Henry and Jordan float into the room as the deafening beat around them thumps in tune with their hearts. Although a cool aura follows them, the two roommates are buzzing with the excitement of a fruitful endeavor.
After meeting while studying abroad in London, Henry Touma and Jordan Zwang set off to break the definition of Syracuse nightlife. They hoped to connect student artists and bands to a live show venue that erupted with vibrant energy: The Bedford.
But this pursuit was just one of the many side hustles that the best friends initiated over their lifetimes. A competitive duo, Henry and Jordan do everything it takes to transform their ideas into success.
“People don’t understand the meaning of the term ‘hustler.’ We find a way to make it happen. You just go out there and get it done,” Henry said.
Both recent grads of Syracuse University, Jordan majored in history through the College of Arts and Sciences and Henry majored in marketing as well as entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management while working with the Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars on their venture.
Initially, they hoped to expand the concept of the Bedford post-graduation, but after the strike of the global pandemic that brought social events to a screeching halt, Henry and Jordan had to pivot back to the drawing board.
They asked themselves: How else can we create a platform for smaller artists to gain the recognition they need and deserve? And moreover, how do we create a platform that listeners would want too? What’s missing in the market?
After surrounding themselves with artists for years, Henry and Jordan understood their pain points.
“We are always finding new music very early. And we wanted to create an avenue for these artists to raise capital without forfeiting future earnings, like they might with a record label cash advance,” Jordan explained.
At the same time, they also realized that many such artists don’t believe they have a fan base despite having considerable Instagram followings.
By piecing these two facts together, Rogue on Arrival (ROA) was born. ROA’s model allows fans not only to discover artists, but it also allows artists to monetize existing fans to raise funds and gain traction in their music career.
Think of ROA as a musical artist stock market — artists must be invited to join the platform, and they are then valued at an initial stock price and a certain amount of shares that are released to the public. This invite-only format resolves the oversaturation issue that most crowdfunding platforms tend to face by incorporating only talented and engaging artists who interact with followers and are thus trusted by users.
Fans who invest in the artist have access to exclusive interactions with that artist, such as live performances or personal coffee chats. As more fans bid to own these shares, the artist value grows. Fans who currently hold shares can later resell them to bidding fans to earn some extra cash — just like the financial stock market. Once demand rises, more shares can enter the market, similarly to a stock split.
Since ROA’s inception, Henry and Jordan have committed to working day and night at their business.
“It is always better to fail than to do something you hate and wonder, ‘What if?’” Henry said, his eyes brightening at the thought of their passion project.
“As with any startup, it’s always two steps forward, four steps back,” Jordan added. “But our business model is a rolling wheel — it’s wobbly but always going forward. Every week, we ask ourselves, ‘What are the two things we need to do this week to advance the company?’”
They emphasize the importance of teamwork, rather than trying to keep the wheel rolling alone. The power of the dynamic Henry and Jordan developed becomes evident through the energy the two bring to meetings together, even just by building eagerly on each other’s ideas.
“It’s not industry standard, but we like being co-CEO’s,” they said. “There’s power in numbers, and we feed off each other very well. ROA always comes first, before either of our individual wants.”
When bringing new members to their team, Henry advised, “Always bring on somebody smarter than you in that field. And strive for diversity because then you’ll have different world views on problems.”
Along their journey, the duo has learned the importance of time management and goal setting.
“Not having anyone above you is a blessing and a curse,” Henry said, chuckling. “But you just jump off the cliff and build your wings from there.”
Jordan added, “We need to have our blinders on,” referring to the eye shields horses wear during races. This allows them to keep moving forward without being discouraged, especially when encountering barriers like their young age — a factor that makes it difficult to receive funding to go against the grain of an age-old industry.
They have also learned the value of direct experience.
“Nothing in a classroom can teach you, for instance, how to close a deal or how to sell,” Henry said. “Now, within three seconds of a phone call, we know if we’ll close.”
Jordan nodded, adding, “The best way to learn is by throwing yourself into that position.”
This belief also reflects their leadership style. Taking after their idol Mark Cuban, Jordan and Henry aspire to be CEO’s that are reachable and invest in their employees.
“We don’t want to just sit on the top floor,” they said.
After fondly recalling a time Cuban even responded to an email of his own, Henry observed that “Every major CEO was once a cold email too.”
Looking back at how far they’ve come, the duo has endless advice to offer.
“Everybody has an idea. Innovators are the ones that make it come to life,” Jordan pointed out. “They also bring value to everybody — such as ROA for artists and fans alike.”
Henry added, “People always say, ‘Oh, I’ll start this business when I’m ready,’ but they never start.” Success means making this leap.
Both Henry and Jordan urge college students to start ventures as soon as possible while they are young enough to circumvent most responsibilities that follow graduation and while they have access to the plethora of mentorship, networking, and funding opportunities that universities offer.
They especially praise Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars for its resources and its community of equally ambitious students. Jordan and Henry recommend that hopeful entrepreneurs take advantage of their capacity to learn and network through the LaunchPad, especially with those who are just as driven or can offer wisdom for success.
“We can walk into a room and know who the most powerful person is,” Jordan noted. “That’s the person we want to talk to.”
Jordan and Henry also warn against taking judgement too hard: “If you go against the grain, people will be judgmental. Remember — anybody who gives you criticism but doesn’t give you a solution isn’t worth the stress.”
Ultimately, it’s most important to go all in.
“If you create a strong value proposition, the funding will follow. You just have to start somewhere,” Henry concluded.
The waitlist to sign up for ROA is now live at this link. The closed beta for waitlist users will launch in February, and the full version of ROA is expected to launch this March.
Story by Sasha Temerte ’23, LaunchPad Orange Ambassador; photo supplied