By GRAHAM DICKIE
Special contributor to Silicon Hills News
Right up the hill from the pandemonium of this month’s Trail of Lights and inside a former accounting firm is the office of Everfest, a tiny Austin startup working on the fringes of the same festival industry but forging a worldwide path.
On a recent Monday it is a low-key scene there. Two coders are slouched over in the backroom working on a beta version of the company’s app, a box fan hazardously tied to the ceiling acts as air conditioning, and founder Paul Cross is sitting down to wax philosophically about Everfest’s mission.
Cross dubs Everfest, which is vying to build the definitive digital ecosystem for all kinds of real-world festivals, “a giant positive memory dispenser.” He talks about a time he hiked to a remote Scottish beach that doubled as his “aha! moment” for the startup. And, sounding like a Burning Man attendee on the comedown, he balls his hands up to mimic the shape of a brain, “this ball of gray matter,” to discuss societal shifts he has been researching that have created the conditions for Everfest to succeed.
A veteran of entrepreneurialism, Cross has the eccentric, self-mythologizing startup spiel down to a tee.
He explains that, as he deciphered it when Everfest was in utero, young people today care about the value of experience more than the value of commodities. He says they want to be memory-rich, not cash-rich, a shift that likely has contributed to today’s booming festival culture. (Almost one-tenth of the US population attended a music festival in 2014, according to Billboard.)
The abundance of festivals, Cross continues, presented a couple of untouched areas for Everfest to capitalize on: festival enthusiasts had no comprehensive authority to look to online, and many festivals couldn’t provide their own digital frameworks.
Established in late 2014 by Cross and his friends Brad Dixon and Jay Manickam, Everfest wants to be that authority. The company now has a staff of “10-ish,” employee Adam Greenspan said. It has positions devoted to festival outreach and coding, but it is at a pre-funding stage where titles are not important and office doors can be torn off the hinges to be used as beer pong tables. (There is also a sign near the front door laying out formal beer pong rules.)As a service, Everfest is straight-forward. It consists of two major parts – a website and an app. Together they are supposed to encompass the before, after, and during of a festival visit.
The website is like an index, serving up the essentials of individual events: their line-ups, when and where they are happening, links to social media pages, and other relevant information. The app resembles large festivals’ current offerings. Its purpose is to give users what they need to know – like where the bathrooms are – and then to get “the hell out of the way” Greenspan said. Because of Facebook integration, you can find your friends and stage a meet-up point with a built-in map interface.
Everfest is not limited to music festivals like Austin City Limits. On its website it lists 11 additional categories, ranging from “Faith” to “Historical.” In a section labeled “Unique,” you can find gatherings like the Texan Onion Fest or the Pushkar Camel Fair in India (it lasts for more than two weeks in late November). The company estimates its database encompasses around 8,000 events, and what is unique is how it has consolidated them all under one roof.
Cross hopes people will eventually use the service to inform, index and record their experiences at all these types of festivals, sharing and adding to Everfest’s catalogue in the process – turning it into a kind of rich, personal wiki for large events.
The concerns right now for the company are building up the website; strengthening the mobile app, which is available on iPhone and Android and should enter beta soon (“I wish they would give us some credit for just building the first alpha version,” Cross laments at one point when asked about negative reviews); and continuing to court promoters around the world.
“What we’ve made is a free mobile app that we’re giving away that gives [festivals] all the benefits of their own mobile app,” festival outreach coordinator Amir Mozafari said. “It’s a true partnership. We help them out, they help us out.”
The Pecan Street Festival, a bi-annual arts event that takes place on Sixth Street, is a good example of how Everfest works with festivals. Pecan Street, which is run by a non-profit organization, chose Everfest as its official app and main sponsor this year. It was a gesture of goodwill from both sides, which Everfest says it is eager to extend to other festivals that are not about making money.
This is not the first time the Pecan Street Festival has had an app, but it is the first time it has gotten one for free. Around four years ago, they paid an independent developer a hefty sum to build them one, festival organizer Luis Zapata said. Two years later, though, the developer abruptly disappeared and the app disintegrated from the marketplace without their approval.
Paying tens of thousands of dollars for another app, a reality that many small festivals face, was out of the question until Everfest approached the Pecan Street heads.
“Everfest came along and basically answered all of our prayers on that front,” Executive Director Debbie Russell said. “There hasn’t been a database of festivals to date. This is filling that void.”
While Everfest worked closely with the promoters to design the Pecan Street Festival’s profile, in the future they hope to build an interface that is intuitive enough for festivals to design their own assets – maps and so on – for the app.
“We’ll work with anybody,” Mozafari said. “Any genre, any kind of size.”
Cross and Greenspan said that for interested promoters and the users Everfest will continue to be free at some level, adding that revenue could come in the future from things like booking travel accommodations for out-of-towners.
“We know that if we get certain levels of traffic we’ll be able to monetize that traffic,” Greenspan said. “It’s kind of scary to do that but it’s an approach. That’s what we’re doing, man.”
Thinking back to his hike in Scotland that birthed Everfest and his central axiom of how an experience like it is worth more than a dollar, Cross also has other goals in mind aside from money.
“This is a mission to bring this thing together,” Cross said. “We need more and more people to enjoy festivals together. I need them to do that.”