In the world of Live Entertainment, unmanaged talent doesn’t normally stand a chance. That is until early 2017, when serial entrepreneur Kristopher Jones and actor/comedian Damon Wayans officially launched Special Guest; an app that would finally give unmanaged talent the chance they deserve.
Special Guest is a platform for talent to use to book gigs with ease (and $0 fees). Live Entertainers are able to create a profile within the app that showcases both their talent and personality. Venues of all kinds can then use Special Guest to search for talent based on a variety of filters such as location, price, availability. Anyone, anywhere, can use Special Guest to hire live entertainment. From a clown for your child's backyard birthday party to a band for your bar’s Friday entertainment; Special Guest app makes life easier for both entertainers and venues alike.
Last week I was able to ask Kris a few questions about their new platform. Click read more for the full interview!
Kk: Hello Kris! Would you mind introducing yourself and sharing a bit about your background?
Kris Jones: I’m a serial entrepreneur, writer, and investor. I got my entrepreneurial start back in 1999 by launching an Internet-based gourmet food business. That experience required me to learn everything I could about Internet marketing, including Search-Engine Optimization (SEO), Affiliate Marketing, and different strategies for growing an online business. Within short order (by year 2000 or so) other businesses began asking me to help them with building their Internet businesses.
I started offering consulting services and eventually launched a business called Pepperjam that became a leading digital marketing services and technology company. I sold Pepperjam to eBay in 2009 and in 2010 I started a technology investment fund called KBJ Capital.
Over the last 7 years I’ve made about 25 investments in various technology and Internet-based businesses. However, I’ve also founded a number of the businesses I’ve invested in and I’ve taken an active role as Chief Executive Officer. One of the first businesses I invested in (back in 2012) is a mobile app development company called APPEK Mobile Apps, while another is an SEO and digital marketing company called LSEO.com.
So long story short I love entrepreneurship, building and selling businesses, and helping others achieve their dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur!
Kk: What issue were you looking to solve when you and Damon created the app Special Guest?
KJ: The traditional process of booking LIVE entertainment is broken. It unfairly favors managed talent at the expense of making it incredibly difficult, and sometimes impossible, for talented entertainers to get paid on a regular basis to do what they love (perform). With Special Guest we are democratizing the way talented people get booked by making it easier and more affordable for anyone, anywhere to hire live talent on demand.
In addition, getting discovered and managing all of the logistics of getting booked is overly complex - from pitching a venue, to negotiating an agreement, to getting paid after a performance. Special Guest App takes care of the entire booking process (all within one platform), including in-app discovery, in-app communication, in-app agreements and cancellation policies, in-app payments, and more. To further democratize the process talent gets paid 100% of their booking fee - Special Guest doesn’t make its money from talent, but instead by charging a modest fee to book talent through the app. By making the entire process easier we believe there will be more use cases for all types of talent to get hired thereby getting more talented people paid for doing what they love!
Kk: That sounds wonderful! I have several creative friends who would really benefit from this platform!
Special Guest offers a platform for all live entertainers, from comedians to wedding photographers. Has a specific entertainment group found more success with your app than others?
KJ: This has changed over time and continues to change. That said - we had an unfair advantage with landing a number of top comedians early on because my business partner [Damon Wayans] is a successful comedian and actor. A number of our investors (Kevin Hart, Marlon Wayans, Damon Wayans, Sr., Lamorne Morris, Jack Johnson, etc.) are also comedians so that helped. We also have done a great job with a range of variety acts, including Impersonators, magicians, kids entertainers, and speakers.
Photographers have been a more difficult nut to crack. Most recently we’ve experienced a major trend in musicians joining the app in droves because we launched a program called “Venue Connect” whereby Special Guest acts as talent buyers on behalf of venues. In other words - we are actively booking musicians, comedians, and others on a daily basis for major venues in Los Angeles - word has gotten out about it and we are adding incredibly talented performers to the app on a daily basis as a result.
Kk: It sounds like Special Guest has had a lot of success so far! What are some of your most successful moments? And what challenging moments have you experienced with Special Guest experienced so far?
KJ: It was certainly an amazing experience to be cast on Apple TV’s first original content series Planet of the Apps. It was equally awesome to be able to partner with Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas and make it through the show and successfully raise $1.5 million in investment capital.
