The Smashd Lab accelerator – led by talent industry legend Troy Carter -- held its first demo day this week, blending the awe and polish of Hollywood with the raw entrepreneurial energy of Silicon Valley. Smashd showed off 5 companies focusing on entertainment, music, and fashion.
With a talent for taking aspiring artists like Lady Gaga and John Legend to global stardom, Troy has built an empire that expands beyond just the entertainment industry by investing, through AF Square, in heavy hitters like Uber, Dropbox, Warby Parker, Spotify — and about 70 others.
For founders already bombarded by offerings from accelerators, Troy’s pitch does offer a unique twist. Smashd Labs offers founder-friendly terms on a 10-week mentorship program and a $50,000 convertible note for 3% of company equity, but with a media focus: the 6 inductees are mostly entertainment, music, and fashion businesses, where Troy’s expertise and connections in branding, public relations, and big media can prove invaluable.
In the Business of Culture
The 5 minute pitches glittered with high production values, star-studded adviser and client list, and even a few growth stats that should get Sand Hill Road investors sniffing around for deals.
Behind the glitz and hors d’oeuvres, five genuinely interesting companies hit the stage, leaning heavily towards entertainment, music, and fashion. Take a look at the company promo reel, with our analysis below.
Enrou is a conscious commerce startup selling artisan goods on behalf of individual artists and entrepreneurs in developing world. Shoppers can search not just by style or item, but also by cause: when you buy a Saeda Leather Tote, you’re helping Abebech in Ethiopia learn product design; get a Peacebomb Bangle and your purchase funds Phet in Laos, who makes the accessories from cluster munitions gathered from neighboring villages. Social commerce is becoming a crowded market, but the team is confident about differentiating through artisan stories and impact reporting — which appear to still be a work in progress.
Enrou’s next ambition for growth is transparency: it’s harder to make the case that purchases help local designers without an impact report, and the site doesn’t immediately indicate just how much help your new accessories passes on to the creator. The next iteration of Enrou will get closer to tracking the effect of each dollar spent and hour worked, like charity:water. CEO and Co-founder Ann Wang, who first met Troy at the Forbes 30 Under 30 pitch contest, already claims having helped to facilitate 6,000 hours of dignified work from artisans in developing communities. Here’s to more good business.
WeTransfer is the secret weapon of music artists and production professionals, doing one important thing very, very well: large file transfers. The team already dominates 12% its home Dutch music market, where everyone is already a DJ, but came to Smashd to take on the US entertainment industry. So how’d that go?
In the last 10 weeks, WeTransfer has hit two huge milestones: 85 million transfers per month and 1 billion transfers for 2015 — pretty staggering. Meanwhile, growth in the US has doubled. The product monetizes through premium accounts, which allows for cloud storage beyond the 3 day maximum on free accounts.
Considering the branding focus of Smashd, WeTransfer also put some more personality into the product with the launch of WeTransfer/Culture, putting faces to the creative being used on the always-fresh home pages. What I’m most excited for is the launch of the WeTransfer music player: the user interface is gorgeous, and the potential for “limited time” launches that disappear after a few days presents a really cool promotional opportunity.
Though among the most mature companies in the batch, here’s what we’re wondering: how many of those 1 billion transfers were by paid users, and how has this ratio of paid to free changed over the last 10 weeks?
Throne helps the sneakerhead market discover, buy, and sell footwear and streetwear — a market worth $85 billion, said Co-founder Emeka. I found it one of the most interesting companies of the day: with some of the largest community growth metrics of the batch, Throne is shooting to become the official streetwear destination, like Snoop Dog’s Merry Jane for the marijuana industry. Currently, streetwear enthusiasts and collectors are shopping across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Craigslist.
Combining “content, commerce, and community,” added Emeka, Throne hopes to convert these huge social follower counts into repeat buyers of Throne’s more than $1 million in crowdsourced inventory. Throne’s content is already attracting 3,000 readers a day.
The Throne app is live now — check it out here to browse the goods. In our tests we ran into a few bugs but the buyer-seller side of the app seems fully functional and definitely beats Craigslist.
Sidestep lets event-goers purchase merchandise before and during shows — without leaving the mosh pit, literally sidestepping the usually horrendous purchase lines. Instead, Sidestep buyers can opt to have their merchandise delivered directly to their home address or pick up the swag at the VIP Sidestep merch booth.
Co-founder Eric Jones laid out the reality of today’s music industry: records and CDs are collector’s items more than anything, while live shows and event merchandize comprises up to 70% of an artist’s income.
Sidestep has generated $600,000 of sales for artists, and even has big partnerships locked up with brands like Ticketmaster and Shopify. But the real appeal is the making merchandise sales data-powered. With Sidestep, every sale — whether through a partner like Eventbrite or directly at a show — helps bands optimize their production and sale of goods, as well as double down on sales channels that are working or build new ones.
Sidestep is the perfect example of the convergence between technology and music that Troy champions at Smashd — and also has the most to gain from the network of Atom Factory. The Startup Grind team has already used the service at a past concert, and loved the concierge experience.
Launched at demo day, Trakfire has crafted a crowdsourced music leaderboard of the best and latest tracks, voted up by the masses every day. If it sounds a little like Product Hunt for music, it is — Ryan Hoover himself is a mentor to the business. Trakfire is live now, showing voted-on tracks by genres, including from artists like Hoodie Allen and ELOQ.
The site still has a journey ahead in building the daily returning visitors that will really transform the technology into a community. If that happens, though, having all the taste-making cool kids in one place would be a valuable thing — especially from the perspective of hit-making and data for the music industry, which Shazam has pursued with great success.
A sixth venture, now called Bermuda List, chose not to pitch after a pivot away from their original idea of backseat displays for Uber and Lyft drivers. They’re exploring a new idea: a national co-living network — like AirBnB or Couchsurfing — specifically built for entrepreneurs, offering a place to stay in any city for a flat rate.
Taking Startups to Hollywood
Tony’s stated goal is to grow founders that “demonstrate the ability to influence and shape entertainment and culture.” In a way, Troy has already started: the Smashd Labs demo day was one of the most diverse technology events, in terms of gender and ethnicity, I’ve seen in 5 years of technology events across three continents. Working to “represent the convergence of tech, culture and hustle," stated in the official Smashd Labs announcement, then, has meant picking talent that Silicon Valley investor have historically passed over — which is great for entrepreneurship overall.
Wanna get involved? Troy plans to run Smashd Labs every or on alternating years, and to work with every company over its entire life cycle. Watch Smashd Labs for announcements of the next application batch.