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REVOLT C-Suite: Jason Mowatt, the brain behind TRAP Karaoke

How 1% inspiration, 99% execution, and "the concept of collective effervescence" made it a success.

There are few people more influential and more under the radar than Jason Mowatt. As more people look to find ways to converge technology, live experiences, and music, Jason is leading the way by building some of Hip-Hop culture's top platforms, from Trillectro to Trap Karaoke. As a culture, we are moving away from the "influencer" culture where follower counts and hi-resolution photos serve as currency, to a "multi-disciplined curator" culture where people who actually create and build things drive the voice, taste and experiences of the future. Jason Mowatt is the definition of the multi-disciplined curator.

You’ve worked in politics, tech, music and events – how would you describe the Jason Mowatt brand and journey?

I don’t consider myself a brand at all. None of this stuff is calculated, I’m just an extremely curious person. I go where my curiosity takes me. With all the various projects I’ve worked on, the one thing I’ve always found to be true is that one opportunity leads to another. So keep an open mind, and the key isn’t finessing. It’s figuring out how to parlay an initial opportunity into the next.

You bought equity in Trillectro back in 2012, becoming one of the first investors. How did you get involved with the festival?

I started investing in high school, thanks to my social studies teacher who taught me the ropes. In 2011, my friend Kenji Summers came to DC, shooting for Passport Life. He invited some folks to hang out. It was me, Kenji, my homie Keith, Terral, Kunle, and this kid, who I met for the first time. Fast forward to spring of 2012, my investments did well. But what goes up, must come down, so I thought it prudent to exit while the getting was good. Again, it’s all about parlaying. One opportunity leads to another.

After successfully producing the first Kendrick Lamar concert in DC, I approached this same kid with a proposal: if he had more money, could he do something bigger? We discussed a few ideas that really didn’t go anywhere. After a trip to Coachella, he proposed the idea of starting a music festival. From there, a few of us pooled our time, knowledge, and money together, and the rest is history.

What made you believe in the Trillectro brand?

After investing in the market, I realized that the stock market was even worse than gambling. With gambling, at least you know the game is rigged. As an individual investor, there’s little you can do to change the outcome. All you can really hope for is that you pick the right horse, and that a rising tide lifts your ship. With a music festival, by contrast, not only could I contribute funding, but I could also contribute my knowledge and expertise to influence the outcome.

In 2008, I was obsessed with the Obama campaign’s use of digital marketing and behavioral economics. I saved every single book, PDF, article, and video ever produced on the topic. I saw the festival as an opportunity to deploy a lot of those behavioral insights. Sure enough, it worked, bringing the festival to the profitability for the first time. I still meet people to this day who tell me the most innovative thing to ever come out of that festival was my idea to use Thunderclap to let the fans announce the festival lineup, something no other music festival had ever done before. With every project I’ve worked on, my guiding principle, and the thread that connects them all, has always been figuring out how to give the power back to the people.

Robert Hansen // REVOLT Media & TV

As the first crowdspeaking platform, Thunderclap has been doing great around World Humanitarian Day, early voting, mental health, climate change, immigration reform and more. You lead their marketing efforts. Explain your role and why this platform is so important to the world.

All credit goes to our CEO, David Cascino. Probably one of the smartest, best human beings you’ll ever meet ever in life. I literally tap dance to work every morning. My role at Thunderclap is Director of Plot Twists haha, which is a mix of marketing and product management. I was introduced to Thunderclap by my friend Kenji Summers back in 2013, which led me to the idea of using it to announce the festival lineup that summer.

After the tremendous success of that activation, artists, marketers, record labels, and managers started reaching out to me to learn more about the platform. I became kind of a liaison, connecting them with Dave. Eventually Dave told me he had an idea for another breakthrough product called Crescendo, which is like Mailchimp for push notifications. Thunderclap had already proven that there was a strong desire by marketers to cut through the noise and reach their audience. The key insight was that it’s super expensive to build an app and maintain it, especially when the abandonment rate for apps are super high. However, if push notifications are enabled, retention is about 30% higher. This led to an insight: If all the meaningful engagement with an app is via push notification, do you really need your own app or just the ability to send push notifications? Crescendo is a bet that you only need the ability to send push notifications. Open rates go from 0 to 50% within minutes, while most marketers using email struggle to get to 20% within 48 hours. Using Crescendo, I sold almost 400 tickets within 5 minutes. You would’ve thought I was selling tickets to a Beyonce concert.

TRAP Karaoke has now had sold out shows in New York, New Orleans, Chicago, The Bay Area, Houston, Raleigh, Toronto, D.C., Atlanta, and Los Angeles. You’ve also had LeBron, Amber Rose and Wale join in on the movement. Why do you think it has made such crazy waves?

I attribute the success of TRAP Karaoke to 1% inspiration, and 99% execution. The majority of that execution has been thoughtfully deploying behavioral insights that underlie the unique format and marketing of the event. For instance, the concept of collective effervescence, a sociology term that describes how people like to participate in synchronized group activities, which results in feelings of elation, and facilitates group unity and cohesion.

Across cultures, you see this type of behavior again and again. And it makes sense, if you view things from an evolutionary perspective. Think about it: if you’re a creature trying to survive in the wilderness, your odds are a lot higher if you’re part of a group, than if it’s just you by yourself. Consequently, humans have evolved to be extremely social creatures, so anything that facilitates group bonding excites our reward/pleasure system. TRAP Karaoke is formatted in such a way to create as many of these moments as possible. Which is why I like to say, “TRAP Karaoke is like going to church...but instead of singing ‘Amazing Grace,’ you’re singing ‘Back That Azz Up’ haha.” It’s about culture and community.

