Though the whole agent-client relation is in a very bad place, to say it lightly – though the app was built and ready to go prior to this disruption, has this particular fracture sort of help to push further this project?
The way we think about it is this – traditional talent booking is broken as it disproportionately favors managed talent and leaves the other 95% of non-managed talent fending for themselves. We have no problem with managed talent (heck – Damon has been managed for many years) and we are agency friendly, but Special Guest was build to help up and coming, mostly non-managed talent get discovered and paid to perform (through bookings via the app).
How did you guys come together?
We were introduced through a common friend (actress Christina Milian). Damon grew up in and around the entertainment industry and Kris build a huge business around building and investing in technology companies. Christina introduced Damon to Kris since Damon was frustrated by how difficult it is for talented people to get discovered and booked to do what they love to do – perform.
Ideas tend to evolve throughout the development process – was this the case for Special Guest?
Yes and no. We are still committed to our original idea to help talent get paid gigs, but one thing we’ve spent a lot of time building is a platform to help talent buyers (music / comedy venues, event planners, etc) be able to manage the entire talent booking process from discovery to payment. With Special Guest any talent buyer can manage all of his talent bookings in one place, streamline the process of booking talent and communicating with talent, collecting data on performances (to help in future decisions), and paying talent. Ironically – early on both talent and talent buyers were not keen on the fact that payment happens via Special Guest – it was a foreign concept since most talent and venues paid via cash. It was taken for granted by talent that by getting paid via the app they can leave directly after their performance and know they’ll get paid exactly what was promised. For venues Special Guest not only manages payments, but also provides tax management (sounds like a nerdy thing to care about, but it’s a big deal for venues as they are already worried about lots of other things).
Was this always meant to be for every entertainer or you had at first the vision of helping a niche group?
We made a very overt decision early on to open up Special Guest to all types of performers. Not surprisingly some of the earliest adopters were comedians and musicians, but we’ve gone on to add all types of performers across pretty much any and all “niche” you can think of. One way of thinking about Special Guest if you are a performer is that we are “America’s Got Talent in your Pocket.”
Not gonna lie, when I heard about the app it took me right away to the whole Fyre App – first of all, how would you say that app function and “mission” differs or is any similar to SG?
Ironically – Damon and Kris heard about Fyre the same way everyone else did, earlier this year when Netflix covered the story in a documentary. Damon approached Kris about the idea in 2016, a year before Fyre app was ever conceived. As for Fyre App – what happened there just sucks. It wasn’t good for the entertainment industry and it’s certainly unfortunate the company never achieved it’s goal to help entertainers.
With the festival and the whole debunk – were you any nervous or affected by this?
We are very fortunate that Special Guest has been around for several years and in fact was founded prior to the founding of Fyre app. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Special Guest was featured on the Ellen Show last year (video here) and that both Kris and Damon have been featured on both TV and in top publications covering the success of the app.
Moving on – is the app meant to be for up and comers or does this works for some rather “established” names?
It was built for up and coming artists. However, we book all types of talent from beginners to more established touring acts. Since talent buyers use the platform to buy talent for their bar, restaurant, music venue, or event we make sure the app has a selection of talent across the spectrum of talent.
How and where can people go and use the app?
Easiest thing to do if you are talent or a talent buyer is sign-up at https://specialguestapp.com/ or download the app on IOS. If anyone has questions about Special Guest they can call us at 877-81-TALENT – we can help talent create talent profiles and otherwise support your success!
What would you say has been the most challenging thing about running SGA?
Raising investment capital. One of the reasons nobody has successfully built a talent booking platform that has achieved universal acceptance or scale is because it’s terribly expensive! That’s a good and a bad thing. It’s good because it’s hard for new companies to enter the space and succeed at any material level, while it’s bad because it’s super expensive and requires investment capital. That said – we are greatly appreciative of our venture and celebrity investors!
What else is happening in your world?
Damon is writing some scripts and will appear on a super popular TV show in the coming months (can’t spill the beans yet), while Kris recently acquired a five story building in his hometown of Wilkes Barre, PA and turned the building into a business accelerator.