Nathan Meeks is the Co-Founder and CEO of Gigzolo, “a new way for event professionals to book hand-picked DJ’s, musicians and other artists for their events.” But his real goal is to create “a global marketplace for the creative arts, where anybody has the power to find and hire any amazing creative person anywhere in the world.”
I sat down and chatted with Nathan during this summer’s techsytalk LIVE to find out just how he intends to do this…
NATHAN – One of the things we found really needed some extra work in this industry, especially when it comes to booking professionals online, something that is risky and high value … was TRUST…Especially between parties that don't know each other, especially when the amounts of money being transacted are in the thousands, not in the hundreds or the tens. So Gigzolo is meant to actually solve that for event professionals. We're not just a platform, we're a curated platform. So out of every 1000 people that we review, less than 10% of them are actually accepted into the platform. We have a very low yield, and the reason why is because it's not just about being professional, it's also about being able to perform well, to have great references, to be easy to work with, etc.
And so the way the platform works is actually quite simple. You as an event planner can go online, put in whatever you're looking for, let's say a Top 40 DJ, as well as location and occasion and we'll automatically generate pre-screened or curated artists relevant to your search. You can directly see these artists pertaining to whatever your criteria may be, but not just the artists. First of all, you know that they’re curated, they're not just anybody, but second of all, you can see things you've never seen before, like pricing. You'll soon be able to see availability. You can actually chat directly with them instantly, or their manager, and then you can actually book and pay and do agreements all online.
Deborah – So you're not acting as management then.
N – No, we're not. As a company, we're technologists. Our job is to be scientists of the transaction – understand how trust or the lack thereof inhibits people connecting with each other and doing business with each other, and to solve everything that is along that chain. What we've found is that there are different kinds of nodes to the decision to be able to do business with somebody online. Among them is some kind of general trust, some type of exhibition of work, a portfolio or something of that nature. For that reason, we actually make sure that everyone has a high quality HD video that has true audio, no lip synching or overdubbing in any of those portfolios. The second thing is transparency. The fact that the information you want is readily available, you don't have to call and feel awkward about asking about pricing, or negotiating, it's all there. The third thing is that connection, that communication, the part that technology will never be able to replace. The fact that you need to speak to somebody, you want to know who they are.
D – A real live person.
N – Exactly. And after that, they can share agreements, and payments flow smoothly and are brokered appropriately and fairly between each of the parties. That's the entire anatomy of the transaction… Technology in its ideal form should enhance the way people work with each other… It should not commoditize relationships, it should actually enrich them. And so you try to figure out as you're building things that are trying to help people, what are their needs, what are their wants, how do they not trust? Can we get certain things? Can we make them systematized? Absolutely. But how do we make sure that things that we can't are still held sacred and are in their proper place in the process?
D – That kind of goes to my question about your philosophy about technology.
N – Well that's a big part of it. We've grown slower because we did not want to throw up iPhone videos of bands. We did not want to put people up on the site that we didn't believe in or that we hadn't seen… because in the end, we know that even though it's slower at the beginning, it's very very difficult to replicate.
D – The quality is going to be the thing that's most important... How long have you been in business?
N – So, it's kind of a two-sided question. So we've been coding, my team has been building for two and a half years. We've been live for about five months, so we're very, very new.
D – Wow, you're really new, congratulations!
N - We're not new to the industry, we're very new to this scene, being live. And since then we've been very blessed to do some really cool things. We're already doing things with people like the Air BnB Brooklyn Half Marathon, where we were able to curate ten artists that were of the entire difference of tiers - people who had never been signed before to people that had made agreements with major record labels. It was great to see all of them be on the same stage… [We’ve done events from] a 1500 person award show to a small event for a designer showcase for Target last week. We've now been able to be exposed to that entire gamut of - is it a private event, is it a wedding? Is it a bar mitzvah? Is it a corporate event? Is it marketing? Is it not? We get a chance to kind of dip our toes into all those things.
D – Nice. How big is your team?
N – So at any given time it's between 7 and 8 people, including everyone that comes in and out. We're a startup – we have full times and part times and interns, and all of them make up the team... everybody has real work at Gigzolo.
D – Do you have any thoughts about directions you might want to see things go in the future to expand what you're doing now?
N – Yes, absolutely. There's three different ways that Gigzolo expands. One is by location. Right now we're mostly in NYC in terms of where most of the artists are based. We've already done gigs in Vermont and Boston, and further away, but the location of the artists are mostly in NYC.
D – What are the range of artists? Is it certain genres?
N – That's a great question, so across genres, genre-agnostic. Principally right now, musicians and DJ's. Which leads to the second part of your question which is, the second way you expand is not just by location, which will probably go NY and tri-state, then LA, Chicago, Nashville, Austin, that's probably the general plan... the second one is medium. So besides musicians and DJ's, what's next? Well, other performers. We're already booking things like magicians, and performers like dancers and models. Photographers and videographers next.
D – Let me know if you’re looking for burlesque performers – I have connections…
N – Something that's important for us as we build this… As an event planner, I know that… if your client will allow you, you'll want to stretch yourself creatively. You just know that you want to do things that are new. So our job is to take the basic inquiries and be able to expand them to other things. Oh, so you want a jazz trio? OK, great we have jazz trios, standard jazz trio no problem, here's five. But have you thought about a Latin jazz trio? Have you thought about a jazz hip hop duo? There's other things around that could actually create another dynamic for your event, and that's where we consider the surprise and delight factor.
The last part of expansion is really about what each artist can do. What that means is that right now we think about performance, but what else can they do? Can a musician just perform? Can they teach? Can they write songs? What are the other services that a particular artist can perform? And in the end, we are creating a global marketplace for the creative arts, where anybody has the power to find and hire any amazing creative person anywhere in the world. And we've started with people like DJ's and musicians in New York City. That is just the beginning.
