• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

From Actor To CEO – To Pitch Contest!

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To prepare, we watched all the pitches from the last Women 2.0 PITCH Startup Competition and noted not only the questions the judges asked, but also which pitches we liked the best and why.

By Kathryn Velvel Jones (Founder & CEO, VirtualArtsTV)

After 16 years as a professional actor/producer, I took a job as Vice President of business development for an online video startup in 2008. I knew an office job was going to be a difficult adjustment, but I also knew that this was a job I had to take.

For those of us who remain actors out of a great love of the work, the lifestyle is mostly grim. I spent my 20s pounding the proverbial pavement (sadly, not a metaphor) until finally I decided that waiting for other people to make my dreams come true wasn’t going to cut it anymore. It was time to create my own opportunities.

A screenplay lead to a video series which led to social media and a whole new world of people and connectivity, which led to co-organizing podcamp NYC which finally, led to April 18, 2007. That day was he debut of Jeff Pulver and Chris Brogan’s live-streamed talk show, and my first introduction to newly launched live-streaming platforms.

My heart began to pound as I watched Jeff and Chris interact with their audience in real time. As an actor who had been performing in front of live audiences since I was four years old, I immediately understood the great promise that live-streaming platforms held for the performing arts. I cancelled my video podcast that night and began work on the first ever live-streamed web series.

Five months later that series, “35″ had its premier. Shot with multiple cameras, all edited in real time and streamed live to Ustream.tv, all ten episodes were shot with a cast and crew of 20 for less than $6k. It was hard. It was very, very hard – but by the end of our run we had been covered by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and featured on iTunes. I knew I was on to something – the question was, how to make it profitable?

My determination to answer that question is what lead me to take the position at the online video startup. My time at the company introduced me to the world of advertising agencies, media buyers, branding, clients, proposals, insertion orders and investors. I met great people and the knowledge I gained in 2008, and in my subsequent work has lead me to become the grateful and passionate CEO of VirtualArtsTV in 2012.

The journey has not been without struggle, what startup’s journey is?

VirtualArtsTV is a disruptive concept for a struggling 14 billion dollar performing arts industry. But even as the industry continues to experience double digit rates of audience decline and accompanying shrinking revenue stream, some branches of the industry remain adverse to incorporating 21st century technology into art forms that are centuries old.

And, while VirtualArtsTV strongly embraces a startup model and I have been an ardent follower of the New York startup scene for years, VATV is not in perfect alignment with a community focused on engineers and PHP. Those discrepancies can be daunting – but the positives far outweigh any concerns about fitting neatly into a predefined model.

The large viewerships of our past projects prove that audiences aren’t in decline – they are online and that we understand not only how to reach them, but how to engage them.

Our numbers suggest that VirtualArtsTV has the potential to build a multimillion dollar live-streaming performing arts business, an opportunity that very few other companies are poised to take advantage of. And, as a women-led company, we insert a valuable point of view into the cultural phenomenon of online video.

After taking a year to write our business plan, research our marketing strategy, develop financial projections and expand our team it was finally time for us to introduce VirtualArtsTV to the world at large. The obvious choice for us? The Crowdfunder Beta Pitch contest. Not only was it a national contest in which well known investors were participating as judges, the community voting part of the competition would give us an excuse to reach out to our friends, clients and supporters and update them on our progress.

Knowing that the contest would tax a startup’s limited resources, we were careful to make sure that our efforts were being spent wisely and articulated the tasks we wanted to accomplish through participation:

  • Finalize our investment materials
  • Create and practice a fantastic, repeatable pitch presentation.
  • Meet and get feedback from potential investors
  • Advertise our work to prospective clients

First, we had to make it to the finals via audience voting. We used the crowd sourcing skills we honed when funding our proof of concept project on Kickstarter to get the necessary votes. Task completed, we were onto the pitch.

To prepare, we watched all the pitches from the last Women 2.0 PITCH Startup Competition and noted not only the questions the judges asked, but also which pitches we liked the best and why.

We created a new deck, one that mirrored the information in our standard investor deck but was more suitable for a live presentation. And finally we practiced. And practiced. And practiced…

Was the time, the effort, the money worth it? Absolutely.

It was incredibly gratifying to be recognized as a runner-up in a pitch contest judged by such a formidable group of angels and VC’s and in which we competed against some of the strongest tech companies I have had the privilege of seeing pitch.

And the results have been right in line with our goals; our investor materials are ready to go at a moment’s notice, we have received very valuable feed back, our success has prompted meetings with a number of angels and VC’s, and the publicity we generated has brought us new clients.

When I first came to New York, I would never have guessed that I would follow this path. I would never have guessed that the business page would be my favorite section of the Times, or that the startup community would ultimately be the community in which I found my most meaningful inspiration.

Competing in the Crowdfunder pitch contest was both the perfect cap to my journey to CEO, and the perfect beginning to VirtualArtsTV.

As the VATV team is so fond of saying, onward and upward! Who can we pitch next?

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

Photo credit: JP Yim on Flickr.

video_biggerAbout the guest blogger: Kathryn Velvel Jones is Founder and CEO of VirtualArtsTV. Previously Kathryn was as VP of Business Development for online video startup For Your Imagination. Kathryn produced a number of first of kind live-streamed video events, among them the first live-streamed web drama, live-streamed political webathon and live–streamed interactive play to critical acclaim and audiences in the tens of thousands. She holds a B.S. from Northwestern University. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynjones.