Podcast Transcript – Series One, Episode 08
kAHlil Ashanti weshowup MAR 2020
[00:00:00] Kahlil: [00:00:00] I shook every audience members hands, and the audience members kept saying, I would’ve paid more for that.
[00:00:04] so I rolled into Iowa at age 11 and people are like, where did this brother come from?
[00:00:08]here I am in my early twenties with with Caesar’s palace licensing, an idea that I created. And I caught the bug man.
[00:00:15] as an entrepreneur, it makes you responsible for your own success,
[00:00:19]there was nothing online, nothing like that. And so I built it.
[00:00:23]leverage that network because you can buy clicks, but you can’t buy trust.
[00:00:27] you’re traveling as a black founder and you go to the lounge,
[00:00:30]and people are like, can I help you sir?
[00:00:32]comparison is the thief of joy.
[00:00:34] Dan: [00:00:34] What’s up Unfound Nation. Dan Kihanya here, your host for Founders. Unfound ever wonder if those donation please on Wikipedia and PBS actually work? Well, we’re here to find out through our guests for this episode. Kahlil Ashanti, he’s our first military veteran. Thank you for your service. Kahill and all those who serve and he is bringing us the concept of volunteer payment to the live entertainment space.
[00:00:59] This episode is sponsored by Founders Live. As always, if you’re excited about what we’re doing with founders unfound you can find our podcasts on Apple, Google, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and now YouTube. And please follow us on Twitter and Instagram @foundersunfound or go to our website, foundersunfound.com and sign up for our updates.
[00:01:21] Please follow, like, and share and help us grow now on with the episode.
[00:01:25] Hope you enjoy. Hello and welcome to founders on unfound spotlighting the best startups you don’t know yet. We bring you stories of exceptional founders from underrepresented backgrounds. This is episode eight in our series on founders of African descent. I’m your host, Dan Kihanya. Let’s get on it. Today. We have Kahlil Ashanti, founder and CEO of weshowup.
[00:02:00] Weshowup platform connects audiences and creators. Economically when the value of their event experience is at its highest afterwards, welcome to the show Kahlil and thank you for making the time.
[00:02:13] Kahlil: [00:02:13] Hey Dan. Good to be here.
[00:02:15]Dan: [00:02:15] So I somewhat mysteriously introduced it. We show up. So let’s start off with helping, our listeners understand what exactly does the company do?
[00:02:24] Kahlil: [00:02:24] What does it do? So here’s what we show up. What if you could make a reservation. See this show, and then as you’re leaving, get a text or an email asking you how much you thought it was worth. So in a nutshell, that’s what it is. We help creators and audiences connect at the time when the, I mean, the perceived value of any event is highest afterwards anyway.
[00:02:44] You don’t really know the value of something until you’ve seen it. And so when you, you know, I stumbled upon that, wrote the code, and, and here we are.
[00:02:53]Dan: [00:02:53] That’s awesome. So, yeah, I imagine you focus on live performances and, and aspiring, performers.
[00:03:00] Kahlil: [00:03:00] I’ll tell you what, man, it’s been an exciting week.
[00:03:02] I mean, live is perfect. Live performances of course, aspiring performers. But we’re also working with clients around the world that are actually people you might have heard of, you know, people from America’s got talent who are trying to sell tickets. Because what’s happening is called sort of the, well, there’s two things happening. The Netflix effect, which is nobody wants to leave their house anymore. And I’m, I’m guilty of that. I love me some Narchos. Right. And then the other thing is that the traditional audience of the arts is aging out of participation. And there’s a new audience, who has never paid full price for music.
[00:03:36] And so getting them to come and see the arts in a traditional sense is going to be a lot harder and so basically we show up, de-risk that conversation. But the other part that’s happened since I saw you last, Dan, is virtual events. We’ve been approached by companies who are doing virtual in VR events where you literally don’t need to leave your couch, and that’s exactly what they want you to do.
[00:04:00]Dan: [00:04:00] Brilliant. That’s fascinating. Wow. We need to unpack all of that for sure. This is cool stuff, but let’s start off a little bit with, understanding who you are. I mean, you have a great name, but tell us a little bit about yourself.
[00:04:13] I know you were in the air force. That’s right. And you’ve done many things since then, but, tell us a little bit about it. Where you, where you were born, where you came from.
[00:04:23] Kahlil: [00:04:23] Well, I was born, no little Richard Pryor for you. I was, born in Germany, raised in Japan till I was 10 or 11, and then went to high school in Iowa.
[00:04:36]And so I did join the U S air force. I joined the air force to escape a violently abusive childhood. spent most of my life as most young boys do, trying to please their father, only to find out that this guy wasn’t even my real dad. And I found out the night before I left for basic training and my mom’s swears, she told me before, she said, I probably just forgot.
[00:04:56]So off I go to the U S air force, , my entire identity is just shattered. And my job in the U S air force, was actually called information management specialist, which is a fancy way of saying I work with computers and I was a mailman.
[00:05:10]Dan: [00:05:10] people often don’t think about the fact that the military is, it’s like a large company, right?
[00:05:17] And so, yeah, there’s people who are out, you know, sort of, on the front lines, so to speak. there’s a whole set of organizational aspects that need to manage all that. And there’s people who do, you know, quote unquote. Normal jobs. and so I think people, a lot of people don’t think about that when they think you’re in the military.
[00:05:36] You think, Oh yeah, you were fighting and you were being shot at. And there was times maybe you were, but yeah.
[00:05:43] Kahlil: [00:05:43] Yeah. I mean, you’re right, there’s a little bit of that, but I think you’re, you hit the nail on the head. It’s the, the air force has a company, even to even put it more specifically, it’s, you know, when you get stationed at a base, Nellis air force base is a good example.
