Tommyjams – The idea
One evening in 2011, chilling out at a Hard Rock Café in Hyderabad, Parth M. Saxena and Nikhil Kapur were struck by an idea. They were watching a band perform, and they liked it. However, they realized such small bands were getting so little opportunity to access performance venues, especially in cities far away. The way was blocked by a limited access to venue managers, chiefly through artists’ own contacts and referrals. This way, well-known bands and artists, who were the most networked, got booked for performances through their contacts, but a large number of semi-professional and starting bands did not get the opportunity to have performances – even though the demand was there and growing.
The two techies from Delhi College of Engineering, who were at that time working with Texas Instruments and Microsoft, respectively, decided to create a platform, which could democratize live entertainment for small and big artists alike, by connecting them directly with pubs, bars, malls or cafes, where performances happen, as well as with fans. Their technical knowledge and passions were at hand: Saxena had worked part-time as a freelance guitarist and vocalist for different music bands in Bangalore, and had a network of artists and bands to tap into initially. His partner, Kapur, brought in a very important complementary skill – venue management – as he had experience in managing venues for his employer, Microsoft, which hosted several events.
The TommyJams platform
TommyJams is a platform connecting artists, venues, and fans. Venues such as bars or cafes can launch events on the site, also stating their requirements in terms of what kind of artists they need, the amount they are willing to pay, the duration of the event, and so on. Artists registered on the site can respond by applying to perform. The venue manager can then take their pick, in which they can rely on ratings on past performances available in the platform. 20% of the fee paid to the artist by the venue stays at TommyJams.
How exactly TommyJams create value?
TommyJams is a platform that helps supply meet demand by making them visible and accessible to each other. In small, this is what agents and agencies do, however, these agents benefit from the lack of transparency and the resulting information asymmetry between them and their customers. TommyJams is a breakthrough compared to agents because it makes information equally accessible for all players, even the smallest bands. By doing so, it levels the playing field that was previously tilted in the big players’ favor; and grows the market, as it opens up possibilities for the small players that didn’t even exist before.
For starters, the two co-founders put in Rs 9,000 – an equivalent to €110 – each, thus the venture started quite bootstrapped in 2011 December. Rapid growth followed: the initiative has received an overwhelming response in its early stages, and the start-up broke even in the fifth month, when they had helped push about 30 to 40 shows. By April 2014, about 300 bands and artists have performed at venues booked through TommyJams, translating to 600 events across Mumbai, Goa, Bangalore, Delhi and Chennai. The company currently makes Rs 400,000 – an equivalent to €5,000 – in revenues per month (€60,000).
Is the model sustainable? Customer retention is key
Although the live entertainment market is growing in India – TommyJams estimates that each big city hosts about 1,200 live music events per month – giving ample opportunity to expand, Mukund Mohan, CEO-in-residence at Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in Bangalore, where TommyJams got incubated in 2013, says one of the most important things that TommyJams needs to worry about “the stickiness of the product”, that is, customer retention. “After an artist has been booked by a venue through the site, he should keep coming back for further engagements with the venue, rather than approaching the venue directly the next time.” Further, according to Mohan, while TommyJams should prefer target venues that are open to hosting a variety of artists and audiences, quality control for the growing number of artists and venues will be critical for the platform.
Another threat is competition: agencies that are well networked with venues, and who manage artists and help them with bookings. Networking, staying close to venue managers and bringing in new ones is key for TommyJams’ success. Further, the start-up needs to constantly monitor the satisfaction of artists and bring in new functionalities so that the booking the process becomes as smooth and hassle-free as possible.
TommyJams explicitly wants to multiply its revenues to about a million dollars – €750,000 – per annum in a year or two, indicating that it is setting out to grow to a whole new level.
In order to reach its ambitious targets, TommyJams needs to expand its geographical coverage and also to add new features. Last November, it launched a feature to crowd-fund tours for bands, allowing them to expand their reach across cities by engaging fans. This is done by partnering with multiple venues across multiple cities and creating a tour. TommyJams then launches an online campaign for the tour and gets fans to invite their favourite artist in their city by buying the tickets in advance, hence funding the tour for the artist. If the campaign reaches its target for a specific artist, the artist gives a performance there. In case the campaign doesn’t reach its target, the total amount paid for the ticket is restored. Further, fans can opt to pay more in order to buy a band’s T-shirts or other merchandise or for hanging around with the artistes after the performance.
In terms of geographical expansion, TommyJams has global ambitions. Its first step is being funded by the Startup Chile programme, which selects and funds about 100 start-ups across the globe. The programme has pumped in $40,000 in TommyJams without taking any equity. Now TommyJams is also available in Spanish, and the first customers have registered in Santiago. Starting from Santiago, TommyJams aims to tap the Latin American live entertainment market. “Brazil ranks among top seven live entertainment economies after the US, UK and a couple of European economies,” says an excited Saxena. It’s exciting to see whether they can pull it off.