Jammcard Is the Exclusive LinkedIn Your Favorite Artists Probably Already Use
How founder Elmo Lovano filled an enduring need for professional networking at the highest rungs of popular music
A/S/L: 32/Male/Los Angeles
In 2001, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) was just four years old and already one of the era’s most widely used and generation-defining software technologies—especially amongst teenagers.
At 15, Elmo Lovano was no exception. While most teens made instant messaging sk8rboi90 or b3achbum4eva a full-time job, Lovano was leveraging the social networking platform in an entirely different and significantly more innovative way.
Lovano, who first got behind the drum set at 10 years old, went about searching keywords to find the AIM screen names of the singers of bands he liked.
His goal was to find gigs with artists that he loved—and it worked.
When his favorite band parted ways with their drummer, he saw the opportunity to reach out for an audition. Naturally, he lied about his age and told the singer he was over 18, because what older touring band is going to want to deal with an unseasoned 15-year-old for a month or more?
Whether Lovano knew it or not, almost 20 years on, the decision to use AIM as a DIY networking service for music gigs would prove to be both career- and also life-defining.
A Music Community in Fragments
“There’s no comprehensive Internet Movie Database equivalent for musicians, there’s “no unity of professionals,” Lovano said.
And that’s exactly why (although he’s clearly biased as founder and CEO) Jammcard is his favorite app, the app that he’s always wanted and needed.
“I started an art and music event [called Camerata] in 2008 when I was 22…. I saw that the community was in fragments, and I wanted to make a physical place where musicians could come together,” Lovano said.
“It was after that event where people started coming up to me every day and saying they needed gigs. So, I started playing matchmaker…. People were ecstatic,” he added.
“I was like, man, we need a digital card so we can jam. We need a Jammcard.”
— Elmo Lovano
There was one catch: He pitched to his dad, a veteran entrepreneur, the idea of an exclusive LinkedIn for A-list musicians and the predictably sage response was….
“That’s gonna take up all of your time. You gotta stop everything you’re doing.”
Lovano wasn’t ready for that. He wasn’t ready to quit his job as a touring drummer for some of the biggest musical acts in the world. For a while, he didn’t, and Jammcard was put on the back burner.
But, as he continued to tour, it only reinforced his belief in the need for a professional music networking service.
“That was when I realized that even at the top levels it was needed and not just at the amateur level,” he said.
So, he decided to do one more six-month world tour and use the money he made from that to start what would become Jammcard.
Jammcard Is Not for Amateurs
As a new entrepreneur, Lovano thought the $60,000 he had saved up would be enough to realize his dream. After cycling through different iterations of the networking app, he quickly realized that although those savings might help him launch a software startup with its sights set on totally reorganizing —if not inventing entirely—the professional framework musicians use to get hired, that money would not be enough to scale and sustain Jammcard.
Instead of letting a lack of capital discourage him, Lovano refined his strategy by increasing exclusivity and shrinking his scope—at least for the time being (let’s not forget how Facebook started).
“I developed a couple of prototypes, but thousands of people were in there going like, ‘I’m from Oklahoma, and I’m just learning to play the guitar.’ So, I scrapped it and started from scratch,” Lovano said.
Here’s how he narrowed his approach and made things a lot more manageable for himself on a shoestring budget, all the while generating demand from other markets and from a wider pool of musicians….
1) Professional problems first: “I wanted to solve problems for the professionals first. I knew I could start from the top-down but not from the bottom-up, so I made it invite-only for active professionals…. It’s very hard to get in. If you’re an active professional, it’s very easy, but it’s not for amateurs or anything.”
2) Limited, community-oriented access: “Screw just putting it up on the App Store. We’re going to go market by market in the U.S. I call it land and expand — building real value from the ground up.”
3) Let the market market: “I don’t even need to pitch this to musicians; all I do is present it to them, and they do the rest.”
4) Monetize later: “As of right now, we don’t take anything. If you get accepted into Jammcard, any gig you get is yours. We’re kind of just playing connector or facilitator. Our focus is to hit our members over the head with value, so they know the real value of it…. We’re not trying to monetize at all right now via the app.”
5) Stay flexible: “We’re doing a lot of tests. The whole thing is really a huge social experiment, and most things go better than planned, actually.”
