Well, hey 2018 — how you doin?I had an opportunity to travel during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, which was a new thing for me. Not travel per se, but it’s been a while since I’ve left anything greater than the 40 mile radius of my home for more than work. But anyhow …I don’t know about you but I often take the first part of the year to refresh my electronic equipment. If it’s time to get rid of old stuff (yep, another Operation #[Fill In the Blank] is coming soon, but I digress), I do so. I also check my applications to see if anything needs updating or replacing.As one of your favorite tech geeks, you know I meander through the interwebz and end up finding items that were not otherwise on my radar. Such an adventure has led to …
Meet Kristopher Jones — I would give you all his titles, but let’s stick with CEO and general creative guru. He’s partnered with Damon Wayans, Jr. to create a great application — called Special Guest App (or SGA, for short) for connecting people looking for talent to those who deliver it.
I sat down with Kris to get his thoughts on a few points about all he does. Without further ado —
It looks like you have your hands full — SEO support, business investment and crowdfunding, app creation, and of course, talent connection. How did you start and where?
I started as a small business owner (gourmet foods) in the late 1990’s. From that experience I self-educated on how to leverage the Internet to grow my own business. Turns out that the skills (SEO, Pay Per Click, Content Marketing) I developed became premium in the early 2000’s as the Internet took off. As a result, I “bottled up” my skills and launched a digital marketing and technology business called Pepperjam. I sold that business in 2009 to eBay (NASDAQ – EBAY) after building into one of the nation’s leading companies in the digital marketing and affiliate spaces. I later founded LSEO.com so that I could continue to help businesses rank higher on search engines and leverage digital marketing strategies as core growth strategies. Along the way I founded a mobile app development company called APPEK Mobile Apps and founded other related mobile and digital businesses, including Special Guest App alongside actor / comedian Damon Wayans, Jr!
What made you move from business investment into the iOS app arena?
I’ve always invested in emerging industries such as e-commerce and digital marketing. Early on I embraced the fact that adoption of mobile devices far outpaced the growth of the PC back in the day and also was changing the way people interacted with the Web (since IOS introduced the idea of the “app store”.) So back in 2011 or so I set out to build and invest in a mobile app development company. I found two young entrepreneurs who at that time were recent graduates of Penn State University (which is where I did my undergrad) and they pitched me on investing in a transportation app they had built while at Penn State called CATA. During the meeting a shared my vision for creating a mobile app development company and the three of us joined together and started building apps (for ourselves and for others) through a company we called APPEK Mobile Apps. That was a great investment because not only has APPEK gone onto become a premier app agency, but we have built some incredible apps, such as iFart, French Girls App, Beditations, and dozens more!
Would you say a bit about your featured or favorite apps? And why a bearded dude for the icon on the French Girls app (inquiring minds …)?
LOL Let me take French Girls first. The name French Girls came from the seen in the movie Titanic where Rose says to Jake “Draw me like one of your French Girls.” French Girls is an app that allows anyone in the world to upload pictures and have artists draw those pictures (then the art can be blown up into a canvas or framed art)…so the name was fitting. In terms of the bearded guy. I can tell you his name is Skotch Mornington. I can also tell you (this is my opinion) that Skotch is a Doppelgänger mash-up of my two fellow co-founders, Adam and Andrew. The one had a beard and like Tim Allen from “Santa Clause” seems to morph into and out of the Skotch character from time to time. 🙂
Why iOS only on many of your apps? Android is riding a pretty big wave as well …
We have iFart on Android, and Beditations, and others. The honest answer to your question has mostly to do with economics. It’s a better financial decision to first launch an app on IOS since it has the best chance to make money. That’s not always true, but in general IOS users tend to spend more money on paid apps and in-app purchases than Android users. That said – we anticipate launching an Android app for Special Guest App in 2018!!!
What was the inspiration for Special Guest?
