My academic background is primarily rooted in communication studies, film and entertainment. Throughout the years pursuing my Masters in Media Production, I vividly remember all the times when I would stress about finding talented and reliable actors to fill roles for various assignments. I know for me it was a nerve-racking and time-consuming process hunting down suitable actors (most often via e-mails, Facebook statuses, flyers around campus etc.) who were willing and available to lend help with student projects. If only I had the ‘Special Guest’ app in my life at that time.
You may ask yourself, what is the ‘Special Guest’ app? To all my film friends and creatives, this app is the next best thing to save countless hours of searching and worry. If you’re looking for talent, the ‘Special Guest’ app is perfect; if you’re talent or a creative looking for gigs, the ‘Special Guest’ app is your answer. It's like Uber but for gigs! At the end of the day, both parties win. And what’s even better is that the app is great for not only connecting parties for film gigs, but also live performances, music, photography… etc. The list goes on. Basically, if you have a special talent or an opportunity to share, the ‘Special Guest’ app is your ideal platform to get noticed.
When I came across the ‘Special Guest App’ I immediately thought to myself how much time I probably would have saved as a student if I had the luxury and convenience of the app directly on my smart phone. Even today, as a designer and entrepreneur, I can think of so many ways I could benefit from this app. Right now the app could easily connect me to individuals of talent to assist with photography, videography, modeling/ editorial, and perhaps freelancers for smaller side projects. When you’re in the industry, you know there are so many great people out there – it’s just a matter of finding them! That is exactly what the ‘Special Guest’ app takes care of for you.
The genius and co-founder behind the talent-booking app Kris Jones teamed with comedian/actor Damon Wayans Jr. to make this all possible. I couldn’t be more excited. I mean I’ll confess I am a New Girl fan. Knowing both Kris and Damon are together in this makes me trust the app that much more. I respect industry experts who have worked in their fields for years and who take the initiative to solve a problem in their ever-changing industry. As most of us know, today is harder than ever for individuals to find work opportunities no matter how good they may be at their chosen profession. The ‘Special Guest’ app saves you time (plus, expensive agency fees) to find the right opportunities for you.
Since I’m clearly impressed with this app, I decided to compose some questions to ask Kris. I’m excited to share them here with you. Happy reading!
Danielle Marie (DM): I’m really impressed with this app you helped develop with Damon. What was the initial process like getting it all started?
KRIS JONES (KJ) - I've been a successful entrepreneur for about 15 years and I'll tell you - the early days of launching a new start-up are the most exciting, but they are also the most difficult. Special Guest is a sort of unique situation since I'm a really experienced technologist and my partner is a professional actor/comedian and he has been around the entertainment industry his entire life. Damon called me in late 2016 with the general idea to create an app to make the process of booking LIVE entertainers easy. After doing market research and concluding he has a great idea we partnered and shortly thereafter we started to build the application. From there we raised some investment capital, went on a reality TV show to promote the app, and started to build our staff!
DM: As an entrepreneur myself, I can relate to the exciting stage of developing your vision. The not so exciting stage (more like slightly daunting stage) is getting others to feel the same way about your vision. Especially investors! One time, I pitched my handbag designs in front of Rachel Shechtman founder of Story, Marc Metrick President of Saks, and Mary Kate McGrath who is the Chief Content Officer of Pure Wow! What an experience! So knowing what that feels like, I’m sure you and Damon at some point mustered up the courage to go public with the app. How did you grow awareness for your concept? Did you pitch the app to any investors?
KJ - Love your backstory - I hope that pitch to Rachel, Marc, and Mary went well! In 2017 Damon and I got cast on Apple TV's original content show called "Planet of the Apps." The TV show was a mash between Shark Tank, the Apprentice, and the Voice. We did well on the show, got our app featured on the App Store, partnered with Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas, and raised $1.5 million in seed investment. In addition to the promotion from the TV Show I've fortunate to own a digital marketing company called LSEO.com - LSEO has been a competitive advantage for us as we've made a lot of headway with Search Engine Optimization and Paid Social Media on Facebook and Instagram - this has allowed us to considerably grow the platform over time. In terms of investors, we've been able to secure investment from some of the top Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists, including Lightspeed Venture Partners and Precursor Ventures. We've also raised money from a bunch of celebrities, including Kevin Hart, Marlon Wayans, Jake Johnson, and others.
DM: Where do you see the development of the ‘Special Guest’ app heading in five-ten years?
KJ - Damon and I love the question. We both want to see Special Guest as the default way that anyone, anywhere discovers and hires LIVE entertainers. Just like people think of Amazon to shop online, Uber or Lyft to hire a driver, people will think of Special Guest when booking entertainment at a bar, restaurant, wedding, corporate event, or to WOW your significant other on your 15 year wedding anniversary.
DM: Growing up, did you always feel strongly about building businesses and technology to solve problems?
KJ - Ironically after high school I went to college (Penn State) and graduate school (Villanova University) to study psychology then I shipped off to law school (Albany Law). I never took a business class! However, I was always very interested in how businesses work and while in grad school I did take an interest in entrepreneurship. I remember as a teenager driving down the street and thinking to myself - "How many hoagies does a store need to sell to make a million dollars?" I've also always loved basic math - like trying to calculate and predict a return on investment and stuff like that. Over the last 15 years or so I've really obsessed about it constantly analyzing why successful entrepreneurs succeed and why those that fail. Fortunately, I've had the benefit of building a number of successful business, including Pepperjam (digital marketing and affiliate network, which I sold to eBay), APPEK Mobile Apps, French Girls App, iFart (World's #1 fart app), ReferLocal, and others!
DM: Can you tell us what the most important thing is to know about the ‘Special Guest’ app and how the app differentiates itself from other talent booking platforms?
KJ - Special Guest is a mobile and Web talent marketplace - it's a place to easily sort talent by price, type, and ratings. There is no charge to talent to be on the app and they get 100% of their booking (we take $0 from talent) - which I think makes us quite different than any other app or platform that attempts to help talent get paid gigs.
DM: To date, what has been your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur?
KJ - Nothing is harder than when you invest in an employee and they don't work out. I always want to see everyone that I work with succeeding, but that doesn't always happen. Having the break the news that things aren't working out is brutal, but I also realize that business isn't a popularity contest so making hard decisions is required to be successful.
DM: What advice would you give to those looking to explore their entrepreneurial side?
KJ - Read as many books as you can. Read biographies (Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, etc) and business books (The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes, Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins, The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz, Good to Great by Jim Collins, Lean Startup by Eric Reis, etc). Also check out the FREE Stanford Course put on by Y Combinator called Start-up Classroom - https://startupclass.samaltman.com/
DM: How do you juggle the work-life balance?
KJ - I prioritize family (wife + three kids) first. For instance, I make it a point to not take business meetings before 9 am so I can drop off my kids at school. I don't work on weekends so I spend time with family. I go to all of the kids sporting events unless I'm traveling on business and when I travel on business I Facetime with the family multiple times per day. I take no less than two weeklong family vacations per year and a few years ago I bought a second home (a lake house) so it can feel like we take even more vacations together as a family.