- Pharrell Williams has invested in music startup ROLI.
- ROLI said that Williams will become its chief creative officer.
- The company plans more artist partnerships and a charitable foundation.
London music startup ROLI announced on Wednesday that musician Pharrell Williams has invested in the company and will become its chief creative officer.
ROLI CEO Roland Lamb said in an interview with Business Insider that his partnership with Williams came about after he realised that he had similar plans to Williams.
“I somehow got introduced to his team and I started telling them about what we were doing and some of the stuff that we were working on,” Lamb said. “It turned out that we had been working on and thinking about very similar ideas in parallel, to the extent that they were kind of like ‘this is strange’ and ‘this is weird.'”
ROLI develops new musical instruments and currently sells two devices: The Seaboard and also Blocks. The company raised a total of $US43.5 million (£32.8 million) in funding but didn’t disclose how much Williams would invest.
The Seaboard is a futuristic version of the piano that lets you press down parts of the keys to change how they sound. And Blocks is a modular music system that works with mobile devices.
Business Insider asked Lamb how his partnership with Williams is going to be different to ill-fated partnerships between famous musicians and technology companies. Alicia Keys, for example, was named Blackberry’s global creative director in 2013 and then left after just a year.
“I don’t know the details of … what happened with Alicia Keys and BlackBerry,” Lamb said, “although on the face of it in the kinds of cases that you’re discussing, there’s no privileged position of that celebrity in that field. There’s no special relationship between the celebrity and the product.
“In that case it feels like it’s probably a fairly ambassadorial relationship and then maybe the celebrity throws in a few ideas or something. But it’s not a real thing.”
Lamb said that Williams and ROLI had similar product designs for musical devices. “[He] had particular product concepts that he thought would really help people to learn and engage with music that happened to be very close to product concepts that we were already thinking about and working on,” he said. “It was far from a sale, we started talking and we were like ‘whoa, we’re thinking about the same things, we’ve got to do this together.'”
“I feel like I have a lot to learn from [Williams],” Lamb said. “It’s a real dialogue, it’s a real back and forth about all different kinds of things and I think that’s what makes it exciting.”
ROLI has plans for more partnerships and a charitable foundation
Lamb said that the company is working on more partnerships with musicians. “This is just the beginning,” he said.
And Business Insider found in April that the company owned the domain name rolifoundation.org. What’s that for?
“We feel that giving back is part of our DNA,” Lamb said, “and given that our mission is to empower everyone to create music, we want to do that through the work we do as a company and we want to do that in other ways as well.
“When we do it we want to make sure we’re doing it right and it’s not just a flash in the pan thing. We’re already working on some things behind the scenes, but we’ll probably be talking about that more next year.”