Harvard Business School student Maxwell Wessel attended a concert during the winter of 2009 and found the opening band to be “far superior” to the headline act. An avid music fan, he founded NuevoStage, a company whose goal is to help connect little-known artists with local venues.
Wessel called in Chris Allen ’07 to help engineer the website and interface.
“Chris volunteered to give us some design help and did a very good job just for free,” Wessel said.
Over time, Allen’s role at the company expanded as Wessel realized how valuable he would be as a business partner, Wessel said.
The startup won a $50,000 cash prize on Wednesday at the Rethink Music conference’s Music Business Model Competition in Boston. According to Wessel, the project had largely been funded out of his and Allen’s own pockets before the win. The Berklee College of Music in Boston co-sponsored the conference which focused on the current state and future of the music industry in the midst of decreasing sales and supplied the money for the cash prize.
“The [Business Model Competition] was a part of the conference pertaining to what’s next in music, and our idea was selected as one of the new innovational companies that could help them,” Allen said.
The website, which will launch this summer with a focus on Boston venues, provides a place for venues to post a list of nights for which they have no scheduled music acts, according to Allen. Local artists can search the website for available nights and use the site’s social networking tools to create a page to advertise a gig to their fans and solicit ticket purchases.
“Similar to Groupon, if enough people come and buy tickets, once they reach the tipping point dictated by the venue, the venue then agrees to book the gig and the artist will be able to play at that venue,” Allen said.
Wessel and Allen had presented NuevoStage at the Harvard Business School’s Business Plan contest last spring, according to Allen. He said that they received helpful feedback but were unable to advance far in the contest. After the competition, they modified their platform to include not only traditional live-music performances but also gigs at birthday parties and any other small venues interested in booking artists.
“We ran a test in Boston through a company called KlickPlan and used it to see if this type of an idea would work,” Allen said. “We actually booked several events through this platform test.”
The site will benefit small artists who do not have the resources that more popular artists have, such as a manager and venue contacts, according to Allen.
“It’s a vicious cycle where the artist, in order to gain popularity, needs to play at venues and live performances, but they can’t play these live performances without having a good history of bringing in customers to these venues,” Allen said.
The company will use part of the prize money to reimburse out-of-pocket costs and use the rest to continue with the website’s development, according to Wessel. Wessel said NuevoStage hopes to hire one full-time employee and go through one more round of development before its launch.
Wessel and Allen have been friends since high school. Wessel traces his interest in music back to his days in elementary and high school when he played drums and participated in shows before joining the radio station at Northwestern University. Since college, Wessel’s role in music has largely been as a fan, he said.
Wessel said that although Allen’s involvement in the music industry is not as extensive, Allen’s background in engineering has been vital in the design aspect of the website.
The team said there are plans to expand the website to include venues in other cities, but for now, NuevoStage will be tested in Boston from the company’s headquarters in Cambridge.
“I think it’s a product that artists want, it’s a product that artists would use, fans are familiar with the purchase mechanism,” Wessel said. “I think the big issue is getting venues to sign up in a cost-effective manner and engage them.”