An App that will change how booking talent works
If you’ve ever planned a party or event, you probably know how difficult it can be to secure quality entertainment. It’s not uncommon to rely solely on word-of-mouth referrals when it comes to booking talent, and doing this can often lead to unmet expectations and disappointment. Fortunately, Special Guest App has a solution to this problem.
Special Guest is an app that operates as a mutually beneficial platform, allowing talented performers to get paid to do what they love. The app, co-founded by actor and comedian Damon Wayans Jr. (New Girl, Happy Endings) and serial entrepreneur and bestselling author Kris Jones, connects musicians, comedians and other types of performers with people who want to book them! The app allows talent to essentially manage their own careers without the help of an agent, and performers who use the app walk away with 100% of their earnings. I recently had the chance to speak with Kris Jones, one of the brains behind the app that’s shaking up the entertainment industry.
When did the entrepreneurial bug first bite you?
I’ve always loved basic math. As a teenager I would read Entrepreneur Magazine and Fast Company because I was inspired by the stories of how small town entrepreneurs would come up with an idea that would turn into something impactful. So as a teenager I thought a lot about what it would take to become a millionaire. I recall driving by a hoagie shop and wondering “how many hoagies would they have to sell in order to make $1 million?” The irony was that I concluded “the store is too small to generate that type of income annually and they would need to open a second or third location.” My brain has always worked that way, so it was fitting that I eventually decided to go all in and become a full-time investor and entrepreneur.
You and actor and comedian Damon Wayans Jr. partnered up to create Special Guest, an app that connects talented performers with people who want to hire them. Tell me a little about that development process.
Damon is a member of the very accomplished and talented “Wayans family.” Damon’s dad, uncles and aunts are highly successful entertainers. I’ve spent the last 20 years sharpening my skills as an entrepreneur. So when fellow friend, actress/singer Christina Milian introduced Damon and I back in 2016 and he shared his desire to build an app to help up and coming talent get discovered and booked, my entrepreneurial senses kicked in… In truth, we really did hit it off from the start. Completing each other’s sentences and generally on the same page with a desire to help people. So those early conversations led to us partnering and building an app to help talent get booked. We kicked the process off in late 2016. We spent most of 2017 focused on building the app based on user feedback from talent. We used a qualitative (what the user says) and quantitative (what the user does) development strategy to collect feedback and iterate the app. By the end of 2017 we felt really good that we established product market fit with talent. So in late 2017, early 2018 we focused on developing and better understanding the buy side of the platform (buyers include music venues, talent buyers, bars, restaurants, event planners, etc). We launched in LA with several large venues and spent considerable time releasing new features (and improving existing features) based on user feedback. As we kick off the first half of 2019, we are focused on scaling the platform, launching in new markets, and carefully listening to users so we can make the best talent booking app ever.
You appeared on Apple’s Planet of the Apps alongside Damon. What was your favorite part of that experience?
Hard question! But working with Will.i.am was pretty awesome. Since he was our coach, we got to spend considerable time at his offices (called “the future”) and out in the field. Will gave us a ton of solid feedback that we used early on to build the app. I also enjoyed the challenge of being myself with TV cameras following me all around. Reality TV is definitely a blend of reality and production, but on the production side it’s the producers that put you in specific situations to see how you’ll respond. For instance, on Day 1 of the shoot we went down an escalator and pitched 4 celebrity judges. We had no idea about the escalator challenge and it turns out that from top to bottom is about 60 seconds – try to pitch your business in 60 seconds while going down an escalator! LOL. There were also several unexpected twists and turns that required us to think on our feet. But like I said – I actually enjoyed this part because once I felt comfortable to just be myself, I actually crushed it on the business side of the competition and of course we “won” $500,000 at the end of the show, so apparently Damon and I did what we needed to do.
What was one of the biggest defining moments in your career?
As a junior at Penn State University, I decided to run for President of the National Honor Society in Psychology. At the time, the organization was primarily focused on academic programs and speaker, but I felt there should be more balance between academic programing and public service. So we took on an initiative to raise awareness and money to grant wishes to terminally ill children participating in the “Make a Wish” Program. I also focused energy on growing the size of the organization at Penn State. This experience was a major turning point in my career, as it demonstrated to me the power of leadership and public service. In my opinion, we all have a civic duty to give back to the community with no expectation of anything in return. The Make a Wish experience also showed me how leaders can take steps to do things that hadn’t been done previously and how decisions can shape ones destiny. In my case, the experience kicked off a lifetime dedication to serving on nonprofit boards, raising money for important causes, and various leadership positions that have allowed me to contribute to my community. Yes – I’m an entrepreneur, investor, author, CEO, and I carry other professional titles. But I’m most proud of the civic leadership I’ve displayed over the last 20+ years in my community.
Where do you see Special Guest in 10 years?
I see Special Guest becoming the Uber of booking live entertainment. To me, that means that in 10 years anyone in the world can pull out the Special Guest App and discover and book live entertainment.