By Susan Sliwicki
Anyone who loves rock and roll music has probably dreamed of ways to turn that passion into a paying gig. Paul Scharfe is following just such a dream as founder and CEO of Rock Square, a global marketplace and social network found at www.rocksquare.com — and he hopes you’ll give his site a try.
Q: Why was the name Rock Square chosen for this venture?
A: I’ve always envisioned Rock Square much like a bustling city center or town “square” devoted entirely to the celebration of rock ’n’ roll music. I love the notion of building a place where the musicians and fans, collectors and business owners can all interact in a diverse mix of commerce and community with a shared passion for music. At the same time, branding yourself as the home of rock ‘n’ roll demands that you offer a culture of authenticity. We’re working hard to accomplish this by bringing the types of products and social features that rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts are looking for.
Q: What’s your career background in relation to Rock Square?
A: I spent several years working in the music video industry. It was my earliest attempt to satisfy the need to be more than just part of the music audience. It was an invaluable experience to interact with artists and record label executives, but working behind the curtain can take its toll. Music videos are more about exploiting the artist than enhancing the music experience. I left that behind and spent the next several years building a small graphic design firm and pursuing a more creative direction. At some point, I guess I let the music take over, and I devoted all of my resources to building something that combined my passion and skills.
Q: What are your passions besides Rock Square? Are you a collector? What do you collect, and what are a few of the items in your collection that you cherish the most?
A: I am a collector of vinyl and, more recently, of fine art prints by early-era rock photographers. I have an unwavering devotion (read: obsession) with the music of Pink Floyd and a good deal of what I’ve collected is within that vein. My favorite pieces include three enormous giclee prints (each measuring 5 feet square) of the incomparable album artwork of Storm Thorgerson. These hang prominently in the Rock Square office. But, the photo that got me started was a live-action photo of David Gilmour performing his legendary guitar solo during “Comfortably Numb” from atop “The Wall” circa 1980. The image, taken by renowned rock photographer Jill Furmanovsky, captures in a single frame all the emotional weight and intensity of my favorite band. It’s my connection to the music.
Q: What was the first record you ever bought?
A: I will gloss quickly past my early obsession with ’80s hair metal bands (which technically I enjoyed on cassette) … My first record — “Led Zeppelin III.”
Q: How long have you been working to develop Rock Square? How did the idea for Rock Square come about?
A: The concept was born from the idea that I wanted to do something to preserve the vitality and history of rock music. I have a tremendous reverence for rock’s early pioneers, many of whom survive only through their music. That music redefined the art form, spawned a cultural revolution, and continues to have a lasting impact. But, there are plenty of artists from rock’s golden age that are still around today, writing and performing, and still other modern innovators that have helped shape the forward progress of the genre. Rock Square celebrates the artists that have built rock music from the ground up and those that will take it forward from here.
Q: Why is now the right time for Rock Square to make its debut?
A: The Internet is clearly undergoing a social evolution. People are searching for commerce outlets that support social interaction, user-generated content and community building—they want to buy goods from people with whom they share common interests. Rock Square is a social commerce platform devoted to the ranks of music fans, musicians and music professionals. We invite people to buy, sell and connect in a single location.
Q: A lot of sellers who use eBay to sell items have become very frustrated with that platform (and the ever-increasing rules, restrictions, requirements and fees that have developed in recent years.) Did that figure into the game plan for Rock Square? If so, how?
A: Rock Square’s audience is unique—it defies the faceless, one-size-fits-all approach offered by places such as eBay. By creating a niche marketplace we can support our members with features that they want. When you’re searching for a vintage Stratocaster, or a rare Rolling Stones 45 RPM, there is comfort in knowing that on Rock Square you are purchasing it from your peers. We’ve also taken the guess work out of the cost of doing business in the marketplace: every item on Rock Square is $0.25 to list and subject to a 3.5 percent commission when it sells. Listings run for up to 60 days in any format (fixed-price, negotiable and auction-style listings). High-volume sellers may also opt for our subscription plan which offers unlimited listings for $29.95/mo. We provide all the tools seller’s need to manage inventory and promote their items in the Rock Square community.
Q: What does Rock Square offer as a single destination that other sites do not?
A: It’s simple—we offer an authentic marketplace and community devoted to rock ‘n’ roll. You won’t find that anywhere else.
Q: What kind of feedback have you gotten from Rock Square’s beta users so far? What kind of tweaks have you made to the site as a result of that feedback?
