Ben Horowitz
Disruptive Multimedia
Supephone

Ben Horowitz backs rapper Ryan Leslie’s SMS commerce startup Superphone

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Ryan Leslie gave every fan his phone number. It’s (646) 887-6978. But instead of a million unwanted phone calls, it’s making him money and giving him deeper intelligence about his listeners than anyone in the music business.

That’s why A16z’s Ben Horowitz, Betaworks, and more investors just put a $1.5 million seed round into Leslie’s startup Disruptive Multimedia. It’s turning the SMS-based CRM and direct sales tool called Superphone that Leslie coded himself into a product any celebrity or creator can use to galvanize and monetize their audience.

“We’re building a way for artists to own their relationship with their fans,” Leslie tells me. Beyond his own hip-hop and R&B recordings, Leslie rose to fame producing for artists like Snoop Dogg, Cassie and Usher. “What I started to find was that social networks were anti-social networks,” the musician says.

With platforms like Facebook and Twitter proving unreliable ways to reach fans, and the mobile generation sidestepping email, Superphone builds a bond on the most powerful piece of contact information: the phone number.

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There’s now 2700 Superphone private beta clients across verticals, including musicians like Lil Wayne and Kevin Jonas as well as authors like Bonin Bough. For a fee based on how many text messages they send plus a 5 percent tax on e-commerce payments, they know exactly who each of their fans are, how much they’ve spent, and can send them personalized messages and sales offers.

Leslie says “I think there’s a crazy correlation between how often you contact your customers and how much you earn from your customers.”

Call ’em on my Superphone

Here’s how Superphone works. Celebrities and other clients can distribute a special phone number connected to their Superphone account. Any time a fan calls or texts it, or buys something on one of their online stores and fills out a form, they get a welcome message prompting them to provide some personal info. That could include location, biographical info, or any data type the client wants to segment their audience by.

Superphone creates a next-generation phone book that’s actually more of a customer relationship management tool. For now it’s a web tool but the Superphone team hopes to have native apps available in the next few weeks. The Superphone dashboard lets clients view charts and graphs of who is paying for what so they can hone in on their most important fans.

Superhpone Dashboard

Via Twilio’s SMS service, clients can send marketing and sales messages to any cross-section of their fans. That could be everyone for a new album release or a simple thank you, ones that live in a certain city to promote a concert, or only ones who’ve spent over $100 for a special event invite or exclusive VIP opportunity. Those messages can include Shopify or other sales links where fans can store credit card info or instantly make purchases.

Turning conversations into customers

Leslie now has 40,000 fans in his Superphonebook. When he booked an extravagant New Year’s Eve concert at a castle in Vienna, he was able to invite his highest-paying fans in Europe to attend. He sold 200 tickets at $1,700 a pop in 48 hours — all through Superphone. Meanwhile, he has a “lifetime album” where people pledge to pay $1 to $100 each time he releases a song so they’re the first to hear it.

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Ryan Leslie

Not too shabby for a product Leslie built v1 of two years after working though Codeacademy’s tutorials. Thanks to a glowing recommendation from Bevel’s Tristan Walker, Leslie connected with famed investor and lifelong hip-hop enthusiast Ben Horowitz who agreed to lead his seed round. Now that $1.5 million has closed with participation from a long list of funds and angels

[MOOR & MOOR AB, Betaworks, Anxa Holding, Donald Katz, Keith Smith, Linda Bernard, Anthony G. Aguila, Base LV Tech, Judge Ventures, Kofi Kankam, Nnemdi Kamanu Elias, Robert T. Melvin, Ryan Babel, Shanti Kandasamy, BPG Fund, Jennifer Byrne, Radiary Creations, LLC, Taj Clayton, RPM, Sherrese Clark-Soares, Mychal Kendricks, Williams Anderson Investments, Monami Entertainment, Galvanize Ventures, and Transmedia Ventures.]

Next, Leslie will be hiring out the development team. He says “the long-term vision is to take AI and machine learning and add that intelligence layer on top of any messaging platform because it’s the conversations I think are the most valuable.”

While everyone else buys ads, plays nice with the press, and, blasts out social media trying to reach fans, Superphone lets creators simply talk to the directly like they would any of their friends.