The top-down approach is the right one for Jammcard right now. Eventually, I imagine them expanding to embrace the vast community of serious avocational musicians. But that’s something they’ll need to do thoughtfully and intentionally when the time is right.
— Adam Huttler
Land and Expand: Atlanta
Just last month, Lovano put the first part of his land and expand campaign into effect, branching out from Los Angeles to today’s hip-hop renaissance capital of the world: Atlanta.
For many Jammcard observers and music industry people wanting in on the action, expanding to Atlanta was a bit of a surprise—and that’s exactly what Lovano was going for.
We can glean a lot of important lessons from the wave of success that Jammcard is currently riding….
1) Become the user: “I’m the main demographic; I’m creating these things that I wish existed for myself.”
2) Throw curveballs: “Everyone expected Nashville or New York after Los Angeles. First of all, I love throwing curveballs, and I love hitting curveballs. I want Jammcard to be seen as a forward-thinking company.”
3) Know your markets: “I wanted to show that, hey, we identify and endorse Atlanta as the next great music city. Trap music and hip-hop music is the biggest genre in America right now and that is entirely out of Atlanta.”
4) Listen to the user: “We have a lot of members that are from Atlanta, and they were telling me, ‘Atlanta needs this.’”
5) Build community on the ground: “[The Los Angeles JammJam] was a confident move. We did it the same [in Atlanta]. Only Jammcard members were allowed and no plus-ones. It was a ‘you’re not gonna hear about the next one’ sort of a thing. We did the same thing in Atlanta. We did no promoting on social media until after the fact, and still, 550 people came out. It was awesome. Our members are super supportive without even asking for help…. They were so appreciative and they adopted it instantly.”
But don’t take our word for it. Check out these Instagram posts from last month’s Jammjams in Los Angeles and Atlanta, and consider the fact that in both instances, this kind of passionate turnout happened organically and without any real marketing campaign.
Jammcard’s users have an extraordinary, almost cult-like dedication to the app and its community. Talk to any professional musician in L.A. and she’s either an enthusiastic Jammcard member or she’s anxiously awaiting her invitation. That kind of loyalty is valuable in itself, but it also speaks to the fact that Jammcard is addressing a ubiquitous pain point in the music community.
— Adam Huttler
From One Aim to Another
Naturally, Lovano’s DIY approach and his ability to hit curveballs out of the park appealed to Exponential Creativity Ventures CEO Adam Huttler and also aligned with the ethos of the rest of ECV’s investment team.
“Brian Zisk [ECV venture partner and SF MusicTech Summit founder] connected us,” Lovano said. “Brian was one of the earliest supporters of Jammcard. I got invited to go to the SF MusicTech Summit … and after he joined ECV, he messaged me and asked, ‘Are you raising money? You’re only raising angel money? You should consider talking to Adam.’”
Suffice it to say: Adam was sold, and so was Elmo.
“Two things sold me on Jammcard: Elmo and the community. Elmo is a driven and tenacious founder. The conventional startup wisdom is to “fail fast”; if what you’re doing doesn’t seem to be working, stop wasting time and try something else. That’s sometimes appropriate, but my personal bias is for founders who are passionate and relentless. Elmos’s like that. When he encounters a setback, he digs in, makes some thoughtful adjustments, and keeps right on going,” Huttler said.
“I wasn’t surprised to learn that Elmo was cautious about working with VCs. Let’s be honest: we don’t have the best reputation as a group! Elmo had no trouble raising the money he needed from music industry angel investors and those dollars came without any of the headaches that are sometimes attached to VC funding. I’m flattered, though, that he felt he could trust Exponential Creativity Ventures, that we would understand and support his vision in a way that other VCs might not. I’d like to think that trust is justified,” he added.
ECV is the only VC we let in.
— Elmo Lovano
Thanks in part to Lovano’s extensive music industry network—a web woven by a couple of fateful AIM conversations—Jammcard is seeing success on a national scale by taking it one city at a time and building an organizational infrastructure for each music community he visits.
“We booked Jason Derulo’s backing vocals for his tour, Zedd, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani — a bunch of the biggest tours have been booked from Jammcard. Almost all of the biggest tours out there have at least some members booked via Jammcard,” Lovano said.
In effect, he is building “the music professionals network” with Jammcard. And we get to watch it grow from the ground floor.