[00:05:56]it’s a city. So the military base has everything that a typical city would need. But as a GI, as a soldier, as an airman, you can live your whole life without going off base. So there’s a post office, there’s a mall, there’s a burger King, there’s a gym hospital. I mean, you know, grocery store and the mailman, which was me.
[00:06:18]Dan: [00:06:18] There you go. so it sounds like you had a tough childhood, both in the house and sort of, it must have been challenging to go from Germany to Japan. I imagine that one of your parents was in the military as well. Is that why you moved around a lot?
[00:06:32] Kahlil: [00:06:32] Yeah. Yeah. My dad, my stepdad was in the military.
[00:06:36]And when you’re a kid, I think up to a certain age, you don’t know the difference. You just go with your parents go. And I’m the oldest of four, so my younger brother, my brother who’s two years younger than me at the time, it affected him differently than it affected me. But , I mean, it was kind of a living hell of a childhood.
[00:06:54] But you know, thinking back, I just think. What a cool experience though to live in Japan in the 80s I mean, we had Apple, two E computers on our desk before the U S kids did. So I just tried to look at the blessings and try to, you know, try to figure out where I can use my story to help others. And.
[00:07:13]That’s kind of what led to this whole computer thing. You know, Japanese was my first language, so being black and speaking Japanese fluently and liking computers wasn’t a great way to make friends in the hip hop age, right. I wasn’t that good at sports. So I rolled into Iowa at age 11 and people are like, where did this brother come from?
[00:07:36] Dan: [00:07:36] Yes. You must have been quite an anomaly for people to figure out.
[00:07:40]Kahlil: [00:07:40] you know, you don’t really think about it when you’re going through it, but looking back, it’s everything about my story. I guess one of my acting coaches said it best. I took an acting class from Jeffrey Tambor and he said, you know, one day your pain is going to be somebody else’s survival guide.
[00:07:58]So don’t be afraid to share and let people know what you really went through.
[00:08:02] Dan: [00:08:02] Wow, that’s profound. He’s the, let’s see. He, he’s from arrested development,
[00:08:08] Kahlil: [00:08:08] is that right? Yeah. George Bluth on arrested development. Right,
[00:08:12] Dan: [00:08:12] right. while you took an acting class. Well we have to get into that for sure. But, so why did you pick the air force?
[00:08:18] This is interesting cause you were coming out of this, what you realized, I guess was an abusive situation and it seems interesting that you kind of went to the same place , where your stepdad’s, origin story is why the air force and not the circus or something else?
[00:08:38] Kahlil: [00:08:38] Well, I guess living in Davenport, Iowa at the time, there were not a lot of options. I mean, Iowa is a big sports state. You’ve got wrestling and football and so many great things to do there as a teenager. But. Yeah, the family business was the military and affording university just wasn’t an option.
[00:08:57] And so I think as a kid you do sort of what you see, what’s around you and mine. My stepdad was in the army. And then the other thing is, I don’t know if you remember this, if it was this way in your high school or any of your listeners, but the hallways were crawling with military recruiter, right?
[00:09:13] It was like, yeah. you didn’t have to go far. Even like recruiting offices, you know, not now. They have Starbucks used to have recruiting offices everywhere, just like a Starbucks, you know? And so there was a recruiter who came to our school and I was looking for a way out. I was like, I don’t want to live here.
[00:09:29] I don’t want to live this life. I need to get as far away from this as possible. And her name was Betty jazz. I’ll never forget her. And she’s like, Hey, Kahlil, you’d be a great candidate for the air force, and you can you know, sign on the dotted line and you can be whatever you want. And so I was like, I’m in, you hadn’t met line.
[00:09:48] So I signed up and believe it or not, I could always draw. I love drawing. To this day, I’ve been drawing longer than I’ve been performing, and I wanted to be an architect, so I signed up to be an architect in the U S air force, and that’s how they got me.
[00:10:05]Dan: [00:10:05] Well, if Betty, if you’re listening, I, I think, hopefully you’ll hear that this is a success story.
[00:10:10]that’s, that’s interesting. so you’re in the air force, you’re doing what you’re doing. how do you go from the air force to performing?
[00:10:20]Kahlil: [00:10:20] Well, since 1953, the U S air force has had a group called Tops in Blue, and they lost their funding in 2016 I think that was the last year. So for about 60 give or take, you know, 60 years, the air force has had an all active duty military performing group.
[00:10:39]Whose job was to perform for troops and the most dangerous parts of the world and remind them what they were fighting for. And as I was doing my interview with my recruiter, she told me about this. She’s like, Hey, , what are some of the things you do in your community? You know, as the air force recruiters, we like to recruit people who are active in their communities.
[00:11:01] And I’m like, well, you know, I go to church. My mom teaches Sunday school. Sometimes I help with the kids, you know, watch, watch the kids during Sunday school. and I do stand up comedy at the funnybone comedy club, which was a local comedy club at the time in Davenport. And my recruiter was like, Oh wow, there’s this thing you can do in the military and the air force where it’s a worldwide talent competition.
[00:11:20] And the most talented soldiers have to compete. And then if you win, then you get to tour the world and perform in dangerous places. But you know what? Kahlil you’re probably not funny enough, so don’t worry about it. It’s called Tops in Blue.
[00:11:34]Dan: [00:11:34] So as a high school or you had been doing standup comedy?
[00:11:38]music tide pt1
[00:11:39] Kahlil: [00:11:39] That’s right. I didn’t have the, the money or the resources to do performing arts school or sort of the honey booboo track, you know, really, you know, I was always trying to cheer up. My mom. Or my little brother, after the beatings, after the fights, after the arguments, I remember there’s one thing, where my stepdad used to make me and my little brother at the time, stand at attention overnight and he would lay a belt across our feet while he slept on the couch.
[00:12:09]So if you moved, the belt buckle would make a sound and he’d wake up and you’d catch a beating. So I remember, I think I was 12 and my little brother must’ve been 10. We’re standing there overnight cause it’s something we had done. We were being punished for. standing up for long periods of time is one of the most popular torture tactics.
