TECH | 10/19/2011 @ 11:23AM
To build the next great tech start-up, some people start by studying engineering, while others may try for an MBA. But two precocious teenagers, Mazyar “Mazy” Kazerooni and Matt Schlicht, who were 17 and 19 respectively, elbowed their way in to work at a Silicon Valley start-up–without even living there. They then became social media advisers to top rap stars such as Lil Wayne, and have now founded their own start-up backed by $500,000 in angel and venture financing.
The company, called Tracks.by, provides social tools for musicians to keep in touch with fans and build their own businesses. The two have worked together so long that they sometimes cut each other off to answer similar thoughts. But to understand how Kazerooni and Schlicht came to start their company and what it does, you have to go back six years to Sage Hill School in Orange County.
The two met in the Sage Hill library in 2005 when Kazerooni was a high school freshman and Schlicht a senior. Kazerooni, 15 at the time, was running an affiliate marketing website and hired Matt to redesign the site. Kazerooni didn’t like Schlicht’s design, so the two stopped talking for a while. Months later, they got back together and started working on dozens of website ideas. The two wanted to start their own company, but both got kicked out of school at various times for “not doing homework” and “other stuff.” Schlicht graduated while Kazerooni left school and eventually got his GED.
In 2007 at a media conference, the duo buttonholed Brad Hunstable, president and co-founder of what was then a new live video start-up calledUstream. The pair were so young that Hunstable remembers meeting them again six months later and thinking that they had grown “substantially bigger” since the first meeting. “I could see the passion and fire in their eyes,” Hunstable says. “They loved the Internet, social media and Ustream. We kept in contact over email and they were sending me ideas, real ideas for Ustream.”
Later the pair came up with a stunt to have someone play Halo 3 for 72 hours straight while being broadcast on Ustream. The event was a success–in almost melting Ustream’s servers with web traffic. What was notable wasn’t Halo 3, but the duo’s skills at online promotion. They regularly got posts on the front page of Digg. Kazerooni and Schlicht were among the first to create this kind of 24-hour-a-day video game stunt, which is now common, Hunstable says. “They used a lot of skills to drive virality. It was a huge internet draw. They’ve done countless things like that.”
Hunstable started asking the duo to do online promotion for major Ustream events. Eventually Hunstable hired them as interns in January 2008. Kazerooni was 17. Schlicht was 19. The duo accomplished their first goal–to get to Silicon Valley. Ustream only had five employees. Schlicht went on to be a product manager, having a “real product knack,” Hunstable says, and came up with Ustream’s chat module, which also Tweeted out messages to drive traffic to Ustream, a first in the industry, Hunstable says. Kazerooni, meanwhile, handled customer service. Because musicians started using Ustream to broadcast live events, Kazerooni became the VIP Support department. ”I started seeing Soulja Boy on Ustream. He’d be complaining, ‘This doesn’t work,’” Kazerooni says. “I got into the chat and started helping, talking to him. Later I saw Bow Wow using (online video competitor) Justin.TV. I asked Soulja Boy to talk to him and get him to use Ustream. He switched.”
Meanwhile, Schlicht and Kazerooni had schemed ways to move permanently to Silicon Valley. In one memorable blog post that was picked up on Valleywag, the “pranksters” blogged about meeting tech luminaries at the Crunchies tech awards show–while also asking for apartment leads. A few months later they moved to Silicon Valley and have lived together since.
With some of the rap artists he met through Ustream, Kazerooni started helping them with their entire social media program–Facebook, Twitter and the like. His biggest client was and still is Lil Wayne, the platinum record-selling rap artist. Kazerooni helped grow Lil Wayne’s Facebook fans to a staggering 30 million people. The rapper’s Facebook posts regularly get tens or hundreds of thousands of “Likes” or comments each. They also worked with another artist, Lil Twist, and grew his Facebook page from 4,000 fans to more than 2 million. Another client is rap artist Drake. Meanwhile, Ustream had grown to 150 plus employees–the duo were the most senior employees at the company when they left three months ago.
Now known among some in the music industry as social media experts, Schlicht and Kazerooni have launched a tech start-up promising similar results to music artists. Tracks.by is a service for music artists to manage their social media presence and their content on Facebook. “Tracks.by is all those insights worked into a product, so anybody can do what we do,” Schlicht says. The service is not just for gaining Facebook fans–although it does do that. Tracks.by sets up incentives for people to “Like” the artist’s page–for example if they Like the page, they can listen to a song or view a music video. Or download songs via iTunes. The artists then get analytics on what content is successful and who their fans are.
The more important feature is called Love Lock (See an example here). To access certain content on a Facebook page, people have to click “Love”. When they do, they install the Facebook app, and give their email address and other information to the artist. This email is key for artists, because with that they can notify fans when they post a new song to their Facebook page or when there is a concert in their area. Developing a direct relationship with fans gives more ways for artists to generate revenue in a challenged music industry. The first day Tracks.by ran a campaign for Lil Wayne more than 100,000 people signed up, giving their name, email address, gender and other information. “Artists have built up big fan bases but don’t have a lot of information on fans, not even their emails,” says Schlicht. “This is about activating them and bringing them back through Facebook.”