3 minute read

“Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded.” – Jimi Hendrix

Reverb.com is an online marketplace for musical instruments. Unlike generalized auction sites like eBay, Reverb.com puts the musician and their unique orientation to the world at the center of everything they do. Speaking the musician’s language and sticking with it have certainly paid off for Reverb, which has grown from a global Alexa rank of 6.6 million in September of 2012 to a much loftier status of around 15,000 today.

To understand the mechanics behind Reverb’s rapid ascension, I spoke to founder and CEO, David Kalt. Kalt’s history of entrepreneurship underscores the nature of Reverb’s success. After graduating college, Kalt went to work as a recording engineer. Realizing this was not the path to fame and fortune, he chose computer science as a new pursuit and soon thereafter built one of the first CRM systems for the travel industry.

He sold the CRM venture in 1999 and reinvented himself once more, this time pursuing options trading. After working in the industry for some time, he founded optionsXpress, quickly built it into a significant market force and eventually sold the company to Charles Schwab for $1billion.

It was at that point, Kalt wanted to get back involved with music. He started buying and selling vintage instruments on eBay, but felt the experience was too generic. It simply didn’t address the needs of the devoted musician. So he bought Chicago Music Exchange, and not long after, founded Reverb.

“We saw the convergence of commerce and media, magazines still have some relevance, but with the amount of pageviews and people in search of gear, why not entertain the customer while they’re shopping. Our challenge is to marry those worlds,” said Kalt.

Reverb’s site is organized to entertain and educate the established and would-be music gear junkie. While it has traditional categories, such as amps, guitars, keyboards, pedals and the like, the site also funnels listings into its unique “Hand Picked” collections. Categories such as The Gear of Led Zeppelin, Player Grade Vintage, 60s Flashback, Stomp Box Steals and many others speak directly to the gear-grabbing predilections of the Reverb audience.

I believe every guitar player inherently has something unique about their playing. They just have to identify what makes them different and develop it.

– Jimmy Page

The site’s editorial nature embodies the notion that for the dedicated player, learning music – and using the gear that goes with it – is an evolutionary and seemingly never-ending process.

“You have online sellers and guitar shops and pawn shops, and guitar shows and this is like bringing all of those things to the consumer. Reverb does a better job of helping you get true value out of what you have or what you’re buying,” Kalt continued.

While Reverb engages in a great deal of paid online marketing, they see a large opportunity to build brand resulting from organic traffic. As a result, SEO and content is tremendously important.

“As an advertiser, I can see relative strength of sites where we might advertise. Being aware of SEO and what’s working and what isn’t, is hugely important, as is being aware of our online Alexa rank. Interestingly, as our score goes up, we notice more interest from private equity and venture firms as well,” said Kalt.

“We’re using Alexa mostly for competitive intelligence, like the rank and relative rank. It gives us relative goals. There are no other competitive analysis tools like it to help understand where my brand is, it is an immediate brand score, when I discovered it, I was so unbelievably excited.”

In addition to providing transparency to both the buying and selling side of the equation, Reverb distinguishes itself based on its low transaction fees. The low fees allow gear to sell faster and at closer to its true value – making for a more fluid market. This, combined with Reverb’s unique content- and education-driven approach to the musician has made Reverb the fastest-growing online instrument marketplace.