What is it about entrepreneurship that tantalizes our spirit and our soul. There’s this excitement around a seemingly incredible idea and being brave enough to dive feet first into the unknown. That is true entrepreneurship. It’s eliminating the unknown, creating something that solves a real problem and becoming the mastermind of your own business. Channing Moreland and Makenzie Stokel, graduates of Project Music, have shown that having this determination, this passion, a willingness to learn, and a product that addresses a true need in the market, can lead to incredible things. EVAmore (Events, Venues, Artists and more) has created an online platform which automates the process of booking live entertainment for private events from booking to contracts to payments. The result is an easier way for people to secure artists for events, greater accessibility to these artists, and a platform that facilitates the entire process. The impact of innovation in music through technology continues to be on the rise, and EVAmore has made their mark.
What is the latest with EVAmore?
C: We are a few weeks out before releasing the product. We waited on this because we learned the hard way that you have to do what the customer needs and we wanted to do it right. We needed to be sure that we built a fully scalable product that allowed our users to book and make payments before launching.
So, let’s jump in a bit on why you two decided to create EVAmore?
M: In college, Channing and I were either not satisfied with the events we were going to or we would miss a lot of events we wanted to go to because we didn’t hear about them until after they happened. As we became more involved with the live music scene, we found that others were also unsatisfied. People were frustrated with how the events were actually being organized and booked. We came up with an idea to create a platform the would not only help create a much easier process to identify and book bands but would also serve a market of people who didn’t have anywhere else to go to do this.
What did you find was the biggest challenge?
M: If someone didn’t know how to get started, they would go to a booking agency. The difficulty with this is most of the booking agents are dealing with artists who are at a certain budget, and if your budget is less than, say $3,000 dollars, there wasn’t much booking agents could do for you.
C: Booking agents aren’t focusing on bands that are under $3,000 dollars, or even $5,000 dollars because it isn’t as time or cost effective. So, the happy fit for us was to create an automated platform that allowed these people to find and book bands for their events and ultimately help them see more money coming through the door.
Since the inception of the company, you have shifted the company’s focus a couple of times. What motivated this?
C: Initially, when we came up with the idea of EVAmore, we were thinking of it serving more as sort of a concert house. To be honest, we weren’t even thinking about the college market. But we soon realized the profit margins of a concert home didn’t really make sense and it wasn’t really scalable. We sat down with one of our advisors who really helped us work through the business model and by the end of the meeting, it was clear the college market was a great place for us. At that time, we were still in college so it just made sense. We understood how to market to colleges.
Outside of the college market, what other market have you expanded into?
M: The events arena has been a logical next step for us. Our platform is a great place for people putting together corporate and private events to find and book the artists they want.
How has your day-to-day work life changed since launching the company?
C: Makenzie and I just sort of dove into the business, because we were so excited about it! But now, we are actually figuring out how to operationally pass things off to one another. The biggest thing for us has been identifying what the process needs to look like in various aspects of the company from sales to tech to operations and finance.
What do you see as the next step for EVAmore?
C: We plan to run the company until the platform does everything it needs to. We have created a really good foundation so far, but we are also excited about the potential of an exit in a couple of years. It’s important for us to make sure our tech is scalable, profitable and attractive to another company for future acquisition.
How does thinking about a potential exit at this stage of the impact how you approach building and maintaining your platform?
C: We love this platform and we love what the platform is doing. If EVAmore can become an enterprise umbrella with other businesses operating underneath it, then awesome, but if we see that the platform can become a part of another corporation, we aren’t going to say no to that. We have found that if you think exit, you will build something that is structurally sound.
M: Instead of thinking, “This is my business. It’s for me and my lifestyle,” we want to focus on building a product for the people who really need it. If not, growth will be limited.
“You have to try things and be willing to accept some failures.” ~Makenzie Stokel
What has it been like getting your arms around technology and have you learned a few lessons along the way?
M/C: (lots of laughter!)
M: Oh God yes! We had no tech background or knowledge when we started this. So having to really figure out tech on our own has been very hard and not what I would recommend, especially to first-time entrepreneurs. That being said, we have figured it out now and have really learned how to talk to developers. We understand how to communicate what we need from the business perspective to get what we need on the website and to make it look good and easy to use. I never realized how much went into building a product before we started EVAmore.