D – As an artist this makes me very happy. Is there some other part of your life that informs your vision on this? Some other influence that brings another dimension to this?
N – Sure. Three parts to that. Finance, music and faith.
D – The big three.
N – My background is in finance. My job was to understand [structured derivatives], understand how to value them and institutionalize that procedure when you're transacting complicated financial transactions. So you take something very complex, you break it down, understand it, build it back up and then you have a methodology for how to value it. That was very important when I came to the creative industries and the events industry. As I said before, pricing in the creative industry is more or less a dark art... And that causes, one, angst and frustration on the demander side, but what the suppliers don't realize when they don't provide any sense of pricing transparently, that actually inhibits the demand.
D – You think you're being flexible and accommodating, but you're just making them doubtful and confused.
N – With anything, price connotes access. If you go to a restaurant, and you are sitting down and there's a picture on the wall, and you're oh, that's a nice picture, that's pretty much all you think about, and the reason is very simple. You don't believe that picture could be yours, because it's on a restaurant's wall. But if you went to that same restaurant, and beside that picture was a sign, even with an egregious price, even a price of $100,000 or $1,000,000, your perception of your access to that painting has changed, in an order of magnitude, because it goes from someone else owning it and it not being obtainable, to a conditional attainability. Even with a price that is crazy, your view of access - price connotes access. Transparency begets transaction. And so we understand that the more you can actually be transparent, without necessarily saying everything about how you price, etc., the more people feel like they can actually access you, the more they will come to you.
So finance taught me a lot of that. So what we did is we built dynamic pricing algorithms to allow you to instantly receive customized quotes as soon as you're putting in the parameters or the details of your event, from every artist on an apples to apples basis.
D – So in other words, when somebody puts in budget, you offer them artists within the parameters that make sense for them.
N – Sure. Even though you don't technically put in a budget, you can change what your maximum spend is, but you're never a price maker on Gigzolo, you're always a price taker, a price filter if you would say.
Another joy - you kind of want to stretch people in the way they think, even though they sometimes box themselves in. For instance, a lot of times people are biased towards vendors that are very close to them. Oh, I'm in New York, I want a NY based guy. Why? Because they're close, and your position is, probably cheaper, because they're close. I can already tell you, I've already seen, you can go to Boston, and you can go to Vermont, and you can go all over the place and bring someone to New York, sometimes for 20-30% less… Photographers can cost thousands of dollars - $5, 6, 7,000 dollars, depending on the event and depending on how special that is for you. Take it across the United States, it costs $300, $400. So why are you eliminating 99% of your possible applicants, because of one detail that is 10% or less of your costs?
D – It's arbitrary.
N – Why? What Gigzolo allows you to do and will continue to allow you to do is now see the entire nation on an apples to apples basis. Because the prices that we provide aren't just the artist's fee. It also includes travel, equipment, set-up, sound check, breakdown, taxes and fees. All of those.
D – So it's a comprehensive number.
N – Yes. So that's where finance comes in… When it comes to music, I've been a vocalist in gospel and worship music my entire life, and I don't think you can make a technology that empathizes with artists or with event planners without having some sense of both those, without having a direct relationship with each. I think even though I was never a professional, even though I was always amateur, having a creative empathy, and making sure I continue to hire and surround myself with people that have creative empathy, helps me build a platform that really treats both parties as though they are equally important. I make contracts that way, I make payment terms that way, I make everything else that way... In the end our job is to enhance transactions and have transparency. Sometimes artists have to give a little bit by being a little more transparent and sometimes clients have to give a little bit. Our job is to establish that. But it's carefully guarded.
The third is faith. I think my faith in God has really geared [me] as well as my partner … to redeem the creative arts, and part of that is redeeming inefficiencies in the events industry. The reason why is because we believe that artists are one of the most institutionally disadvantaged [professions] we've ever seen. And according to our faith, we should be taking care of what we consider the widow and the orphan and the disadvantaged… It's the only profession I know that you study for most of your life, and you spend 20 years perfecting your skills only to come out of the best art schools in the world, New School, Julliard, etc. like lambs to the slaughter. And we believe that really opening up the events industry and other private aspects of demand to these people – pretty much getting better access to the system, does redeem those inefficiencies. At the same time, it's better for those industries, right? Because you get more diverse, better talent if you can trust it and you can see it and access it – you get to dream, and that's what we want to do.
D – OK, last question. Is there a particular lesson you've learned from a particular mistake that you feel has been significant, and is worth sharing?
N – Sure, and I think this is across the board, whether you're in technology or whether you're in finance, or whether you're in event planning - make people stakeholders in what you do. That could be financially, or that could be emotionally.
D – Sure, get people invested.
N – I think the key in making people stakeholders in what you do emotionally is by really giving them ownership, making them feel and be responsible for your success, giving them a part of it. Financially it's also very important… I think we found our results significantly better when we have people who have ownership, and now I'm talking about literal ownership in the company. Bringing on people who have a stake in what we do, and it includes financial ownership, but it also includes emotional ownership. We hire people that are missionally aligned. For people that speak to event planners, we hire people that want to be event planners or that have been event planners, because we know that that empathy is instrumental in being able to make sure that all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed, that Gigzolo client support is like your own intern. It's like your own guard, it's literally your last defense, because our job is not to be in front of your clients. Our job is to be behind you so that you're better in front of your clients. Stakeholding, giving people ownership, is the key to making them feel like they can do their best for you.
D – Nate, I'm impressed with the breadth of your vision, because of the dedication to the arts - a faith inspired support in the arts. It's nice to be inspired. Not everybody is...