What’s next for TRAP Karaoke?

TRAP Karaoke is just over a year old, so who really knows. Nevertheless, I’ve always said that we’re not party promoters, we’re community organizers. That means our mission is to go where the people are and create community. That’s why we’ve embarked on this national 40-city tour; not just limiting ourselves to the primary markets (NYC, LA, Miami, etc.).

Early on I had an insight. I think it was maybe our 5th or 6th overall event, but our first time in the Bay Area. The response to the event announcement was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The event sold out almost immediately, and the whole city was buzzing. Keep in mind, this was our first time ever in the Bay Area/on the West Coast. Sure, TRAP Karaoke is a unique event, but from the response you would’ve thought it was a Drake concert. I knew something more had to be going on here. It wasn’t until I got to the Bay and started talking to people that it hit me. The day I landed in Oakland, there was a huge Black Lives Matter protest on the SanFran-Oakland Bridge. Protesters completely shut it down. In fact, DeRay was in the Bay at the time and came out to TRAP Karaoke that night. My friends Lance and Caleb took me on a tour of downtown Oakland, and showed me how the community was changing, and how a lot of people were being displaced due to gentrification. And that’s when it hit me again: these TRAP Karaoke events weren’t just happening in a vacuum. There was all this really important social, political, and economic context.

Every city I’ve been to since has had a similar story. You wouldn’t believe some of the stories I’ve heard in New Orleans, Raleigh, Detroit, Atlanta. I stayed almost 2hrs after a show in Boston listening to folks share their view on the social, political, and economic climate in that city, and how it intersects with an event like TRAP Karaoke. Basically, why brave spaces like TRAP Karaoke are needed. Same for Detroit, a city that as been through so much, and that’s seen so much. I want to use TRAP Karaoke’s platform to start sharing the stories of these cities, not just recap videos of each event. Why? Because sharing stories is how you foster community.

Robert Hansen // REVOLT Media & TV

Where do you see live events and experiential marketing going in the next 5-10 years?

It’s hard to predict the future. I don’t think anyone is that smart lol. I think the best strategy is to remain flexible and keep an open mind. Realize that the future might not look the way we think it will. After all, for the longest time people predicted flying cars; instead we got Uber, which is 100x better in my opinion. Yet no one really saw it coming, because the idea is so simple and subtle. As I think about the future, those are the kinds of ideas that excite me the most. Insights that are subtle, simple and right under our noses, yet when unlocked can have a massive impact.

Trillectro. Thunderclap. Trap Karaoke. You’ve turned them all into powerful platforms that resonate within culture. What is your marketing philosophy? How do you find ways to constantly cut through the clutter?

First, my educational background is in behavioral economics, so I’m always conscious of the fact that seemingly small things, like how options are presented or the color of a button, can have an outsized impact on outcomes. With that in mind, I consider myself more of a product designer than a marketer. Second, I’m a huge believer that culture eats strategy. Whatever you’re doing, you need to start with some kind of cultural or behavioral insight. Once you have that, you can deploy the appropriate strategy to amplify it.

When speaking to young entrepreneurs and creators, what is your key advice to them?

The only way to get good at anything is to work your ass off, and fail. a lot. There are no shortcuts.

What’s next for Jason Mowatt?

Currently working on a project called the Million Swag Surf. The basic idea is to transform the Swag Surf, which is a universal symbol of unity among millennials of color, into a platform, similar to product (RED), to create awareness for bone marrow donations.

Unlike other forms of cancer, blood cancer is a relatively treatable disease, if you can find a bone marrow donor. The rub is that you need to match with someone who has a similar ethnic background as you. Which means, the more diverse your background, the harder it is to find a match. Consequently, people of color have been disproportionately affected by this disease, for no other reason than there’s a lack of awareness. Up until a few years ago, I had no idea how bad the situation was. It wasn't until my friend’s niece died from leukemia a few years ago that the issue came to my attention. She was only 12-years-old. We had the same birthday.

With the Million Swag Surf, we’re going to partner with large-scale events where millennials congregate, such as concerts and music festivals, to organize the biggest swag surf ever. There are two parts to how we plan on signing people up and spreading awareness. The first part is pretty straight forward: if you’re at a music festival with 6,000+ people who are all going to be in the same place for 12+ hours, that presents a tremendous opportunity to educate attendees. And because signing up to become a donor is really simple (you just have to swab inside your cheek. That’s it.), you can sign people up right there on the spot.

The second part focuses on how do you motivate people to sign up and make it sexy. That’s where the Swag Surf comes in. At some point during the event, everyone will participate in a record-breaking Swag Surf. There will be GoPros and Drones capturing this massive spectacle from all angles. This content, paired with a strong call to action, will then be packaged and shared through various outlets.

This project means a great deal to me, which is why I was really proud that the first Million Swag Surf could happen at White House’s South By South Lawn event. The response was incredible. Now I’m currently looking for other large-scale events (music festivals, concerts, etc.), organizations, and brands to partner with. If you’re out there and want to help, hit me @AMZNJSN or @MILLIONSWAGSURF on Twitter.


Read more 'REVOLT C-Suite' interviews below:

Marvin Bing, From Orphan To Art Activist

Richie Cruz, Converging Sport & Culture

Tiffany Hardin, Connector of Culture & Business

Derick Okolie, Dreamville Records

Claire Fountain, Founder of #TrillYoga

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