How One Entrepreneur Changed Her Business Model in the Pandemic
Sarah Figueroa had worked for several years building a company called Geojam that would bring fans together at concerts and give sponsors a look at what was working and what wasn’t.
“The dream was to connect people through music in real life,” said Ms. Figueroa. “I’m at a concert. You’re a fan too. Let’s connect. “
Geojam, which was founded last year, wanted to fuse their interests in social media, marketing, live events and music. The company planned a 50 college tour earlier this year to test the idea.
“We had artists in every single school,” she said. “The colleges competed for a free concert. Our investors were so excited. “
Then of course the pandemic happened.
For Geojam, however, that wasn’t the end of the story. While the pandemic severely constrained live events that nearly paralyzed the hospitality, restaurant and travel industries, the company and artists found a way to come together.
In March, Ms. Figueroa decided to use her company’s technology to connect artists with a similar engagement model directly to their fans. More social media interactions around a particular artist meant higher reward points for fans, who could exchange them for interactions with an artist, e.g. B. Personal FaceTime calls, Zoom cooking classes or even an appearance in an advertising campaign.
What Ms. Figueroa, her two co-founders and investors were able to do, will not work for everyone. But their linchpin can provide useful lessons to other entrepreneurs, regardless of their wealth or experience. And these lessons can come in handy when coronavirus cases re-emerge and small businesses that have made it this far through a harsh winter.
Have multiple lines within a company. Geojam was not Ms. Figueroa’s first company. By the age of 26, she already had a hit (Undorm, which she started while studying to promote housing to students and social organizations), a miss (Lenzjam, which she described as an early version of TikTok), and so-so Venture (One Box Agency, the music marketing agency that gave her the idea for Geojam).
She was eager to test the concept of rewarding fans for their enthusiasm, compensating artists, and generating profits. In the live event model, there would have been enough sponsorship money to support Geojam’s planned data mining of fans ‘reactions to the sponsors’ marketing efforts. It was the kind of microtargeting sponsors would love to have.
When the pandemic derailed that model, Geojam began tracking how often fans stream certain artists, for example, and reward them with the points. At the same time, it paid artists for their time – money that came from outside investors.
“We are still tracking what events people are attending via live streams on the Geojam platform,” said Ms. Figueroa. “We can also see what things they see and buy in the jam shop.”
This is useful data that she would not otherwise have had. For example, she learned that electronic music fans would rather receive unique merchandise than have a face-to-face experience with an artist. As a result, Geojam asked electronic musician Dylan Matthew to create a bespoke denim jacket to promote his new EP.
Have artists at different points in their careers. When Geojam switched to a new model, it meant different things to artists at different points in their careers.
With Geojam, Yung Pinch, a young hip-hop artist with a following in California beach culture, was able to connect with fans through FaceTime and make money for every video call he made.
“I’ve always been super interactive with my fans,” he said. “Every now and then a DM. But that’s definitely new. “
He’s also played video games with fans and is hosting a competition to be in a music video. Far from going on tour if he met fans after a show. But it’s a way to stay engaged and keep yourself busy, he said.
The company has helped artists who are established in other areas to use this time to break new ground. Ava Michelle, who starred in the Netflix movie “Tall Girl”, used the platform to connect her movie fans with new music she released. It has also helped her connect her fans with the different brands she supports, she said.
A more established artist like the rapper Machine Gun Kelly presented his new album “Tickets to My Downfall” with Geojam. Before the pandemic, Machine Gun Kelly gave hundreds of concerts a year, its manager Andre Cisco said.
“We’re usually one of the top five tour artists in the world,” Cisco said. “When the reality of the pandemic materialized, we realized we had to keep the boat moving.”
There are now two billboards in Los Angeles with a picture of Machine Gun Kelly from his album and fans filmed separately next to him. “It just seemed like something that would appeal to our fans,” Cisco said. “With limited shows, we want to keep as much energy in the fan base as possible and encourage them to listen to records and get unique opportunities.”
Ms. Figueroa was then able to show his record label that she could get significant fan support for a fraction of the cost of a normal marketing campaign. “The billboards are an 80 percent reduction in the cost MGK would normally incur for advertising on social media,” she said. “We’re investing in his promotion so we can do case studies of how those experiences work and bill for those experiences in the future.”
Keep asking for money. While the products and experiences are free to fans, they are not free. The company needs money to pay the artists and the companies it works with.
Ms. Figueroa increased the company’s first round of investment when the pandemic broke out. In the worst case, it raised US $ 350,000 and closed the financing round with US $ 1.65 million.
“I think investors have done a closer look at the deck,” she said before the Zoom calls. “The meeting was a little less emotional. We were in beta so they checked out what we had. It also helped that we only had $ 350,000 left in our round. “
Jeffrey D’Alessio, an independent investor who made the last investment of the round six weeks ago, said he got to know the company during the pandemic and did not meet any of the clients in person. But he made the investment after several Zoom calls because he was impressed with how they had customized the platform.
“They had the knowledge, the marketing skills, and the strategy to go there,” he said. “In view of the pandemic, they took a different route. That didn’t water down all of the other things they did. They already had close relationships with top artists. “
Brian Mac Mahon, who runs the Expert Dojo, which invests in businesses owned by women or immigrants, invested in Geojam at the start of the pandemic. He said he invested $ 100,000 and planned to make future investments.
“When they came to us they said artists need to have closer relationships with fans and those who do will have more fans and make more money,” he said. “I loved the idea before the pandemic. For me, they haven’t turned – it’s digital engagement with fans that makes or breaks success. “
Bring an advisory board. It’s never easy to go it alone. Ms. Figueroa had set up an advisory board long before the pandemic. And she could count on its members when the pandemic changed their business.
One of them was Marcie Allen, who arranged sponsorships for live events like South by Southwest and Billy Joel’s extended residence at Madison Square Garden.
“I worked for her for several years and I knew she could turn,” said Ms. Allen, who also teaches at New York University. “They are essentially a tool made available to artists and their managers to create unique experiences. Now they are providing artists with sources of income and an advertising opportunity. “