Sarah Figueroa had worked for several years to build a company, called Geojam, that would connect fans at concerts and give sponsors a look at what was working and what wasn't.
"The dream was to connect people through music, in real life," Figueroa said. "I'm at a concert. You're also a fan. Let's link up."
Geojam, started last year, was going to meld her interests in social media, marketing, live events and music. The company planned a 50-college tour at the start of this year to test the idea.
"We had artists at every single school," she said. "Colleges were competing to win a free concert. Our investors were so excited."
Then, of course, the pandemic happened.
Yet for Geojam, that wasn't the end of the story. While the pandemic vastly curtailed live events — which, like the hospitality, restaurant and travel industry, ground to a near-halt — the company and the artists found a way to come together.
In March, Figueroa decided to use her company's technology to directly connect artists with their fans, with a similar engagement model.
More social media interactions around a particular artist equated to greater reward points for fans, who could exchange them for interactions with an artist, like one-on-one FaceTime calls, Zoom cooking classes or even an appearance in an advertising campaign.
What Figueroa, her two co-founders and investors were able to do isn't going to work for everyone. But their pivot may offer useful lessons to other entrepreneurs regardless of their wealth and experience.
And those lessons may come in handy as coronavirus cases rise again and small businesses that have made it this far struggle to get through a tough winter.
Multiple lines within a business
With Geojam, Figueroa was eager to test the concept of rewarding fans for their enthusiasm while compensating artists and turning a profit.
In the live-event model, there would have been plenty of sponsor cash to support Geojam's planned data mining. When the pandemic derailed that model, Geojam began tracking how often fans were streaming particular artists, for example, and rewarding them with the points.
At the same time, it paid artists for their time — money that came from outside investors.
"We're still tracking what events people are attending, through livestreams on the Geojam platform," Figueroa said. "We can also see what things they're viewing and purchasing in the jam shop."
That's useful data she would not have had otherwise.
Artists at different stages
When Geojam pivoted to a new model, it meant different things for artists at different points in their careers.
Geojam enabled Yung Pinch, a young hip-hop artist with a following within California beach culture, to connect with fans through FaceTime and earn money for each video call he did.
A more established artist, rapper Machine Gun Kelly, used Geojam to introduce his new album, "Tickets to My Downfall." Figueroa was then able to show Kelly's record label that they could get significant fan support for a fraction of the cost of a normal marketing campaign.
Keep asking for money
While the products and experiences are free to fans, they are not free to do. The company needs money to pay the artists and the companies it works with.
Figueroa was raising the company's initial round of investments when the pandemic struck. She ended up raising $350,000 in the worst of the lockdown and closed the funding round at $1.65 million.
"I think the investors analyzed the deck more" before Zoom calls, she said.
"There was a little less emotion in the meeting. We were in beta, so they were looking at what we had. It was also helpful that we only had $350,000 left in our round."
Bring in an advisory board.
Going it alone is never easy. Figueroa had an advisory board in place long before the pandemic hit. And she was able to lean on its members when the pandemic changed her business.
One was Marcie Allen, who has arranged sponsorships for live events such as South by Southwest and Billy Joel's extended residency at Madison Square Garden.
"I've worked for her for several years and knew that she would be able to pivot," said Allen, who also teaches at New York University.