C: I was just stepping back recently, watching Makenzie communicate with one of our project managers and it was amazing. We have had to learn so much over the last few years like what kind of framework works best for us, what tools we should be using, should we do two-week sprints, and the list goes on and on. Our ability to communicate cost, pace and time schedule with our developers and more effectively saying what we needed out of them, has been incredible.
Outside of learning the technology, what were some of the business hurdles you had to cross?
C: A year and a half ago, we didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t graduate from college as finance majors, so that was a personal hurdle for us. It was important for us to learn how to talk to investors, how to generate recurring revenue to get to a break-even point and to then be able to show this story to investors when we went out to raise funding.
How did you go about learning all of those aspects of running a startup?
M: Really just figuring it out and just doing it. It has been a lot of trial and error. We have failed a lot but through that, we also figured out the right way or wrong way to do things and just pivot.
C: When people say, try and fail a thousand times, it’s so true. We don’t see failures as failures, rather we see them as lessons, and as an entrepreneur, you have to be okay with failure.
M: You always have to have that mindset that even if the worst thing possible happens, it was based on decisions you made for the business. If we had to close our company tomorrow, we will have learned enough to make the next business venture twice as good. If we only gain knowledge out of an experience, that is still a win.
What advice would give to other entrepreneurs who want to do a tech start-up?
M: For us, it has been really important to make sure we have the right advisors on board and especially, the right technical advisor. Having these advisors helps us ensure that the platform we are building is being done in the most efficient way.
C: It’s embarrassing to say, but our best tech decision has been a relatively recent decision. We knew we wanted a tech advisor and honestly, didn’t feel we were finding the person we were looking for. And then all of a sudden, that right person became available and we locked him in. I don’t think we have felt more confident than we do now. We know we are truly heading in the right direction.
So let’s get super geeky. Tell me about your tech stack.
C: We are using PHP and the Laravel framework. Because we didn’t have the salary to pay a full-time person, we ultimately decided to partner with Pilgrim Consulting, which has been great! They have helped us build out the platform and this partnership has also given us access to a lot of resources. It’s also been a really important experience for us learning to work with a third-party vendor to build out our software and how to hold them accountable to what we need from a technology standpoint.
Has it been difficult finding your own voice versus the influence of others on how your business should move forward?
C: We have forced ourselves to get really good at this. It’s all about going back to our core because Makenzie and I are the core to our business. We willingly seek out knowledge because we want to learn, and we know there are going to be little snippets we uncover that change our perspective, but we determine how those things fit within our business.
How have you found the confidence, when you don’t know the answer, to stay on your course instead of waiting for others to give you all of the answers or direct you in every path?
M: When we first started the EVAmore, we were influenced by people a lot more, but now, we take what people say with a grain of salt. Nobody knows our business as well as we do, and at the end of the day, we will almost always have the best answers ourselves.
You have commented that you have had to go about doing things a little different with your business because you are young and you are women. How has had having one another helped you keep moving forward?
M: I could not be this young, be a female and doing this alone without having a partner. It’s been great to have Channing because I have someone to relate to. The response from people who question our age and gender would get to us a lot more if we didn’t have each other. We are able to keep pushing each other and to just say “whatever” to those who want to judge us on those things.
Why wouldn’t you embark on this journey if you didn’t have one other?
C: We see solo entrepreneurs in this space and we can see the exact moment where they just hit their breaking point. They just crack. I’ve seen us almost hit that breaking point many times, but when one of us is going crazy, the other person will reel the other back in.
Have there been some upsides to being female entrepreneurs?
M: From a PR standpoint, I think it’s been helpful for us because our story is pretty unique. People are interested in our story and many have wanted to help us because of our story. It’s really been a good thing more often than not.
C: I am just starting to see is how much people really believe in us. They see how hard we are willing to work.
Hindsight 20/20, would you have done anything differently to get where you are today?
M: We could have done things differently to save a lot of money and time but these were lessons we needed to learn to know how to move our business forward. I don’t think I regret anything because it’s these mistakes that got us where we are today.
C: The time we have spent over the last few years has helped us accelerate our personal growth so much that I wouldn’t change a thing either. We did everything the way we needed to, and while it’s sometimes hard not to get distracted by opinions others have on our choices, or the state of the company, the knowledge we have gained has been invaluable.
So many tech entrepreneurs seemingly throw many at tech because they are looking for others to have the answers. What advice would you give to tech entrepreneurs who have a concept but no product yet?
