Ben Looi, the cofounder of Tell My Friends

You’ve got to give Ben Looi credit for ambition.

He’s the cofounder and chief executive of Singapore-basedĀ Tell My Friends, which he describes as a “social network marketing platform” for digital products like songs — and he wants to take on iTunes.

That’s right: He’s going up against Apple’s massively successful digital music and video sales platforms, which offers more than 28 million songs, movies, TV shows, e-books, and apps, and which has delivered more than 10 billion digital files to its customers. That’s because Looi thinks Apple has a weakness: Person-to-person marketing.

The idea for Tell My Friends is to turn fans into affiliate marketers. When you buy a song through the platform, you get a link that you can use to share the song through Twitter, Facebook, email, and the like. If your friends click on the link, they can buy the song, too — and you get a percentage of the proceeds.

When your friends buy a song, they get a link, too — and anyone using that link will be sending revenues to your friends, as well as to you. In fact, you get a kickback all the way through 10 levels of referrals.

“We just want to do our part to help [people] make the music industry better than what it is now, by giving them this model to make a living out of music,” Looi said recently when I interviewed him at SXSW.

Right now the company only has a few hundred users and a few hundred tracks, so it’s just getting started.

“We now have 647 beta users and about 2,953 paid downloads of songs,” Looi said email. “Our library is limited, but we are in talks with content providers to use the new improved system by the end of June.”

I think that Tell My Friends has a couple of huge challenges in front of it. First, signing up people will be difficult as long as it has a small library of content, but signing up content owners to license their songs through Tell My Friends will be difficult as long as the service only has a small number of users. That’s a chicken-and-egg problem that Tell My Friends can’t easily solve on its own.

Second, I’m not sure how well the multilevel marketing (MLM) scheme lines up with the mindset of music fans. When you love a band, you want to listen to their music and go to their concerts, and you may want to tell all your friends how awesome they are. But you don’t necessarily want to become the digital equivalent of an Amway salesperson for that band’s merchandise.

Tell My Friends recognizes that it’s an MLM business, incidentally, and itsĀ FAQ addresses the legality of that. Short version: It’s legal, at least according to the laws of Singapore.

See below for my interview with Looi at SXSW.

Top photo: Tell My Friends