My business partner (Damon Wayans, Jr) is an actor and comedian. He comes from family of entertainers and has been around the entertainment business from birth. When Damon isn’t shooting a movie or TV show he absolutely loves to do stand-up comedy. When he’s not doing a paid gig somewhere in the United States he often goes to what are called “open mic’s” to practice jokes. It was during an open mic a few years ago where a young woman singer songwriter performed before him. She totally lit up the room. He describes hair standing up on his arm and people literally tearing up because she was so talented. Damon was up next and as she was coming off the stage he asked her where she typically performs, who her manager was, etc….and she was basically like “I don’t get paid to perform……,” “I don’t have a manager…,” “I’m terrified by the whole process of hustling to get gigs, etc.” and a lightbulb went off in Damon’s head. While Damon is managed he realized that the other 98% of performers aren’t and that in many cases they are every bit as talented as he is. He shared the idea with a few friends, including a common friend of mine….and that common friend introduced us. Damon has often described me as helping make his idea / dream become a reality. I take that as a massive compliment because it’s been an extraordinary experience working with him on SGA!
How long did it take to bring it from the drafting table (is that even a thing anymore?) to market?
Great questions! In full transparency – when Damon and I got cast on Apple’s first TV Show “Planet of the Apps” that through a bit of a wrench (a good wrench) in our launch plans as we agreed to coordinate with the launch of the TV show (which happened early last summer). However, to answer your question from idea to first product it took all-in nearly a year!
Damon Wayans, Jr. hey! How did you connect Special Guest with him?
Match.com. LOL In all seriousness that was our answer one time we were on a LIVE TV interview. We have a common friend that introduced us and we’ve been married ever since.
Are there really hot markets right now that folks should consider for Special Guest? Any parts of the country that are blowing it up?
Our primary focus right now is on Los Angeles and that’s where the app is really taking off. Recently Special Guest launched what we are calling our “Venue Connect” program where we literally take over all talent buying for venues. This has been a game changer because it’s allows us to dramatically increase the number of paid gigs going through the app on a daily basis. Those acts range from Jazz to 80’s Rock (we are currently looking to book a Journey Tribute Band), to Reggae, to Comedy. For whatever the reason we are also crushing it with impersonators (everything from Michael Jackson to Barack Obama), as well as all kinds of kid’s entertainment. DJ’s, singing telegrams, and wedding bands seem to be doing very well. We also have a ton of contestants and finalists from America’s Got Talent, American Idol, and the Voice – those performers always have a high profile in the app.
If you had a magic wand and could make Special Guest even greater, what would you do? How would such a ‘special’ upgrade (see what I did there?) benefit customers and talent?
Such a cool question! I don’t want to give you a nerdy response, but I have to. I’m a professional app developer and my sole goal is to listen to users (qualitative feedback) and watch users (quantitative feedback) to build amazing apps. That process can take as little as 12 months and as long as 24-36 months. We are in month 13 or 16 depending on who you’re counting….and we are currently focused on the venue side of the app, which is why we are loading new venues (more paid gigs) to the app as a fierce clip (but not too fierce). The idea is to have a controlled roll-out where we listen, listen more, then keep listening so we can effectively solve the problem the app purports to solve (making it easy for anyone, anywhere to hire LIVE entertainers on demand.) We like what we see so far! And OK – if there was one feature I’d add (and it’s coming I promise) it’s the ability to tip performers after they perform. Talent on Special Guest keep 100% of their booking fee so that’s a nice tip in and of itself, but I mean when a caricature artist shows up at your house to draw your kids and their friends and totally crushed it – I want to make it really easy for you to tip an extra $25. That feature needs to be in there!
Seriously, is there anything you can reveal that is up and coming for Special Guest?
I still can’t believe I mentioned the Venue Connect program above. That was top secret until I mentioned it above. Venue Connect became a reality through Special Guest’s recent acquisition of the popular book app called Pare (there you go – more news!).
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your endeavors?
I really appreciate this interview. I have a personal photo and video blog at krisjones.com and fairly active on social media @krisjones on Twitter, @kbjcapital on Instagram and /kbjcapital on Facebook.
If you have a business and are looking to hire talent of any kind, check out Special Guest. And if you have a talent, hook in for gigs. Makes me wish I’d done more with that flute, er — saxophone, um — electric organ, wait — bass guitar. Okay, I’ll stick to writing. Kris — when you and Mr. Wayans need somebody to write a comedy skit, maybe you’ll give me a ring? I’ll be waiting …