M: You don’t know what you don’t know, so surround yourself with people who do BEFORE you spend the money and try to build out the product.
C: Agreed. People need to understand what they are about to build.
What has been some of the most sound advice you have received?
C: Our tech advisor has really helped us change our perspective in how we speak to those who are developing our product. He has helped us understand that we need to understand how a developer thinks about our product and not what we are hoping a developer thinks about our product. Developers think about three things: when the product needs to be done, how much it’s going to cost and how they are going to get there. He has also helped us adjust the way we approach our software methodology. Instead of hoping to see results on a monthly basis, we are now working in two-week sprints. It’s been a huge, and positive, transition for us.
Would you advise would you give other entrepreneurs who are considering accelerator programs like a Project Music?
M: I think it really depends on the state of your company, but for us, it was life changing. All we had when we started EVAmore was a concept. We hadn’t done any market research. We had no business experience and as a result of going through Project Music, I think we gained the most of everyone in our cohort. The connections we made have been valuable and the overall experience of going through Project Music gave us a general knowledge on how to build a music tech business. We loved it!
If I understand correctly, the model of Project Music is that advisors receive a percentage of ownership in your business. Stepping back now, do you wish this arrangement was structured differently?
C: That’s a tough question to answer. Being in the first cohort, Project Music was still trying to figure things out. We were given a lot of opportunities and capital to get started, and for that, we are forever grateful. But looking back at the experience now, I think the experience taught us a lesson about vesting. There may be someone who is really feeling your company at that moment and but two years from now, they may not be around. At that time, we chose not to become a C-Corp, we gave up a lot of equity for the capital, and the reality is, we weren’t even worth what we did when we started.That’s not a fault of anyone it’s just how it happened. It’s totally fine though because we have been able to make do just fine and have learned a lot in the process!
Are there resources you have found that have been really influential from a networking or pitching standpoint?
M: Tomato Sass and groups that are really supportive of women are great.
C: In terms of pitching, Verge was really helpful for us. This was the best event we have ever pitched at. We got more about of this, honestly, than we did the Project Music pitch and are now looking at other avenues, LaunchTN.
There are so many people who have a passion for going out on their own and being an entrepreneur. What advice would you give these people?
M: Do it. Just do it. At some point, no one else is going to do it for you. You have to try things and be willing to accept some failures.
C: I know it’s tough and I hear from people who are in a different situation than us. They may have kids, a financial bottom line they have to meet, and so it’s tough to think about starting your own thing. But, my encouragement for anyone is when the timing does feel right, do not be scared to leave. Lose that net. There is a moment when we know we can make it work, but we are scared to. That’s the exact time when we need to do it.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
M: Young Entrepreneur of the Year was a really cool thing and to be recognized by the community. It felt awesome.
What do you think technology’s impact will be on the music industry in the next several years?
M: I think technology has already had a big impact. Streaming has really changed the game with how you can sell music. And while a lot of people haven’t fully adapted to changes we see in technology, the changes are inevitable. A lot of companies are starting to collect a lot of data, which gives people in the industry valuable information to make really smart, actionable decisions. I think this is a real opportunity for continued innovation. And of course, we feel we are making an impact booking-wise with our platform, and creating a much more streamlined and easier process.
C: What gets me excited about technology innovation is this idea of discovery and obtaining. There is now a level of accessibility afforded people in the industry that never existed before and the ability to go directly to artists and obtain those artists. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
What is the one question you wish people would ask you?
M: I like it when people ask about the nitty-gritty stuff and jump into the hard parts of being an entrepreneur and the challenges we face. Talking about these things is difficult but it’s also the most valuable.
What would you want to share about the difficulties of being an entrepreneur?
M: It affects our personal lives more than I could have ever imagined. I haven’t done a very good job separating myself and my emotions from this business sometimes. They shouldn’t be one and the same. It’s been a journey to figure out how to do this, but we have made a lot of strides.
C: A huge challenge for me is that I get really freaked out at times when I realize I would do anything to move this company forward. I just get so focused on “I am f@?*ing doing this” that it’s hard to find that transition to a place where there is a little more balance in my life. There are days when we just want to cry all day, but we don’t. We pull ourselves together, keep going, keep being present, keep pushing the company forward, and learning to do this at a pace that can be sustainable.
EVAmore will be launching their iFundWomen campaign June 30th so be on the lookout for how you can get involved and support them!