Thursday, May 30, 2013
How WhoSay Is Connecting Celebrities Directly With Fans
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
In a world where media empires are built off the back of the appeal of celebrities, those celebrities themselves often don't benefit from that fan interest in their lives. However, WhoSay (www.whosay.com) is hoping to change that equation, and connect celebrities directly with fans. WhoSay has a number of high profile investors, including Amazon, Comcast Ventures, and Greylock, and was co-founded in conjunction with the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) We caught up with WhoSay's CEO, Steve Ellis, to hear more about how the company is working with celebrity influencers to give them a way to better engage directly with their fanbase.
What is WhoSay?
Steve Ellis: It's pretty simple. We're building, and have been in the process of building a media company and business by, with, and for celebrity influencers. If you think about the amount of media and engagement our clients have driven in print, in digital, and through different magazines, it's a huge amount. But, they've never had their own way to drive their own engagement. These days, they're now generating more and more of their own content, often on their phones. What we've done, is built a media company for them, and with them, where they are the publishers.
What does that mean?
Steve Ellis: We give them a means to publish everything as easily as possible. We've built an application, which is invite-only, which is a content system for our clients, and makes it easy to create content and share it everywhere. We've spent the last couple of years building those tools. Those tools make it really easy for them to post content, through a mobile application, making it as quick and simple as it possibly can be. What's coming up, but not yet fully public, is we also are enhancing the fan experience, really providing the fans with a great amount of depth and context around the content our clients are sharing. That's coming up later in summer.
What's your background and how did you get into this?
Steve Ellis: I was a musician for many years, though that might be a generous description of my skills. I had a couple of record contracts, but when I was dropped from those, I started a business in music licensing. I represented independent artists and musicians, and cataloged and categorized that music and provided it to TV shows and commercials for licensing. We were paid if that music was used. I sold that to Getty Images about five years ago. I ended up sitting around for awhile, not doing anything, and then received a call from the folks at the CAA, and found we had lots in common. I started helping to figure out what was the best approach to create something in digital, which might be useful and interesting to their clients. I didn't know much about the CAA, but once we sat together, and understood the day-to-day with celebrities and athletes, it was clear to me that there was a media business here. They were instrumental in the co-founding process.
You have some funding for the company?
Steve Ellis: We did not want to be exclusive to one agency, so we were independently financed. We raised money from Amazon, Comcast Ventures, and Greylock.
How exactly does WhoSay fit into the market?
Steve Ellis: We're building an entertainment magazine create by entertainers themselves, on their smartphone. No one else in the ecosystem is doing that. We're essentially building something with our clients as part of that process, both financially and from the content perspective. When we launch our fan experience this summer, it will become clear what we're giving the fans, and how we're contextualizing what's interesting to them. And, our clients will share in how well that media business does. For our distribution, we are trying to reach fans everywhere, and get as much distribution as possible. We're partners with Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and mainstream media too. We want our content everywhere a fan is, so they can find that content everywhere. It's a classic case of where offense is the best defense. You can't prevent content in a digital world from being distributed, and there's already all kinds of media businesses all built on the backs of our clients, which are less friendly to them. What our clients can do, is create authentic content, and engage with their real fans everywhere. That's what we're focused on. We're creating a place where fans who are interested in our clients movies, books, TV shows, and whatever they are creating, and what they'll be doing next, and can get involved and get more information than anywhere else. All of that, directly from celebrities.
We noticed your operations are split between here and New York?
Steve Ellis: Yes, we have an office in Venice. The main focus of that office is to look after our clients. We've been out here from the beginning in Los Angeles, and have now been here for a full year. We have our engineers in New York, and a couple of people in London as well.
What's your big challenge, and what are you working on right now?
Steve Ellis: This summer is all about the fan experience. I think when that's launched, you will really be able to see what we're aiming towards. We're focused on getting that out, and having something compelling and interesting for fans. That's the number one priority for us, and the next big step.