In terms of challenges - I’m a fairly experienced entrepreneur so I know what to expect when getting a new idea off the ground, but I’d say one of the more difficult things is focusing almost 100% of our resources on one market (Los Angeles). The idea is to perfect the product (also called establishing product-market fit) in one key market before opening it up to more cities / States, etc. That is terribly difficult to do as an entrepreneur since it is atypical to how most businesses launch. However, the constraint has really allowed us to listen very carefully to user feedback and incorporate it quickly into improvements in the app.
Will.i.am, Damon, and Kris on "Planet of the Apps"
Kk: What apps do you see as competition? If any.
KJ: There are no mobile apps that are executing what we are attempting to do at this scale. Our goal is for Special Guest to be the default platform that anyone, anywhere uses to book LIVE performers - whether the venue / host is a bar / restaurant, wedding planner, corporate event planner, club, or Mom and Dad looking to hire a Spiderman impersonator for Tommy’s 7th birthday party.
Kk: Many small artists and store owners are suffering after Instagram updated their algorithm to favor bigger brands/artists. Does Special Guest use an algorithm that favors more popular artists? Are search results based on reviews, relevance, location, etc.?
KJ: Terrific question! We use data to sort talent. The primary data used is based on geography - talent buyers are more likely to see talent (i.e. a musician, magician, actress, comedian, etc) closer to them than further from them. We also empower users to filter results based on a bunch of qualities, such as talent type (i.e. magician versus impersonators), availability, and price. We also consider data such as ratings, reviews, and total bookings. Our goal is making Special Guest as convenient to use as possible and making it dead simple to discover and book talent.
KK: Special Guest clearly gives unmanaged talent a fair chance, but can managed talent also use Special Guest?
KJ: Yes. We have no policy against managed talent or managers using Special Guest. We believe that variety and volume are key to getting more talent paid to do what they love to do. In terms of the range of talent we are looking to add to the app you can think of Special Guest as “America’s Got Talent in Your Pocket.”
Kk: What benefits do venues get for using Special Guest App?
KJ: Please let me provide you with six simple examples. First, we facilitate payments on behalf of the venue. This means that the venue doesn’t have to worry about cutting checks after the event (this saves tremendous resources from accounting to check cutting).
Second, Special Guest is a discovery tool. It dramatically expands the pool of potential talent that a venue can book. This gives the venue the ability to experiment with different types of genres and also opens up the ability to hire performers that the venue didn’t event know existed.
Third, Special Guest provides in-app messaging. This dramatically cuts down on back and forths via e-mail and also creates a consolidated message stream which saves time and facilitates negotiations.
Fourth, Special Guest handles legal agreements, including cancellation policy. This streamlines the process for talent and venues and minimized confusion from one venue to the next.
Fifth, we provide ratings and reviews of performers so the venue has the ability to book top rated talent and maximize the likelihood that the talent is a fit for a particular venue.
Sixth, we have the ability to track the financial impact hiring LIVE entertainment has on the profitability of things like food and beverage sales, cover charges, and more. Special Guest dramatically lowers the resources (think time and money) needed for venues to discover, book, and manage LIVE entertainment - we are disrupting the entire process of how virtually all venues across the United States are booking LIVE entertainment.
Kk: Special Guest is considered a global app and is available to venues and talent around the world. Are you currently focused on the global scale, or are you focusing your efforts more within the LA area right now?
KJ: As I mentioned above we are staging our rollout. We are focusing most of our resources on LA and about a 500-mile radius around LA. Note that includes San Francisco, Los Vegas, and many other major California markets. We have a plan to expand to new markets in a few months. In addition, late last year we launched the ability for anyone to sign-up to Special Guest via our website at https://specialguestapp.com/
KK: I’m not a parent and was wondering how Child Party entertainers used to find gigs and how Special Guest will make their experience easier.
KJ: I have three children ages 9, 7, and 6. Outside of Special Guest App there are no easily discover and book kids entertainers. Yes - I can go to Google and type in keywords like “kids magician” or “spiderman impersonator,” but the search results are hit or miss. This leads to a terrible experience. The other way parents find kids talent is by “re-booking” entertainers they see at other kids parties. Boy is this a non-optimal way of discovering the best talent. This is a problem because the Mom or Dad has limited options and often ends up with recycled talent that may not be as good as other readily available performers that they are unaware of. Special Guest steps in to totally streamline the process of discovering and booking LIVE entertainers. The end result is making the process stupid simple for Moms and Dads, while making it more likely that talented people will get discovered and paid.
Kk: Thank you so much for your time, Kris! Download the Special Guest app from the app store now to start finding new opportunities to share your talent!