Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Interview with Eric Frankel, StarGreetz
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Last week, Los Angeles-based StarGreetz (www.stargreetz.com) debuted its celebrity-powered, personalized message service to the public, allowing both brands and artists to send highly personalized messages to their fans. We caught up with CEO Eric Frankel this week to talk about the firm, his decision to go from the comfortable world of Hollywood as President of Warner Bros Domestic Television Distribution, to a startup, how the firm is using the cloud to power it service, as well as where the firm is going next.
For our readers who haven't yet heard of your company, what's the idea behind StarGreetz?
Eric Frankel: StarGreetz is a digital media content company, that allows brands to stand out in a very cluttered marketplace. It literally lets them talk to their customers in a never-before way, on a one-on-one basis. It also allows celebrities to talk to their fans, and offer them the opportunity purchase innovative, digital, personalized products like e-cards and invitiations.
How did the company come about?
Eric Frankel: After more than 20 years as a senior executive at Warner Bros., most recently as President of a billion dollar a year division, I was looking for a new challenge. I though that there was a terrific opportunity that hand' been tapped, with the following threefold inspiration. One, the world of celebrity is big and getting bigger; two, one size doesn't fit all, and personalization is for real; and third, brands--whether that is Microsoft, or Heineken, or the rock group Coldplay--could do a better job of communication with their customers or fans. Based on those three inspirations, I wanted to build a company that allows brands and celebrities to speak to their customer in a unique manner. If you're an IP holder, if you're Coldplay, you can generate revenue from our innovative digital products, while building your fan base.
What's the technology behind this?
Eric Frankel: We've build a super-fast platform, that lives in the cloud at Amazon. It can literally deliver thousands and thousands of messages, tens of thousands per minute, to every form of platform. We go to the web, we go to feature phones, we go to smart phones, we go to land lines, iPads, Droids, and so on. We deliver personalized messages, 4 million plus different versions, to consumers--whether they go online and buy a message for themselves or a friend, or whether they've opted into a brand, and a brand or friend is pushing them a message. We've been innovating over the last fifteen months, and have to patents pending on the technology right now.
You've been in more traditional entertainment firms--as an executive in a big studio--why jump to a startup?
Eric Frankel: It was "be careful what you wish for". At the time, it seemed easy. It was an easy decision, because this is the most interesting, challenging, fun, hard work, exciting opportunity that could come along. I now work Sundays, and I work part time on Saturdays. But, I've always been a workhorse, and normally start at five in the morning and go until 8:30 at night. The beautiful thing here, is that all of the traction and momentum we've seen in the 15 months and a couple of days really continues to give us the sense that we're onto a home run here. We have celebrities lining up, brands lining up, and we have some really terrific success stories. It was a hard transition--you make a decision one day, and you're now working harder or as hard as I ever have--but it's totally been worthwhile.
Did those prior entertainment relationships help to get those celebrities to work with you?
Eric Frankel: Other people have played in this space before a little bit, but they haven't had the relationships, the experience, the financial wherewithal, and sometimes, haven't had the geographic advantage we have of being here in the right city. They haven't had the board and advisors we have. What we really did, is we took ideas that have been floating around for years, innovated, but definitely took ideas that have been around and made them better, made them easier, provided better distribution, and a better quality product. That's more or less the key. It does help being a 30-year, entertainment executive who has run a billion dollar business, and it does help to have one of the smartest boards in the entire media business. They are incredibly supportive, get what we're doing like crazy, and have been extremely helpful and also have very deep relationships.
What about the geography makes a difference?
Eric Frankel: I know of at least a couple of other companies who have played in this arena, but they have been located in areas which weren't New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. It makes it a heck of a lot harder, if you happen to be in a small Southern town, or even a large, Midwestern city, to meet with people. It's important o be able to be in New York, or San Francisco, or Los Angeles, where you and your teammates can have three to ten meetings a day to move the ball ahead. Whether those meetings are with brands, with celebrities, or entertainment managers, by being in one of those three markets you have a presence that is hard to get in many other cities.
How easy has it been to get celebrities to sign on to try this out?
Eric Frankel: With the celebrities, what they are really enjoying is the ability we're providing them to literally, talk with their fans. We've invented the world's first, personalized video Facebook app, and we've had celebrities like Reba McEntire, the huge country singer, had her own TV series for six years on WB, and PaulyD, the #1 star of an MTV show. They've literally been able to push out messages on Facebook, and instead of getting what I'd call an old-school, static email blast with a picture of a celebrity the size of a postage stamp, instead, you have Reba or PaulyD looking you in the eye and saying, hey Ben, it's whoever, I wanted to give you an update. We've taken the 140 character Twitter experience--plain text--and turned that into personalized video. Celebrities are catching onto this like crazy, and every week, we're taping more and more messages, for Facebook, for websites, or for CRM messages if they have a database, and allowing them to say--Hey Ben, it's blinkety blank, and I wanted to let you know tickets are going on sale Monday to a concert in Santa Barbara, I know you're a fan, I wanted to let you know before anyone else, and click here to purchase those tickets. Or, my new single is coming out, or I wanted to show you my music video before anyone else gets to see it. Whether you are a brand or a celebrity, never, in the history of advertising or marketing, has that spokesperson, employee, or chairman of that company been able to literally send a message where they click on it, they look you in the eye, and say they want to tell you the following. That's what is unique, and celebrities and brands are catching on to it like crazy. With all due respect to the business here, this is barely at the tip of the iceberg-even though we've delivered 11.3 million messages in the last seven months, that's nothing compared to where we'll be.
Finally, what are the next steps for the company?
Eric Frankel: The next step, is to keep our heads down, and continue what we're doing. It's really bringing in more and more world class celebrities, and let them talk to their friends in a new and unique manner, and generate revenue for them. And, we will be launching more and more new products. It's a little like Foursquare, where every two to four weeks we'll be launching something that no-one else has done before. An example, is there are things we will be announcing, with one of the biggest brands in the world, where a world class celebrity will be looking you in the eye, and recommending that you purchase a product from one of the top consumer brands out there. We're going to keep on doing what we're doing, but faster and better.Thanks, and good luck!