Interview with SparkGig Co-Founder Desmond Choi
By Valerie McCulloch ● May 12, 2016 18:15
Whether you’re seeking a magician to inspire the office team, or need a DJ for your house party, the new online community SparkGig has you covered: connecting talent seekers with talented performers. Bundle the community aspect of SparkGig with performer reviews, ratings, e-commerce, interactive demonstrations, and a geo-specific booking platform, and you’ve got a scalable user experience. It’s safe to say that when it comes to finding and booking live performances, there is no equivalent to SparkGig.
Desmond Choi was inspired to create SparkGig in 2014 because he saw two main challenges in the entertainment industry:
1.The struggle of finding unique and talented performers.
2.Performers having a tough time finding opportunities and self-promotion.
He was also motivated by his passion for business and social cause, “We’re in the business of ‘doing good.’ We built SparkGig to help performers live out their passion and pursue their craft. We're on a mission to build a community that celebrates art and entertainment.”
SparkGig re-imagines the entertainment marketplace by creating a platform for performers to build their brand and showcase their talent to prospective clients. The user experience from both the performer and seeker is seamless, simple, and secure. With 2,500 performers registered on SparkGig, it’s also highly successful.
We recently caught up with Choi, the co-founder of SparkGig, about this innovative online community. You may recognize him from his appearances on Dragon's Den, which resulted in offers both times he was on.
What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
I started at a young age by accident. I've always been into illustration, and in Grade 4 I forgot my lunch money. I sold one of my drawings to a classmate for $5 and bought lunch. She loved the piece and it was a great value exchange so I drew more and sold more. This was my launch into entrepreneurship and that's the humble truth.To me, an entrepreneur is someone who understands a problem and wants to solve it in a creative way. Define the problem and then design the solution. Always being interested in new challenges and new things keeps that spirit alive. As I was finishing my degree in Sociology at the University of Waterloo and thinking about what impacts social constructs and drives societal change, I was active with a tech startup called MappedIn. As I was finishing my degree, I took a trip to New York and everything changed. I felt a spark.
How did you come up with the idea for SparkGig?
It was in New York on a trip with friends when the idea for SparkGig began to take shape. My friends were great performers, studying at Julliard, but they didn't have the tech skills to develop their own brands and market themselves. They were worried about the future, because society views performing arts and music as a luxury … gigs are hard to find in a traditional sense. My friends’ fears led me to a “eureka moment” and the desire to create SparkGig. I taught myself programming at a young age, and was plugged into the power of technology, so I decided to create a support network for these performers and connect them to gig opportunities in a new way. SparkGig believes performing arts and artists should be accessible and live performances should be available to everyone.
What prompted you join CFC Media Lab’s IDEABOOST?
I was searching the entertainment scene in Toronto and came across the Canadian Film Centre (CFC). The CFC is highly focused on the talent within the entertainment industry, so it was a natural fit. Also, a colleague [of mine] had worked with the CFC and had many positive things to say. We decided to join CFC Media Lab’s IDEABOOST program and have attended three events so far. The speakers and workshops are phenomenal, and they have created further conversations and networking opportunities. The support and mentorship has been fantastic. We received market strategy support and look forward to the next event and meeting other companies in IDEABOOST.
What do you want audiences to know about SparkGig?
Our vision is to make live entertainment accessible to the mass public. We are deep diving to create opportunities for event organizers and performers.We want the world to know, ‘If you're a performer seeking performance opportunities, sign-up at SparkGig. We work with students, music schools and part-time performers to connect them with paying gigs.’
It doesn’t make sense for a group of high-level performers who don’t perform full-time to self-promote, given the financial resources and time that it takes. Part-time performers want to enjoy the experience without all the back-end headaches that tend to accompany the business aspect of the industry. This is how and why we make it easy and free for them to book through SparkGig. We remove barriers and offer them a one-of-a kind space for their brand development, promotion and booking. Then we offer them exposure to potential clients. We have 2,500 performers to date in (mainly) the North American market. Currently, we are doubling bookings through SparkGig every month, so it's working.
What's the biggest challenge you currently face or have faced in terms of development?
There are two main challenges we're working on right now. The first is continuing to recruit performers to match market demand for entertainment, specifically on the East Coast of Canada and the U.S. The second challenge, which we're close to solving, is the improvement of the booking process. We are streamlining it to make the user experience is as simple as possible.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned since starting your company?
We can't complete our mission alone. We need to integrate live, accessible entertainment into the social fabric of day-to-day life. Live entertainment is viewed as a luxury, so we need to work with and gain support from educational bodies, government, society and professional entertainers to change this complex perception. We need to share the vision and message of SparkGig with as many people as possible and provide more opportunities and programs for entertainers and entertainment seekers.
Can you tell us about any exciting partnerships?
We have partnered with a variety of organizations, ranging from Fortune 500 companies seeking live performances at meeting breakouts to wedding planners who desire unique and accessible entertainment. Anything from an army of Storm Troopers to talented face painters ... it's available at SparkGig. We're always open to new opportunities and partnerships.
What other projects do you have on the horizon?
We are working on building our “Spark a Change” program, which connects our growing community to charities in need. We are also very committed to volunteering with the Salvation Army.
Interested in attending IDEABOOST Network Connect events, meeting our mentors, aligning with fellow startups, and partnering with allies like SparkGig’s co-founder Desmond Choi? Visit www.ideaboost.ca for more information or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. IDEABOOST is funded in part by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.