Launching a creative mentorship platform in May of last year, James Jones Jr. and his co-founder Chris Mendez were brave enough to start a company in the middle of a global pandemic.
But as it turns out, for their particular business, a year that kept a large portion of the population confined inside their homes may have been just the right time to start.
Jones’ company, Ownors, is an online platform for creatives that connects musicians with record label executives, artist and repertoire representatives and other industry professionals to help them improve their ability to market themselves, create revenue streams and potentially secure a contract with a record label down the line.
An accompanying app, Bump, allows artists to keep track of their existing revenue streams and social media following, and offers cash advances based on that data.
With the pandemic shuttering music venues and live performances, 2020 turned out to be the year artists could use this kind of service more than ever.
“The other ways that artists make money is through touring, [merchandise]—all those things were shut down,” Jones said. “This was what was needed for this moment.”
A member of the Long Beach Accelerator’s inaugural cohort of seven companies, Jones and his team began pursuing investors, as well as growing their user base and roster of mentors through professional networks and social media.
“It was a great springboard,” Jones said of the accelerator, which provided its members with seed funding and training on crucial tasks for startup teams, like refining their value proposition, increasing their fundraising and securing their intellectual property.
Kim Banham, a principal at Connetic Ventures, said she had been looking for an opportunity to invest in a company seeking to shake up the creative industry, when Jones reached out to her investment firm.
Normally, Connetic Ventures uses an artificial intelligence platform to sift through bids for funding—in an effort to eliminate bias based on gender, race or age, a rampant issue in the venture capital world. But Jones asked for a phone call prior to submitting his bid—a request Banham granted.
“I wanted to invest right then and there,” she said.
In addition to the company’s various revenue streams—transaction fees on cash advances, token purchases for mentoring sessions—it was the potential for artists to increase their own revenues and track data associated with their work that enticed Banham.
Bump, the company’s mobile app, bundles data from streaming platforms like Spotify and Tidal, as well as artists’ social media followings, allowing them to see revenues they’re owed and assess their market value.
“The bigger the artist gets, the more valuable that data will become,” Bahnam said.
In addition to funding and data through the app, Ownors’ mentorship program allows users to book one-on-one mentorship sessions with industry experts.
Phoenix Red, a producer and A&R representative who has signed onto the company’s platform as a mentor, said he hadn’t been particularly impressed with the available options for artistic mentorship he’d come across in the past.
Sweepstakes for social media shoutouts, for-charge creative critiques—Red felt like none of the commonly available options provided up-and-coming artists with the level of direct exchange they needed to grow.
“A lot of platforms that I’ve come across genuinely are not created to help artists, but more so to generate revenue,” he said. He sees Jones’ approach as a way to encourage musicians to invest in themselves without taking advantage of them. “I thought it was a brilliant concept.”
Helping artists make more money and take ownership of their career is the declared goal of Ownors, which is a mashup of “own yours.”
Working as an entertainment lawyer in South Florida for a decade, Jones said he was regularly confronted with artists’ financial concerns.
“A lot of artists struggle to figure out how to generate money,” Jones said.
Even when they do, he found, many are worried about building generational wealth and creating lasting assets—inspiring his idea to start a company that would explore solutions on the intersection of financial technology, digital revenue streams and music.
‘We wanted to figure out a way to fix that part of the industry,” Jones said.
The idea of building generational wealth is also what compelled Luke Cooper to sign on as an investor in Ownors Technologies—but it wasn’t necessarily artists he was concerned with.
Cooper, who is Black, found Jones and his company on a list of Black founders, who remain rare in the startup world.