Before becoming a talent agent, Mark Steiner was an actor. Having seen firsthand the torturous process performers go through to land gigs, he realized that event planners needed a better way to find and book talent, and performers needed an easier way to find work.
Mark founded GigSalad, a site you can use to find speakers, performers, and vendors for your next corporate event.
Much as Uber helps people to find a ride and Airbnb enables travelers to find homes to rent, GigSalad helps people planning events to connect directly with service providers—from jugglers and violinists to corporate comedians and keynote speakers.
I invited Mark to Marketing Smarts to talk about the twists and turns he encountered along his path to entrepreneurship, as well as how "one-stop shopping" for talent and vendors streamlines the event-planning process and saves time.
Here are some highlights from my conversation with Mark:
Let empathy for your audience shape your business (11:40): "It was in that transition when I started my own company and created my first website—SteinerTalent.com. And as soon as I got that website up there, I just started getting inundated with calls and meals from artists, performers, bands musicians, what have you, looking for work. It was not the infancy of the Internet by any means, but in my industry it seemed like I was one of the websites up there for agencies. [People] were calling me looking for gigs, looking for representation, looking to be listed on my roster.
"And a lot of these people contacting me were...more local, regional types of performers.... But I was still mostly booking established, national touring acts, celebrities, personalities, things like that. But when I got these calls, I could immediately relate, and didn't want to just be like 'no,' like I had experienced in New York: just-hang-up-the-phone, 'No, not what I do. Good luck. Tell your story walking' kind of thing. I just always wanted to give something back to these folks who were coming to me looking for help.
"During that same time, I was getting contacted by...local, regional event planners. I had been dealing strictly with performing arts centers and corporate events up until that time, but all of a sudden I was getting called by moms who were now using the Internet as their source to find things (like everybody else was) and I was coming up as a talent agent...and they were calling me looking for clowns or magicians or balloon twisters or face-painters, and that was not the stuff I was doing, but I had just gotten called by a clown looking for opportunities. I went to Steve who had designed my website...and I said...'there's got to be a way to bring these two parties together. The mom looking for the clown. The bride looking for the cover band or the deejay. The corporate event planner looking for a speaker. Let's do something.'"
Differentiate your brand...ideally, before launching your business (14:15): "There was another entity out there that had already been doing this since '97, so we looked at that model and said 'here's what I think we shouldn't do that they're doing, and here's what we should do that they're not, and how can we make this better....' We went from conceptualization to a little bit of development, trying to find an actual programmer...who could build this for us.... Official launch January of '07, and it was all based on me going back to my 10 years of the struggle, having doors slammed in my face or phones hung up on me as I was trying to get a lucky break, to wanting to help these artists and performers and folks looking to make a living—and these are talented people. We have 65,000 people on our site right now. These are people that I admire that are really good at what they do.... They're artists, and what we've focused on is creating a platform where they can get some exposure."
Use video to showcase your talent (or your brand) (24:05): "Video is huge. Of course, it wasn't that way necessarily if you had to send a VHS tape back in the day when I was starting in the agency business, but now it's what people have come to expect. If they can't see you live, if they haven't seen you or you haven't come highly recommended from a family or friend, that is what they need to do. Video. YouTube. That free form of advertising. We try to educate everybody on our site to utilize video in some...fashion."
Learn more about GigSalad at GigSalad.com, or follow the company on Twitter at @GigSalad.