 terabytes a week,” he said. “But I still canʼt really wrap my head around it.”
Of his 11 million users, 25 percent are from South Africa, followed by another 15 percent from Ghana and Anguilla, Serrano said.
“There was some African rappers building buzz so I caught wind of their videos and posted it on the website,” he explained, estimating he currently highlights 10 to 15 African artists.
“Getting into the content, I have an audience and I donʼt want to waste it,” Serrano said, expressing his desire to find a balance between his own curated tastes and the demands of his users.
That could mean adjusting the layout of his platform for easier navigation, hosting more live Q&A sessions to collaborate on topics ranging from technical changes to the website to new artists, he said.
In a fast-paced, evolving streaming industry, Serrano knows he’ll have to adapt or risk getting lost in the shuffle — whether thatʼs being “squeezed out” or bought out, he said.
“it’s tough because in the U.S. we have [competitors like] Apple Music, Title, Spotify, Google Play, the Amazon Music Store, and YouTube,” Serrano said. “They are dominating.”
By engaging with his online community — both close to home and abroad — the Kansas City entrepreneur can continue to foster relationships and develop new ones with listeners that keep MixTape Monkey ahead of the curve, he said.
“Iʼm looking for someone to name drop someone. Iʼm 24/7 radar,” Serrano said. “I’m looking for that new artist thatʼs going to impress. Iʼm definitely scouting for it — itʼs my bread and butter.”