[00:12:27] They used it for Al-Qaida that you can read about it everywhere. And so we were forced to do this as children standing overnight and we were not allowed to cry because that would show weakness. So my little brother starts sort of whimpering and crying cause his back starts to hurt. I mean, we had been standing for four hours at least.
[00:12:46] And so to keep him from crying, I did impressions of my stepdad who was asleep and it made him laugh. And that was the first time I felt. A sense of self worth that I had never felt before. All my self worth before. It was tied to the fact that I was the only black person for miles, and I hope I’m good at sports.
[00:13:07] Now I realize, well, wow, maybe there’s another Avenue for me. Maybe there’s another way for me to be of use in this world. Despite the fact that this man laying here made me feel like I was worth nothing. So that’s how I learned. I could make people laugh. And then I started making my mom laugh when she’s washing dishes and she’d have tears in her eyes and I’d start doing impressions.
[00:13:29] And then I started Looney tunes. And then, you know what the thing was, Dan was Eddie Murphy. I was like, when Eddie Murray, you know, like I’m talking about eighties Eddie Murphy, right? This dude was like the Michael Jackson a comedy, you know? So I saw Eddie and I thought, wow, that’s his job. And that just sort of ballooned into me performing and never being disruptive in school, but keeping kids laughing.
[00:13:52] And then there were talent shows and I could help people forget their pain and in turn they would help me forget mine. And performing just kind of blossomed out of that.
[00:14:03]Dan: [00:14:03] Wow. So you’re in the air force and you dropped this nugget and they say tops is the place for you. And so you start performing.
[00:14:12]basically for a job, I guess, in the air force. and that continued beyond once you got out of the air force.
[00:14:20] Kahlil: [00:14:20] Yeah. So what happens is you join the air force, you go through basic training. You go through tech school, like an air force, like an airman, right? You have a job as an airman and you have to do that job.
[00:14:30] Well, you’re expected to be a productive member of the air force or the military, and you do chemical work for a training in all of these things. But what you can do is in your spare time after work, you can go to this talent show and try out for the tops and blue competition. And if you are selected, then the Tops in Blue staff based in San Antonio, we’ll go to your commander and say, Hey, Kahlil is a talented soldier.
[00:14:55] We think he can represent the air force well performing around the world. would you let him go on what was called a permissive TDY. temporary duty assignment. So for 10 months out of the year, they pulled me out of that unit and put me into this elite entertainment unit, which we were brought down to San Antonio.
[00:15:13] They brought in choreographers from Broadway and lighting and staging people. And they built this show around the talents of the soldiers who had competed from all over the world to be a part of it. And so that’s how Thompson blue. Was formed and it was 18 hour days. I think probably 60% of the people who are selected don’t make it til the end of the tour because
[00:15:35] we’re our own crew lighting crew, we’re our own technicians, and we the same people you see singing and dancing are the same people that unloaded that truck and put up those lights and EEQ the. the monitors and everything else. So it was crazy, man. It was like one minute you’re wearing steel toed boots and back braces and work gloves and the next minute you’re in sequence shucking and jiving.
[00:15:58]Dan: [00:15:58] Oh my goodness.
[00:16:03] Kahlil: [00:16:03] I wrote a pilot for a television series about it cause it was actually my one man show. Basic training is actually based on this and. And I got interest from HBO and all kinds of different networks because it ended up being like Band of Brothers with instruments or like M.A.S.H, but with music.
[00:16:19] You know what I mean? It was pretty ugly stories. Or we could do a whole nother interview on that. Man. That was crazy.
[00:16:25] Dan: [00:16:25] Yeah. So, I watched a couple of the YouTube videos. You did this one. One man show called basic training. Yeah. And this was after you left the air force, right?
[00:16:36] Kahlil: [00:16:36] That’s right.
[00:16:37]Dan: [00:16:37] And so that was I guess your for a, and to performing. and you also spent some time kind of in Hollywood too, right?
[00:16:45] Kahlil: [00:16:45] That’s right. So what, what happened was I was stationed at Nellis air force base in Las Vegas with the 57th fighter wing. And, I toured with Tops in Blue a lot while I was in the military, which kept me, you know, away from the base.
[00:16:59] And then when I got back, you get an honorable discharge and they hand you your little piece of paper and, you get your cheap suit and you go get a job, you know? So I go downtown and. And I actually ended up performing magic in Japanese at Caesar’s palace, which we could probably save for another interview.
[00:17:16] There’s a lot of interesting stories there, but, but I getting a job performing, magic and Japanese at Caesar’s palace. And, and then I, decided after performing for four years, doing that three shows a night, six nights a week at Caesar’s palace. That I needed to move to LA and become what I thought was a real actor.
[00:17:38] So I needed to ,get my teeth bleached and wear a tight shirt and get a goat tee and get some earrings and, and fortunately I never got that far cause I ended up taking Jeffrey’s class, which is where basic training ended up happening. And sort of the arc of that story is that I came in wanting to be the next funny black guy and Jeffrey Tambor was like, look man, you have a story that’s worth telling.
[00:18:01]Stop trying to hide behind what everybody else is doing. Hollywood, they need more funny black guys. We need more real people regardless of what color you are. So if you’re not going to tell a story and make the audience care, please just get out of my class.
[00:18:13]Dan: [00:18:13] Oh my goodness.
[00:18:14] Kahlil: [00:18:14] Okay. Right. It was real and it wasn’t, you hear about Hollywood acting classes and people up there, you know, trying to look, all of, you know, Hollywood huge. Jeffrey was about the real, he was like, we got to bring this bro, cause you’re not be wasting my time. And the people he had in his class, Dan, were, they were on TV.
[00:18:33] Like these were people at the time that were on the Buffy, the vampire slayers in the that 70 shows like these people were there to work. And I just felt really fortunate to have been a part of that cause that’s where basic training was, was birthed.
