Keaton Viavattine and BookLiveJuly 25, 2019
Keaton Viavattine is currently the trumpet player for the first National Tour of “The SpongeBob Musical” as well as the COO of BookLive. At Eastman, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Trumpet Performance and Music Education in 2014 and a Master’s degree in Trumpet Performance and Literature in 2018. Keaton has been employed by BookLive since 2017, and works full-time as a performer and entrepreneur.
1. Congratulations on your success with BookLive! Can you describe how this venture came about?
BookLive is the result of a lifetime of confusion and frustration; an answer to my own personal frustrations. While I was very fortunate to freelance quite a bit during my time in Rochester, NY, I was constantly worried about various details associated with each event. Organization never came easily to me, and I was quick to blame myself. The root of my struggle is that freelance music is centered upon a musician’s ability to communicate and stay organized, especially in the long term, while those skills may not be taught in school. Many hours were spent in the practice room to prepare musically, but playing a simple cocktail hour at a restaurant could quite possibly have caused me unnecessary stress and concern as I navigated this difficult world of communicating with clients and other musicians.
The application in its first form was a web app that we affectionately nicknamed “Hildegard.” Our initial hypothesis was that gigging and freelancing would be easier if we only had the right tools for the job. We decided to make those tools into an app, originally designed for our internal uses. It included many features that were not widely available to freelance musicians: a mechanism to accept credit card payments, a mechanism to issue payment to fellow musicians securely and instantly, the capability to track sales numbers, internal communications to clients, as well as many proprietary systems for clients to design their event with drag-and-drop setlist builders, digital contracts, and much more. Our hypothesis proved to be correct. We launched Dream City Music and started to book a staggering number of gigs across the country, sometimes as many as twenty in the same weekend, all of which were flawless performances. This led to many happy clients, which, of course, led to more gigs. We had proven our concept and received our seed round of investment by July 2018. While we never fully intended Dream City Music to be as big as it is, it continues to be our side business that serves as a passive income stream to fund the real mission project of the company: the BookLive app. The BookLive app is currently in beta form. We have spent many months reducing Hildegard down to the most usable and appealing product for an individual to use. Many of the powerful tools that we needed to manage ten performances per day are simply not realistically needed by an individual, but we also wanted to include more flexibility to accommodate a much wider variety of needs that any freelancer might have.
2. BookLive is based primarily out of Milwaukee, WI, and Rochester, NY. How do you go about successfully managing a business remotely?
Managing a business remotely is certainly a challenge, but we do our best to make lemonade out of lemons, which I think we have done quite successfully. We accomplished this by using resources both in Rochester and in Milwaukee. In Rochester, we had the expertise of Eastman, the IML department, and the UR Student Incubator, and in Milwaukee we had many helpful connections including legal counsel through Marquette University as well as our connections to our angel investor, Jim Mueller, who is very passionate about local Milwaukee start-ups.
Some of the specific challenges we face include communicating as a team when we do not have a physical office. We use the application “Slack” which keeps dialogues open for the various departments of BookLive. We also use “Guru” which houses the entirety of the company’s collective knowledge in a searchable library. It is extremely useful and facilitates fast-paced learning for individual members of the team. We also try to keep regular office hours which has helped minimize the impact of not being able to physically step over to the office next door. Essentially, we act as though we all work from home, wherever home may be. “Asana” is another amazing web-based task management tool that I really wish I knew about sooner – I now even use it for personal tasks.
3. Can you describe the greatest obstacles you’ve encountered in launching and expanding BookLive so far and how you came to solve them?
The greatest obstacles faced have primarily revolved around being first venture of our kind. While it is a marvelous feeling to be the first group to attempt something, there is quite often the looming question of “what next?”. We have very few models to look at for inspiration or for ideas to combat our unique challenges. While we have had some incredible mentorship both in Rochester and Milwaukee, it often remains a matter of taking our best guess. Though this is a large challenge and can be frustrating at times, it has forced our team to be very thorough with documentation and learn from our various experiments in order to discern solutions as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. Some examples of our experiments include finding unique marketing strategies, discovering the best way to walk the line between being a “technology” company and a “music” company (and deciding how best to communicate that to investors, the public, and the press, since they are all a little different). This is quite different from my understanding of other budding businesses, many of which might have numerous examples to study and inspire their business practices and application of knowledge within their unique (or not as unique) business.
4. Do you have any advice for Eastman students who may have ideas for their own entrepreneurial ventures but are unsure of how to implement them?
My advice to an Eastman Student who may have an idea of their own is to implement the process of MVP, or minimal viable product, especially in your initial stages. Minimal viable product is a concept that we came across in a book (which I highly recommend) called “Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. The premise is simple: build or design the simplest thing possible and then, through experimentation, LEARN what a customer might want and then build features. The order of those operations is key. Our entire BookLive app was designed through beta testing, and it is almost comical to look at the earliest stages. It was archaic and clunky, and though we knew it was not the most attractive product, we let our beta testers dictate what they wanted and needed, and we simply designed and solved those features and problems in the order of urgency determined by the testers in their feedback. I like the simplified model below as an example.
You stand on the street corner and start polling people as they walk by:
1. What does this immediate area need in your opinion? (majority answer: new restaurant)
2. What kind of restaurant would you like nearby? (majority answer: taco stand)
3. What kind of tacos would you like? (majority answer: carne asade and carnitas)
4. What sides would you like? (majority answer: chips and salsa)
With this, one can build an entire business model. I find this concept fascinating, and I think it is something that anyone could explore and employ in many areas, even outside of entrepreneurship.
5. How has your involvement with the IML informed the decisions you make as a musician and entrepreneur?
The feedback and mentorship that we received from the IML department was of the utmost importance; we were very early along when I first walked into the IML office, and the expertise that was immediately available to us made all the difference in helping us move forward. It is difficult to describe just how helpful it was because we did not even know what we did not know, but I think asking for my first appointment with Mr. Doser was one of the crucial steps that got us to this point. More specifically, we were put in touch with the folks of the UR/Rochester Student Incubator, and they really helped us formulate a more formal presentation of our business to ourselves and others. We still keep in touch with our assigned mentor, and fellow alumna, Kelly Kasle, as she was a huge help to us during many crucial brainstorming sessions.