Emily White self-started her way up and to the top of the ladder of the music business. Starting as the tour manager of The Dresden Dolls, she was soon promoted to their manager. This led to working with the Zac Brown Band at the innovative, but ultimately ill-fated, Live Nation Artists venture, and the establishment of Whitesmith Entertainment (with her partner, Keri Smith), where she managed musicians such as Brendan Benson, The Hush Sound, Family of the Year, members of Wilco and The Fiery Furnaces, amongst others - including, comedian Margaret Cho. By any objective measure, Ms. White has had a meteoric career. Ms. White is now a deeply respected thought leader in the entertainment industry. (I take some large degree of delight in writing this, as Ms. White was a student in the very first music industry class I ever taught.)
I've long asserted that if you can make it in the music business, you're well-positioned to tackle just about any other industry. The music industry - with it's strange combination of entrenched/outmoded/byzantine practices, a firmament of corruption, a (...cough) mildly challenging revenue model, and, to paraphrase my friend Benji Rogers: a bias towards innovation that is only slightly greater than that of the Amish - is not for the faint of heart or the weak of spirit. And thus, when you succeed in it, and turn to other industries there is frequently a feeling of freedom and relief.
Without completely moving on from the music industry (Ms. White remains a Co-founding partner at Whitesmith), she has taken what she's learned and turned her focus to a different industry. However, as the interview below (lightly edited for content) shows, there may be a bit of frying pan/fire dynamic going on, as the industry Ms. White is now determined to tackle is sports, generally, and, specifically, Ms. White has founded a company called Dreamfuel, whose first product is a crowdfunding platform for athletes, including, but not limited to Olympians.
If anyone can bring innovation to this space - similarly anachronistic to the music industry - it's Ms. White. Here's hoping.
George Howard: OK. So music wasn't tough enough for you, huh. Needed another challenge, huh. [Laughs]. I know, you thought: "let's try the Olympics...it'll be cake." So, Emily, what did compel you start Dreamfuel?
Emily White: As you know, my parents and grandfather are coaches, which means I grew up immersed in sport. I was a Division I scholarship athlete and have managed artists and athletes behind some of the largest crowdfunding campaigns in history. This includes Amanda Palmer - who raised the most money ever for a musician on Kickstarter - over a million dollars.
This taught me that crowdfunding is a viable and sustainable revenue stream — due to the direct to fan data collection component for long-term use — in the entertainment industry.
GH: Amazing, but what crystalized this into a business?
EW: Dreamfuel was born out of necessity as literally the day I met Olympic gold medalist Anthony Ervin, he told me he wanted to compete on the World Cup circuit, but didn’t know how he was going to pay for it.
GH: Sounds like a musician.
EW: Right. He was leaving in a few weeks so instead of taking the risk of trying to get a sponsor in that amount of time, I suggested we do a Kickstarter campaign.
But, the Kickstarter founders rejected our campaign as they don’t work in sports. So, we quickly put together the campaign on our own; raised more than the goal, the fans became a part of the journey and Anthony was able to compete with the freedom of mind of not having to win in order to just pay off his credit card debt. That was his plan before he met me - throw the expenses on his credit card and hope that he won prize money.
He came back with sixteen medals, nine of them gold, and an American record. Additionally, the campaign received so much global unsolicited press that USA Swimming has since changed their policy and now partially fund athletes who want to compete at The World Cup.
GH: Always the case. Solve a problem. Scratch your own itch. I know where this is going.
EW: Yes. We quickly realized that Anthony is not alone as the average U.S. Olympic hopeful’s salary is $15,000/year. Meanwhile, at the youth level, kids are still going door to door selling candy and other manual goods; collecting no data for their program’s long-term benefit.
GH: A million years ago, I started a company to try to displace those door to door candy selling gambits, and instead have the kids sell classical CDs, etc. Lots of entrenched practices in the space.
EW: Right, that's why we launched Dreamfuel as an MVP [Minimum Viable Product...a low-cost, but measurable test] to show proof of concept, and see what the landscape was like.
What we found was that 90% of athletes, teams & coaches we speak with have never heard of Kickstarter or crowdfunding, yet with very minimal user outreach, athletes came to us as all athletes at all levels, except the 1%-ers, fundraise for their sport.
GH: So, there's a need and a knowledge gap, which means you have to flatten the learning curve. Which is tough. How's it going?
EW: Our three person consumer-facing team has now run campaigns for athletes in over thirty sports and on six continents. Various athletes that Dreamfuel supported over the past year have now qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games.
EW: Using our MVP and the same concept, we recently launched #DreamfuelFamily, to get the families of Olympians to Rio. In particular, swimming and track Trials in the U.S. are just a few weeks before The Rio Games. So families do not know if their son or daughter will make the team in advance and once they do, they are hit with a $15,000+ trip cost to watch their child compete on the world’s largest sports’ stage.
GH: Unreal. Keep it going. Thanks.