[00:18:49] Dan: [00:18:49] Outstanding. Wow. This is an amazing story.
[00:18:52]We will take a short break to hear from our sponsor and be right back with Kahlil Ashanti from weshowup.
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[00:19:47] Dan: [00:19:47] We’re back with Khalil Ashanti from weshowup. And before the break Kaliyah we were talking about your tremendous, first career, I guess, or second career. You were in the military, you were kind of in the performance world. You were part of a Hollywood scene. and, your journey took you to this one man show.
[00:20:07] Let’s talk a little bit about how you have decided to make the transition from. Performer to entrepreneur? how did that come about?
[00:20:17] Kahlil: [00:20:17] You know, it was really not intentional. I just think, you know, I’ve, I’ve seen enough calendars as they say, I’m old enough to remember when, you had to use the phone book to get gigs.
[00:20:28] You had to pick up the phone and talk to people. And then being a lots of homework. Right, right. No,
[00:20:38] Dan: [00:20:38] yeah. For those listeners below the age of, let’s say 30 or 25, a phone book was actually, if you wanted somebody’s phone number, it wasn’t programmed into your phone because you had a analog landline.
[00:20:51]They wouldn’t, their big fat book. That was probably three inches thick. And that’s where phone numbers were kept. That’s right. How you find out how to contact people.
[00:21:01] Kahlil: [00:21:01] And if you had a company, you would try to name it starting with an a, so you could be at the front of the phone book.
[00:21:08] Dan: [00:21:08] Yes. That’s why there’s a lot of Acmes.
[00:21:11] Kahlil: [00:21:11] Nobody want to be flipping through all those pages. But yeah. So I remembered, you know, to answer your question about The journey from actor to entrepreneur was that you had to be an entrepreneur to be a successful act because everything went online and you had access to so much more information.
[00:21:26] And I remember the first time I realized that was when I auditioned at Caesar’s palace to be a magician. I told them that I could perform it in Japanese and that’s what got me the gig. Because they were, had an uptick and Japanese guests at the time, this was 97, 98. Right. And, and so I decided to translate their show into Japanese and then Caesar’s palace licensed it from me.
[00:21:52]Dan: [00:21:52] Really?
[00:21:53] Kahlil: [00:21:53] Yeah. So here. Yeah. Right. So, and you’ve heard my background. That’s not something that w people like me didn’t. People like us didn’t do things like that from where I was from. It was. You know, my parents have a story and that the story that was given to me that my life journey was get you a check, get you a steady check from whoever and shut up and don’t bump into the furniture.
[00:22:14] We don’t start businesses. We don’t come up with ideas. Nobody want to hear what you’ve got to say. Well, here I am in my early twenties with with Caesar’s palace licensing, an idea that I created. And I caught the bug man. That was my first thing where I was like, okay, I can be an actor and make money like that.
[00:22:30] And then I could have other things and be an entrepreneur. And then I started to see Diddy and Jay Z and all these other people start to be more than just a performer. And that was it, man. I was addicted. And so, you know, I ended up moving to LA. And then the other thing I did was I started messing with websites.
[00:22:51] HTML was in its infancy. And if you knew what you were doing, you could build, I think it was called angel fire. You could build these really ugly, crappy sites where your friends on and Metro cities and all these. So I just have this voracious appetite for knowledge. And so always trying to learn and, and, and, and see ways that I can differentiate myself.
[00:23:14] And so that, that’s how it all started. So by the time I got to. Performing basic training and then taking it all over the world and then it being on Broadway, I felt like being an entrepreneur was you had to be.
[00:23:28]Dan: [00:23:28] that makes sense. I mean, I think there’s a lot of overlap. I mean, it’s really interesting that you bring up Jay Z and Diddy and, you know, such a tragedy, even Kobe was showing that you could take this, Maybe it’s the risk taking or the appetite for taking on new things, taking on different roles, which performers end up having to do quite a bit and have to get comfortable with. and also probably getting comfortable with rejection, which happens a lot as an entrepreneur.
[00:23:57] So there’s a lot of overlap. At least from a business entrepreneurial side, I see with people who, sort of have this performance aspect of their character. we’ve talked to several entrepreneurs who were athletes who actually made it to pretty elite levels. and they’ve talked about how that translated into being entrepreneur.
[00:24:17] That’s great that you’ve fell into it. and I, I do think there’s some interesting aspects of this common thread of your life where you’ve been able to adapt and then overcome and create momentum and growth that just the world gets the benefit from. So the fact that you could speak Japanese and you can use that, and the fact that you’ve used your performance, out of necessity, you created this ability to make people laugh and probably cry too.
[00:24:47] And so I think that’s amazing.
[00:24:50] Kahlil: [00:24:50] I mean, you know, the other thing Dan, is I feel like. It becomes, even as an entrepreneur, one of the greatest realizations was that it makes you responsible for your own success, is that, you know, yes, degrees are important. I don’t mean to demean the value of an education, but you got to have a talent for your talent, and the degree is not enough if you know lots of people with degrees, but if you don’t know what to do with it, if you don’t have that drive, and the ability to really understand how you can add value to other people’s lives, then it’s just a piece of paper. And so that’s really what inspired me is the agency of taking responsibility for my own success and as an actor. And then in the startup world, I’m seeing it even more. I can just, I feel like I could write a book about the commonalities between an actor begging for attention from an agent because they want to be in a movie in Hollywood.
[00:25:41] And a start up entrepreneur begging for money from an investor. Cause I think the investor is the key to their success.
[00:25:47] Dan: [00:25:47] There’s a lot of similarities in those, parallel worlds for sure. so let’s talk a little bit more about how did weshowup actually, how was it born?
[00:25:57]Kahlil: [00:25:57] So Basic Training, took me all over the world and, got me reviews and in a lot of legitimacy.
