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Sunday September 26th

Can't agree on who gets aux? There's an app for that, started by UNC students

UNC student-start up uses AI to create a new music listening experience

When listening to music with friends, people often face an age-old problem: the fight for rights to the aux cord. 

In December 2019, UNC students Galen Krugly and William Cahan realized that the classic debacle was an opportunity to revolutionize the way people listen to music in shared environments. 

Now, almost two years later, the duo plans to launch an app to solve this, called Aux.

“There’s music overhead 90 percent of the time when you’re out and about,” Krugly said. “Why aren’t we providing a platform to allow people to take control of these listening environments?”

Krugly described Aux as a “music passport,” that assesses user data from Spotify and Apple Music. The app uses artificial intelligence and music refinement features to build a collaborative playlist for anyone connected in the same listening session.  

College parties and road trips aren’t the end game for Krugly and his team – they see Aux as a technology to help people customize every listening environment, from Starbucks and gyms to workspaces and Ubers.

“We want to essentially eliminate the idea of having to think about what music to play,” Krugly said. “Why are we leaving it up to chance when music is something that has such big potential to increase or decrease your experience somewhere?”

While the Aux team had the outlines of a plan, they needed support. They met their mentor, Igor Jablokov, through the Carolina Angel Network, a group of angel investors that help back UNC's entrepreneurs. 

Jablokov said he leads a venture-backed artificial intelligence company. His last startup was Yap, Amazon’s first AI acquisition that gave rise to Alexa. He helps Aux with the full spectrum of business, including fundraising preparation and product direction. He said he sees potential in the personalization and customization that Aux offers to users.

“I think tools like Aux are going to bring (personalization) into the reality in physical environments that are going to conform to the actual audience,” Jablokov said. “They're not for the fake audience that you would expect in Starbucks, but the reality of the people that are actually in there. And I think that's what's exciting.”

Krugly said Jablokov helped Aux to gain both validity and credibility throughout 2020 and 2021. Jablokov also helped Aux develop a functional app, run it through beta testing and raise more money to fund development.

The team may have its roots in Chapel Hill, but through the process of developing the app, they’ve added on a Yale student as well as contracted engineers and UI designers from India, Japan and Ukraine.

Cahan said the most challenging part of the process has been working with software developers. Their collaboration included incorporating the artificial intelligence and machine learning aspects into their algorithms to curate the best listening experience possible.

“It’s hard, especially when you don’t have vast sums of money like Facebook or Google and you’re just starting out,” Cahan said. “It’s challenging, but it is doable.”

Krugly said the process has been about growth: they started as two college kids with an interesting idea, a pitch deck and a beta version that didn’t work. 

Krugly said that Aux wouldn’t be this close to launch without the help and support of the UNC community. Their investors came from the UNC alumni network, senior students Mac Carlton and Rushil Shah helped build the Aux website and the student body serves as Aux's target audience.

“Aux definitely owes a lot to the UNC community,” Krugly said. “It’s been a very accepting place to do this as an entrepreneur. It's been great.”

university@dailytarheel.com

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