A: We’ve been working tirelessly to shape the marketplace around the specific needs of our core audience. This has meant getting feedback from traditional brick-and-mortar and online businesses that make a living from their music passions — whether that is selling vinyl, musical instruments, memorabilia and everything in between. Each product category presents unique challenges and opportunities for us to provide features that add to the user experience, and we recognize that user feedback is essential to Rock Square’s success.
One marketplace feature that has been getting a lot of response is our multi-order shopping cart that allows buyers to purchase multiple items from multiple sellers in a single transaction. That means I can purchase a rare pressing of “Rubber Soul” and a 1974 Elvis Presley concert program from a seller in London at the same time I purchase a 1956 Fender Stratocaster from a shop in Los Angeles — all in a single transaction. Our buyers have been overwhelmingly positive about this feature. One of the suggestions that came out of early testing was to provide the consumer with the ability to send all of their purchased items to different shipping addresses. This was a logical but complex next step that presented several programming challenges for us. In the end, we decided the feature was a genuine benefit to our users, so we made it work. Now shoppers can spend more time finding the music products they want instead of checking out one item at a time.
Q: What element of Rock Square’s offerings do you feel will be the biggest draw to the site for users, and why?
A: Authenticity. Our users want an authentic rock ’n’ roll experience — whether that’s buying, selling or interacting with fellow music lovers. This shared passion is the foundation of our community and is helping build Rock Square into the only global marketplace devoted to music.
Q: With eBay’s established base and auction houses running their own Internet-based sale events, how does Rock Square fit into the picture?
A: I think visitors will be blown away by their user experience on Rock Square. The most important consideration that we took when developing Rock Square was to determine what our target audience wanted from a marketplace. What kind of environment can celebrate our users’ passion for music and deliver a robust and feature-rich marketplace? We looked closely at the other marketplaces, determined the form and function that were best suited to our users and perfected it.
Q: What types of efforts are planned to ensure that memorabilia, records, etc., that sellers offer are authentic and true to their descriptions? Will there be an authentication or grading process for anything? How are buyers protected?
A: Rock Square has strict policies in place to ensure that products being offered in the marketplace are authentic and true to their descriptions. The most stringent policies, however, are no substitute for an informed consumer, so we are working hard to educate our users about safe marketplace practices. This includes the types of questions they should be asking of sellers, how to use third-party authentication services and how to identify suspect listings. The most valuable tool at the disposal of a Rock Square member is the expertise and support of the user community, which is comprised of collectors, musicians and music professionals armed with knowledge and experience. Buyers can access these resources by posting questions about marketplace items in their MySquare profile page, by starting discussion topics in the community or by browsing user comments on the product listings. When it comes specifically to the grading of records, we employ the industry standard set by Goldmine — we know our users are already using it!
Q: What are the requirements/eligibility needed for someone to join Rock Square?
A: It’s easy — a passion for music, access to a computer, and to be at least 18 years old.
Q: Once someone joins Rock Square, what benefits can they expect from their membership?
A: A Rock Square membership grants users the ability to buy, sell and connect with fellow music enthusiasts in a single location. We offer users the ability to experience all of the following membership benefits:
• Community: Connect with other music enthusiasts on a global scale. Get plugged in to the latest rock news, product reviews and set up your free MySquare profile page. Display your memorabilia collection, share concert photos, videos and join or create groups focused on your music passions.
• Buy: Search for vinyl, memorabilia, band merchandise and more — take comfort in knowing you won’t find dishwashers and Barbie dolls when searching for a vintage concert T-shirt or an electric guitar. Contact sellers directly for more information, share listing details with your friends, save favorite items and leave seller feedback once a transaction is complete. Checkout is easy and enables you to purchase multiple items from multiple sellers to be shipped to multiple locations — all in one transaction.
• Sell: Create a personalized store to list your new, used and vintage items in fixed-price, negotiable and auction formats. Take advantage of free photos, videos, inventory management and seamless integration tools that make importing listings from other popular marketplace platforms quick and easy. Be on the lookout for featured stores and items displayed on the homepage — we are always looking to highlight the best Rock Square sellers have to offer and feature great listings at no additional cost.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add/share with Goldmine readers?
A: Yes. Rock Square is about connecting — to the music and the people who celebrate it. Be part of the music community by visiting us at www.RockSquare.com and registering for early access. The first 1,500 members to do this will receive three months of free, unlimited listings. Rock on.