[00:26:02] And. Building a brand for me in the theater, in this performing arts world, and it was time for a new show and I wrote a new show about the childhood of Richard Pryor and one of the things that stuck with me is that way back when we were performing with Tops in Blue and I was touring your world as a soldier performing, we had to shake the hands of every audience member at the end of the show because oftentimes these audience members were sitting on tanks and we were the last thing that they saw before they went to battle.
[00:26:28] And like literally the last thing they saw so it stuck with me as you would talk to these soldiers and they would thank you. And then I kept performing and then when I did basic training, I would stand up the exit and thank everybody, hundreds and hundreds of shows. I shook every audience members hands, and the audience members kept saying, I would’ve paid more for that.
[00:26:48] I would have paid more for that. And I was like, Whoa, okay. I mean, that was the early social media, right? When you actually talk to people,
[00:26:59] God forbid you talk to them, you’re not hide behind the screen name fast forward to 2017 I want to write a new show and get it out on the road and test it, and I’m like, well hell, what am I going to charge people for tickets? Cause as a performer with a huge amount of experience at every level of the business.
[00:27:15] I know ticket prices are our best guess. There’s a little marketing and you know, but he’d be able, people are guessing, you have your hard costs, but I just thought, okay, well let’s, let’s, let’s try something. And so I decided to ask the audience and I did pay what you want, sort of know, pass the hat.
[00:27:32] And I made more money that way than charging $20 a person. But as the entrepreneur hat on, as an actor hat, I was like, man, I’m, I’m paying my rent, you know? But then as an entrepreneur, my mind went to, well, how do I market to these people?
[00:27:46]Dan: [00:27:46] That’s fascinating. Cause I think that’s so counterintuitive.
[00:27:50] Or maybe just counter practice, right? The way the industry works is that, you know, Hey, I’m renting this hall, or I’m paying this fee, or, you know, whatever it is, and I gotta get people to commit to an economic transaction upfront and then they get what they get.
[00:28:09] Kahlil: [00:28:09] That’s right. And, like you said, that has been the driver, you know, the advertising industrial complex has used scarcity of information as a driver.
[00:28:17] And we as performers have been, you know, we’ve been subject to it. You rent a place, you want to make your money back. But what’s happened over the last couple of decades is that there’s a currency of attention. That longterm is going to make you more money. Yes, I can charge people, I mean, I’ve performed on Broadway, like I, I could charge people 50 bucks and I could probably get it, but when I actually ask the audience afterwards what they thought it was worth, I made more money and I couldn’t market to any of these people.
[00:28:47] And I thought there had to be some kind of digital tool. Right. That allows you to. Let people make a reservation so they still have that commitment upfront. Give me $5, see the show. As you’re leaving, you get a text or an email that says, how much did you think it was worth? And there was nothing online, nothing like that.
[00:29:06]And so I built it.
[00:29:07] Dan: [00:29:08] That’s awesome. that epiphany makes so much sense. but for you to have the thinking outside the box to even try that, you know, you see Wikipedia and obviously if you think back to , the good old days of PBS and NPR and their pledge drives, , they seem to be effective enough.
[00:29:29]but I think most companies are afraid, right? They’re afraid that they’re not giving enough value. And so get as much money as you can now.
[00:29:40] And it’s refreshing. To see a service like yours, which is take the life cycle or the life relationship you can have with the customer as the end goal.
[00:29:51] And so it’s not about this transaction or that event or this specific, ability to extract money. It’s about if they love what you do, if they appreciate it and you appreciate that it’s their choice and their ability to say, my attention was worth this, right. the saying is always, well, there’s two hours of my life I’ll never give back if you go and watch a bad movie.
[00:30:16] Right? That’s right. And most people don’t talk about there’s $10 and 18 cents or $20 or whatever it is these days to go to the movies. Right. They talk about. Maybe all my time, my attention.
[00:30:27] Kahlil: [00:30:27] That’s right.
[00:30:28] Dan: [00:30:28] My intensity was given and it wasn’t reciprocated in the way that I wanted.
[00:30:33] Kahlil: [00:30:33] And people have a hard time understanding the value of something until after they’ve experienced it.
[00:30:39] Right. And so like what you’re saying, which is, it’s really the economics of perceived value, whether it’s a movie. And, and I feel like what I stumbled upon and ended up solving a problem that so many theaters are dealing with was how do we help the audience get what they want anyway, which is a say in how they perceive experiences.
[00:30:59]and so it just really ballooned from there. Man. I mean, it took me about six, seven months to code it up and built this really ugly prototype. And, used it and ended up, so I did the, the online version of this and made 82% more than I made on Broadway. And I was like, man, this is
[00:31:18] Dan: [00:31:18] 82%
[00:31:19] Kahlil: [00:31:19] percent more.
[00:31:20] So I performed at the Barrow street theater on the lower East side of doing Basic Training, the fall of 2008 off-Broadway. Right. And I compared my ticket sales to doing two nights in Vancouver. At a 60 seat theater on commercial drive in Vancouver, and I made 82% more using a digital tool. And it all it did was it let you reserve a spot for a couple of bucks up front, and then as you’re leaving, you get a text or an email that says, how much did you think it was worth?
[00:31:52]Dan: [00:31:52] That’s amazing. The story is just so compelling. I love it. I love it. And so tell us a little bit more about the business side of things. how long have you been engaged in this full time, and what’s the progress today? Do you have customers? Do you have venue working with?
[00:32:07] Kahlil: [00:32:07] Absolutely. So we’re up and running in 15 cities around the world. we have, gosh, over 40 different partners at venues, artists that are actively using the platform, paying customers. we only launched in public beta March of last year with two venues, sorry, two cities.
[00:32:26]which were a New York of the Soho theater in New York and the Blumenthal performing arts center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
[00:32:33]Dan: [00:32:33] how did you convince them to be you’re a Guinea pigs, I guess.
