New Platform For Entertainment Professionals: Special Guest App Founder Kris Jones On Entrepreneurship & His New App w/ Actor Damon Wayans Jr.
While I'm accustomed to being in front of the camera, most of the work that I do is focused on promoting creatives, entertainment professionals, and brands that are developing a digital presence and creating opportunities for creatives, minorities, and entrepreneurs.
I had the opportunity to chat with Kris Jones, the founder of Special Guest App on his view of entrepreneurship and why his work is important in creating new opportunities for entertainment professionals. I was especially interested in his steps towards entrepreneurship, what he thinks about constructive criticism versus positive feedback, and what his current goals for Special Guest App are.
Ambar: You ready?
Kris: Bring it!
Ambar: Cool, so mind telling us what you're up to right now?
Kris: In 2016 I was introduced to actor/comedian Damon Wayans, Jr. who was looking for someone to help him build a mobile app to make it easier for his talented friends to get paid gigs. What I couldn't foresee then was that not only would Damon and I become close friends, but also business partners. I'm an investor and entrepreneur. I love building businesses and helping people with ideas bring their businesses to life. In the case of Special Guest, Damon and I have partnered to create a platform that makes the process of booking LIVE entertainment as easy as booking an Uber car....more on that in a later question! Aside from building Special Guest App I also help run a digital marketing agency called LSEO.com, a mobile app development company called APPEK Mobile Apps, and I'm a managing partner of a venture fund called KBJ Capital.
Ambar: Sounds like a lot of incredible work. What was your childhood like? Is there a story that comes to mind right as you hear that question?
Kris: At the age of 14 I remember driving down a street in Kingston, Pennsylvania called Market Street. As I passed a small sub shop I recall wondering how many subs the owner would have to sell to generate $1,000,000 in revenue. At a young age I had an uncanny ability to quickly add numbers in my head....so I figured if each sub was sold for $5 then the owner would need to sell 200,000 subs per year (almost 17,000 per month or nearly 4,000 per week). It didn't take me long to figure out that the only way that particular sub shop could generate $1M in revenue is if they opened more than one location. As a kid, I was obsessed with reading business magazines - to this day I'm inspired by stories of going from $0 to $1M, $10M, etc. I love business stories that are inspirational. It's crazy to think that 25 years later I've created many inspirational stories myself, including selling my first business to eBay in 2009!
Ambar: I love hearing about those moments when it seems like a lot was clear about someones opportunities from a young age. When it comes to the way you were raised and opportunities that were presented to you, do you feel like you walked a paved path or you ventured off into something foreign and unknown?
Kris: For the most part my success required me to pave a new path and much of my experiences early on were unknown. As a kid I grew up in a very modest environment. For starters - outside of my older sister and my cousin nobody in the last three generations of my family had a post secondary education....so the fact that I went to college, graduate school, and law school for 9 years after high school was a first for anyone in my family. In addition, while some family members, including my mom, had varying levels of business success my breakout success as an entrepreneur has been completely unknown and in many ways unexpected (especially because my education could have me doing other things).
Ambar: An often clear indicator of an entrepreneur is that they don't isolate themselves to what they studied or their expected industry. Do you see yourself as a leader? Why?
Kris: Yes. I have a few definitions of leadership. One definition is that leaders inspire leadership in others. That's one of my life's missions. I've built and invested in many companies and I take great pride that I helped build and support some amazing leaders many of which I continue to work with on various projects and others who have gone off on their own to build great things and impact society in positive ways. The other definition I have for leadership is that leaders are willing to make important decisions on behalf of lots of people. From a young age, I always took the idea of decision making very serious. As one of my mentors, Tony Robbins says "in your moment of decision your destiny is shaped." So over the course of my 20 year career as an entrepreneur I've made a lot of decision that have had positive outcomes for many people.
Ambar: That's an incredible point, I think often the ability to make decisions for others is not something you can truly understand until you've had to do it, in that moment you're able to really know if you're capable of being a true leader. Do you think your work is stronger when you have positive reinforcement or constructive criticism?
Kris: Great question! I think it's healthy to have a blend of positive reinforcement and constructive criticism (or let's call it feedback). Feedback is important because it's what we can use to become better. Positive reinforcement tells us what we are doing is working. I've spent the last 25 years of my life dedicated to personal and professional development - because of that I'm constantly on the lookout for cues on how to grow.
Ambar: What are your goals for Special Guest App in the next 6 months?
Kris: For the last 6-9 months we've been relentlessly focused on establishing product-market fit. What that means is that we've been obsessed with getting as much qualitative and quantitive feedback as possible from users and leveraging that feedback to improve the app. I'd say we have at least three more months of relentless focus on improving the product, particularly on the venue/host side of the app. In addition, we are a venture backed company (we raised $1.5M back in the summer of 2017) so I expect to go back to our original investors to raise additional capital this summer so we can put a significant growth engine behind the business. In between, we will be trying to get as many talented people paid as possible and to serve as many venues and hosts possible to help them discover and hire LIVE entertainers!
Ambar: What do you think/feel when you hear societal norms?
Kris: I think it's important to be aware of societal norms but it's more important to be an individual with your own ideas and beliefs. Sometimes people are afraid to be themselves because of societal norms, but I think true happiness can only come from ignoring the "norm" and just being yourself. Individuality is what makes people special - I say be yourself and be proud regardless of what other people think.
Ambar: Awesome! I completely agree, I have a podcast coming out soon specifically about societal norms and successful creatives and entrepreneurs that have found success by stepping outside of them. Maybe we'll have to have you on as a guest! Anything additional you'd like to share with us?
Ambar: Thanks for joining us! Visit Special Guest App and feel free to let us know if you have any follow up questions about the app or for Kris.