[00:32:36]music old rapper
[00:32:37] Kahlil: [00:32:37] Well, the Blumenthal performing arts center was a gentleman named Tom Gabbert, who’s a CEO of the Blumenthal, who had invested in me on Broadway back in the day when I was performing basic training.
[00:32:47]And he saw me cause my show basic training, sold out at the largest arts festival in the world called the Edinburgh fringe. And I won the top writing and performing award called the Scotsman fringe first. So I was in all the newspapers and creating a lot of buzz, and then Tom saw me and was like, listen, you know what it is man?
[00:33:05] It’s just like investing. You decided to take a chance. And he took a chance on me and so when I came up with this idea, he was my first phone call, I was like, Hey Tom, I’ve got something else crazy. And he immediately recognized the need. Tom is a voting member of the Tony awards. He’s one of the most influential performing arts presenters in the U S and the UK.
[00:33:24] And when he uses something other venues go, Ooh, what’s that? You know, you know what’s going on? They kind of look to him and this company has a tastemaker and so a lot of my first customers came from relationships that I had. You know, being in the business since 1988 and building trust in the business.
[00:33:44]Yeah, that’s so key. I talk about that quite a bit. Hey, Unfound Nation, this is a real nugget here. Your network matters and so invest in it and you never know that it, especially if you want to be an entrepreneur that. This person who you know in one context can be an ally, a friend, a believer in your startup, in that context.
[00:34:06] And, investing in your network is so critical for entrepreneurs, especially if you want to be, in industries where you don’t already have. Big, LinkedIn connections of industry, luminaries, but you can usually find yourself one or two degrees removed from them and you happen to have been the right person, the right place, right time. And you had a relationship which matters at the end of the day when you’re an early startup to get those first customers, those first investors, those first employees, co-founders. I mean, they’re betting on you.
[00:34:42]That’s right. And like you were saying to your listeners to.
[00:34:45]Make sure that you leverage that network because you can buy clicks, but you can’t buy trust. And that’s sort of why I feel like, you know, one of the moats that I have is that trust. And I mean, we have customer doing events in French. we’re doing things with, you know, I mean, so many different podcasts and documentaries and all these live events.
[00:35:07] And then the, to have this whole virtual event thing come across our desk is just. It’s just amazing how when you actually do invest in your network, when you put yourself out there, you attract people who are looking for somebody who’s real. And then it’s taking a chance on themselves. And so, we, we’ve raised 93,000 us, so far, and have another $100K committed.
[00:35:32]and this is our seed round of a 500,000. I saw you, Dan, down at a founders live in Seattle, and it’s going a lot faster than I thought it would, and it’s absolutely terrifying at times and scary. but at the same time, I wouldn’t trade it for anything because as you’ve heard it, I have a weird set of skills and this is probably the only thing I can really do.
[00:35:55]Dan: [00:35:55] Well, I don’t know about that. I think that you were one of those people, I think that would be, a world changer in one way or another if you were a teacher or an actor full time or an entrepreneur. I think that the combination of who you are and your experiences have definitely puts you in the right place. and so just to clarify, so you’re, you’re currently raising a $500,000 round.
[00:36:18] Kahlil: [00:36:18] That’s correct.
[00:36:19]Dan: [00:36:19] This’ll be your first outside money, I guess. Yeah. Great. and so where does the company go forward from here?
[00:36:28]Kahlil: [00:36:28] Well, I feel like where we go is focus because we’re being offered opportunities to work with orchestras and museums and wildlife parks, you know?
[00:36:37] Right. And so I feel like focus is where we really need to go. We know that, the online event market is $10 billion is a $10 billion opportunity. you know, just the chunk that live nation has, you know, 40% of their tickets go unsold every year, on Broadway. 20% of their tickets go unsold every year.
[00:36:56] So what we do know is that there’s an audience problem, and then it’s harder to get people out of their seats. And so for us, focusing on that entertainment vertical is really where we know we can win. because of the team that we have and the relationships we have that are early influential at the right time with the right people.
[00:37:14] And, really just, gosh, I mean, different languages that excites me. we’re different countries. I’ve been invited to the UK. we just launched in Sydney, Australia. Depending this Corona virus thing, we might get to do something in Japan. So that, that’s really where we go from here.
[00:37:29] And I feel like sort of the five year plan is, you know, Dan, you and your friends hop off of a flight and you know, you’re in Barcelona on vacation and you pop open your, weshowup app. And you are a part of a community of so hundreds of millions of people who wants to take a chance on quality arts, culture, and entertainment experiences.
[00:37:47] And you know that all of the venues and artists we work with not only allow you to pay afterwards, but you know it’s going to be a great time.
[00:37:53]Dan: [00:37:53] I love that vision. And I’ve looked at this in the industry. before, and the sports ticketing world and this idea that it’s perishable inventory, right?
[00:38:03] It’s like, I can’t sell a ticket to a show tonight. Tomorrow. I can’t sell a seat at a ballgame that’s happening tonight, tomorrow. Right? And so this idea of a disconnect with supply and demand, you know, people like the airlines have invested billions and billions into technologies to try and bridge that gap.
[00:38:23] Right. And for some reason, the entertainment world is kind of kicking and screaming saying, yeah, we’ll just leave 20% on the table just to have this guaranteed 80% right. As opposed to, is there a way that we can find a hybrid? And, so I love that , you’re part of that solution. And I love your vision, and I like the idea that you’re, you’re taking it from a communal point of view.
[00:38:44]they want to experience the local culture or they wanted to meet people. So I think there’s definitely room to build that out. with weshowup.
[00:38:52] Kahlil: [00:38:52] Thanks. And you know, the other thing too is like with Airbnb, both can exist. You still have your Marriotts and your Wyndhams and your Four Seasons, and you have Airbnb. And so even with our model with, we show up, we work with venues that work with the ticketing companies and they can carve out a portion of the house for pay what you want.
[00:39:10] They can reach more diverse audiences for nonprofits. They get more funding if they can prove that they’re doing things to, to substantially reach new audiences. So the, yeah, you’re right. There’s so many more solutions and you know, for those who have an open mind, there’s a whole lot of money to be made.
[00:39:25]Dan: [00:39:25] Good stuff. We will take a short break again to hear from our sponsor and be right back with Kahlil Ashanti from, weshowup.
[00:39:33]Founders Live: [00:39:33] Hi, this is Nick Hughes from founders live a growing global community of entrepreneurial inspiration, education, and entertainment. The founder’s live movement includes unforgettable livestreamed, happy hour pitch competitions held in over 50 cities worldwide. And the monthly events are coupled with a growing online platform where articles, videos, expert talks, technologies and tools together help create world-class entrepreneurs.
[00:40:01] Our vision is to raise the tide for all startup regions, but specifically second and third tier markets around the world to ultimately power the pulse of early stage entrepreneurship and creativity. We’d love for you to be a part of the movement. Check it out and join for free at founderslive.com.
[00:40:21] Dan: [00:40:21] So we’re back with Kahlil Ashanti from, weshowup. So Kahlil let’s shift gears a little bit. Let’s talk about being a black founder. are there things that have. Manifested themselves to you that you can identify are specifically because you’re a black founder.
[00:40:39]Kahlil: [00:40:39] Yeah, absolutely, man. I mean, to give you a, an analogy, when I was performing magic in Japanese, at Caesar’s palace, the guests would come in and they’d sit down and then there would be a few non-Japanese people where there would be white people or whoever would be mixed in with them.
[00:40:54] And I come in and start performing and I do it in two languages, English, and then I speak to them in Japanese and people would be like, Oh my goodness, why you you’re, you’re bilingual? Where did you study? You know, it’s a sort of kind of veiled, kind of racist, kind of a discomfort of, Whoa, my goodness, you’re, where did you study?
[00:41:17] Like you, you know, this surprise or. You don’t fit the pattern. That’s right. I don’t fit the mold. And as you and your listeners, I’ve heard there’s not many molds I do fit. So I deal with that all the time. You know, and, or you, you know, you’re traveling as a black founder and you go to the lounge, air Canada lounge or American airline, wherever you’re a member and you walk in and people are like, can I help you sir?
[00:41:40]No, no. I’m a member here? Oh. Oh, Dave Chappelle is, you
[00:41:49] you know, so there’s this, I don’t know, man. It’s, it’s being a black founder. it’s, it’s everywhere. It’s, it’s just people’s ignorance. And then you just, read about all the, how little black founders get funded and blah, blah, blah. And for me, man, it really is just about going back to that Jeffrey Tambor class of I’m responsible for my success and all I can do is be so good that I can’t be ignored.
[00:42:14] And there are some things that are just out of your control, but everything that I can do, I will do, and I’m not going to sacrifice my integrity to do it.
[00:42:22]Dan: [00:42:22] I mean, that’s a healthy, mature way to look at it. For sure. I think the challenge we all face is this idea that, cause I’ve talked to two younger folks, right?
[00:42:32] It’s like I, I kinda come from the same generation. It’s like put your head down and let you performance speak for itself. You know, keep your culture on the side, but you know, it’s still have it. and young people are like, nah, man, I live out loud, and that’s just who I am. And yeah. So there’s refreshing aspects of both and practicality, I guess, to both.
[00:42:52]this whole idea of code switching and the mental overload that that has.
[00:42:57]Kahlil: [00:42:57] Sorry to interrupt, but you know, you got to know your audience too, right? Like we, we can be who we are and all of this, but, you know, meet me in the hood and me and the board room can’t be the same person.
[00:43:08] If you truly want to appeal to these people and have them invest in you, like you gotta be mature enough to understand and recognize what that continuum looks like.
[00:43:18]Dan: [00:43:18] Yeah. that makes sense. Absolutely. I think. It’s not a one size fits all approach. have there been any allies or, catalyst organizations that have been helpful to you specifically as a founder of African descent?
[00:43:35]music happy walk
[00:43:36] Kahlil: [00:43:36] I mean, you’ve got people like Tom Gabbert at the Blumenthal performing arts center. One of my first investors. You know, he’s, he’s white. He doesn’t care what color I am. Yeah. I think you do attract. There are, you know, people of every color, who are out there ready to support you if you show that you put in the work.
[00:43:55] I think there is that is out there. And then you’ve got Harlem capital. you’ve got Arlan Hamilton. You have, you know, some of these organizations that are looking for black founders to help you through, And then you just have, I think the most important thing is the people. You surround yourself with, your family, your friends who are, a reflection of who you are. And I have to say that’s been the combination for me, that’s been the most useful.
[00:44:22]Dan: [00:44:22] Makes a lot of sense. And having sorta your, your squad or your tribe I think is important and that helps to ground you and support you. And having , people who are going to come in and, and believe in you.
[00:44:36]like your first investor, that makes such a difference because being an entrepreneur is a lonely road. And especially when you’re early on, right? You’re trying to do something that doesn’t exist or is different and you know, you’re making a lot of decisions. You know, one day you’re deciding, you know, should we, should we do an investor road show in New York?
[00:44:59] And like an hour later you’re trying to decide, is our. Logo going to be blue or red. And all those decisions are happening in your head. And so it gets to be sort of overloading, overwhelming thing. And so having, having support from mentors and believers, I think is, is so critical.
[00:45:17] Kahlil: [00:45:17] Absolutely. Well said.
[00:45:19]Dan: [00:45:19] so tell me about that logo you have.
[00:45:21]Kahlil: [00:45:21] So the logo is the colors of the Japanese flag, which was the only time in my childhood, I remember being happy. So that’s the red and white. And the giraffe was an animal that I wanted to show something that was gentle but sees things before everybody else.
[00:45:37]and so that’s sort of why I chose the giraffe cause they are endangered and I’m definitely an animal lover. But also to be able to, let people know that using, we show up. You know you’re going to see things before everybody else does.
[00:45:50]Dan: [00:45:50] Wow, that’s deep. I wouldn’t have gone there. I, you know, the only giraffe that I know of is from the toys R us from a branding point of view.
[00:46:01] So that my mind immediately went to. Like it’s playful and fun and, and like entertaining. So, yeah. But I love that concept. I think that if I could be so bold, that’s a little bit of an analogy of you, right? Yeah. Yeah. It’s sort of this gentle force that sees things before other people yeah.
[00:46:20] In, in the environments that you’ve have, you know, navigated through.
[00:46:25] Kahlil: [00:46:25] Absolutely. I’ve never, never thought of it that way. That makes a lot of sense.
[00:46:30]Dan: [00:46:30] Kahlil the giraffe,
[00:46:32] Kahlil: [00:46:32] your spirit. That’s right. Toys R us went belly up, so I had to slide in there and get that giraffe. You know, that’s all me now.
[00:46:40]Dan: [00:46:40] So you obviously seem like a person who is very good at sort of growth and introspection and trying to, learn. But we always ask people sort of, if you could go back, say 10 years before you even had this idea, but knowing that you were, you were eventually going to enter the fray. of the startup world, what advice would you give yourself?
[00:47:01] Kahlil: [00:47:01] Yeah, probably. It doesn’t all have to happen today.
[00:47:06] Dan: [00:47:06] all have to happen today.
[00:47:08] Kahlil: [00:47:08] I’m always in a rush still. I’m always in a hurry. Yeah, that’s probably what I would say is that, you know, it put in the work and you’ll get there and that you can’t do it alone. I believe in God, I’m a Christian and I believe that we’re not in this alone, and that a coincidence won’t get you there, but you have to just stay the course, be patient and know that what’s for you, it will be yours.
[00:47:32]Dan: [00:47:32] That’s great. I think this idea of patience is, such an important aspect of entrepreneurship because for every Instagram story where things seem to appear out of nowhere and be worth $1 billion, there is a long slog for most people where lots of ups and downs. And if you can, weather , the lows and enjoy the highs, but, you know, be able to stay the course as you say, I think that’s a big part of, ultimately trying to be successful.
[00:48:05] And even if startups. Don’t commercially become these permanent scaled profitable entities. I believe the entrepreneurial journey is so valuable, in terms of how you learn, how you grow, how you mature, how you can, Really test yourself. And you know, there’s a, there’s, like you said, there’s a lot where it’s, there’s no script, there’s no, assistant waiting to help you.
[00:48:31] There’s no IT team to fix your computer when it breaks. Yeah. Now you’re staying in the one star hotels, you know, the cheap Airbnbs, because, you know, can’t, can’t, you know, gotta be really prudent with the dollars you have. and so patience is an important aspect. And so that’s a great insight.
[00:48:50] Kahlil: [00:48:50] Yeah. When you got to stay away from the magazines and the blogs and the LinkedIn posts where it would almost seem like, you know, the comparison is the thief of joy. And I think what we struggle with a lot as entrepreneurs is exactly that. And you know, raising money is not a business model. So, right. So you know, you need the money when you need it.
[00:49:10] You’ve got to scale when you’ve got to scale, but that you, you are on your journey. Nobody else was birthed from your mother the way you were unless you got a twin. And if you do, they’re probably working with you. So just stay your course and then stop looking at everybody else.
[00:49:25]Dan: [00:49:25] So, right.
[00:49:25] Your story reflects the story of the people who ultimately push through is because the world needs this. I figured it out. I think I’m the one that needs to do it, and I hope there’s investors and employees and partners and mentors and everybody else who will get on board. and some will and some won’t, but I’m moving ahead.
[00:49:47]And, I just, you know, the world needs this and I’m going to solve it. So I think you’re right. raising money. and even some of the accelerators, I sometimes think it’s kind of an extension of college and it’s more of a project to people or like a way to pass your time. and I’m not diminishing anybody’s startup journey, but I think you, if you don’t go in it with the, the approach of this is a burning thing that I have figured out it needs to be solved.
[00:50:15] And I may not have the exact answer today, but I’m going to be one of the ones that works the hardest to try to solve it.
[00:50:21]Kahlil: [00:50:21] That’s right.
[00:50:21]Dan: [00:50:21] So we’re coming to the end of our time. Unfortunately, I could talk to you for hours and hours. Your story is awesome, and I would encourage you, please share it with, with many people as possible.
[00:50:32] I know you’re time for one man shows is going to be limited these days. But, really inspirational. Thank you. So before we go, maybe let the folks know, is there a way to get ahold of you? How can they find out more information about weshowup?
[00:50:46]Kahlil: [00:50:46] Yeah, absolutely. You can find me at, weshowup.io , that’s all.
[00:50:50] One word. W E S H O w U P. dot. IO. . K. a. H. L. I. L. @weshowup.io and I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram too, so you can stalk me there. Or Kahlilashanti.com all one word.
[00:51:06]Dan: [00:51:06] Outstanding. Well, this has been really great. I’m so appreciative. Thank you so much.
[00:51:11]Kahlil: [00:51:11] My pleasure, man. Thanks for the intro and it was, it was good to meet you hopefully we get to hang again sometime soon in Seattle.
[00:51:16]Dan: [00:51:16] Thanks so much for listening to the show. We’d like to thank our guests, Kahlil Ashanti and our sponsor Founders Live. Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at founder’s unfound. This podcast was produced by Dan Kihanya. Our music was composed by Bobby Cole, Neil Cross, Emanuele Dentoni and Michael Kihanya.
[00:51:40]I am Dan Kihanya. You’ve been listening to founders unfound.
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