“Hurdl jumps the hurdles to allow artists to talk to their fans directly, no matter the event, ticket seller, contract, promoter, or venue.” Betsy McHugh, Founder & Chief Product Officer explained.
This tech start up uses LED wearables to give entertainers the ability to interact with fans during performances. From inception, McHugh was motivated by the importance of saying thank you, personally. That premise now serves as the company mission. A company which has already connected entertainers like Deadmau5, New Kids on the Block and the Dallas Mavericks directly to their fans in a meaningful way, using the interactive technology.
The Feature story sat down with Betsy to learn more about not only the concept and how it works, but the founder herself. We found her as inspiring as the illuminant wearable experience she created is to witness!
The Feature Story: Let’s start at the beginning for those who may not be familiar with Hurdl and your LED experience/product. Can you fill us in on your background managing artists and bands?
Betsy McHugh: I was fortunate enough to start my career at Creative Artists Agency in the tour marketing department. We spent every day focused on putting all the partners and planning together to help ensure each tour date, in each city, for each artist, sold as many tickets as possible. I went on to work directly with artists, first as associate manager for Keith Urban, then managing Hunter Hayes. I truly loved the responsibility and challenge of building an artists career, pulling all of the pieces together to work to get more and more fans to each show. Watching their careers grow from clubs to theaters to arenas, was exhilarating.
TFS: How did that experience lead you to create the Hurdl platform?
BMcH: While watching an artist’s career grow is exhilarating, I was also fascinated that the simultaneous result of that, is that artists get further and further away from being able to connect with their fans. Where Hunter would stay after every single club show and take a picture with everyone who showed up, that was just not physically possible after a show in a theatre or arena. At the same time, Keith was on a constant pursuit to design his tour in a way that made sure the fans in the nosebleeds felt just as much a part of the experience as the fans in the front row by bringing out large video screens and a b-stage that walked into the audience, or even a small stage that would be set up in the middle of the lower bowl. As an artist’s career grows, so does their desire to repeat the feeling of being as close to the fans as they once were when they played in clubs. In my mind, there was a solution…make the fans PART of the experience, and give artists a channel to be able to talk to them, in the same way we all talk to our friends, by text (I always say, I don’t have to download an app to talk to my friends).
TFS: What are some of the challenges you encountered when bringing this product from inception to reality?
BMcH: This is the first startup I’ve ever been a part of. I wasn’t someone who set out to be a tech startup entrepreneur. I wanted to help artists get closer to their fans, period. By far the biggest challenge has been in staying the course. Hurdl was built on one singular mission, “we believe in saying thank you, personally.” Creating a new platform for artists to identify and communicate with their most loyal fans, not just at the show but on an ongoing basis, is important, but it takes time (and money) to introduce to the market. My biggest challenge is in patience, knowing this is such a powerful tool, it just has to get to market at its own pace.
TFS: Out of curiosity, why the name Hurdl for this product? What does it represent?
BMcH: Ha! I love this question. Coming from the industry, marketing live events, I was always drowning in excel spreadsheets. This venue has a contract with this ticketing platform. This is our promoter in Atlanta, someone else is the promoter in Charlotte. This event is free admission, this event requires a ticket. I wanted to create a platform that an artist could use to talk directly to their fans, without the challenges of navigating the rest of the way the business is structured. “Hurdl” jumps the hurdles to allow artists to talk to their fans directly, no matter the event, ticket seller, contract, promoter, or venue.
TFS: From a performance/show, to fan interaction, how are the Hurdl experiences designed? Are the artists, sports teams and/or sponsors involved in the design and customization?
BMcH: As a former manager, I truly believe that the show design should be 100% controlled by the artist and their design team. We built a platform for artists and their teams to use however they like. Our entire system fits in a small carry-on case, plugs directly into the event lighting director’s existing lighting console, and the lighting directly has full control over the colors, patterns, and effects of each individual Pixl, in exactly the same way they program and control the lights on the stage. We quite literally just add another 15,000 lights to their “lighting package”, give each light to the audience to hold, and the artist / lighting director controls all aspects of what they want that light to do, using the same control board they are used to using.
TFS: To date, what is one of your personal favorite interactive Hurdl events? Can you explain how fans were able to interact with it?
BMcH: My very personal favorite was an event we did with New Kids on the Block and Jenny McCarthy’s charity, Generation Rescue. Generation Rescue benefits autism research. So we gave everyone in the audience a Pixl. Each fan texted to activate their Pixl, and one of the questions we asked in the SMS conversation was “do you know anyone on the autistic spectrum?” Then, about an hour into the show, Jenny came out and asked the audience to raise their hand if they knew someone on the autistic spectrum….and the lighting director lit up every Pixl of every fan who answered “yes, I know someone on the autistic spectrum.” The visual was so powerful it took my breath away. We were literally looking at a sea of autism blue lights, visualizing the magnitude of autism and its prevalence in our humanity. After the event, we were able to send through a link asking people to donate to Generation Rescue and the event raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.
TFS: Let’s talk about the privacy and security surrounding this product. What do you do with the user information once that particular event has ended? How is it protected? And/or how are consumers benefited by its continued offers?
BMcH: Our platform has always been a straight forward opt-in process. Fans receive an LED wearable, they text the unique code on the wearable to a short code to activate, and are asked to opt in. All consumer data is stored in a privacy compliant manner and our clients are able to continue the conversation with each fan through that text channel. Fans can always opt-out, though we see very low opt out rates. These are loyal fans, who love the artist or team they have come to see, and they want to stay in touch with them.
TFS: Are there any plans for, or the ability of this product to be scaled to smaller parties and corporate events that to enhance those marketing experiences?
BMcH: The Hurdl platform was built for any size event, small or large. We have done 100 person weddings and 20,000 person broadcast television shows. We are a technology company, that allows for direct to person marketing. An important design parameter in the way the entire system has been built from day one, was to make sure it was built in a way any client can use to meet their communication needs and objectives.
TFS: Looking back on your journey over the years, and how it lead you to designing such an innovative product, what advice would you give entrepreneurs and innovators?
BMcH: I am not one to give entrepreneurs advice, but what I will say is…do your best, that is all you can do. Surround yourself with people smarter than you. You’ll trip, you’ll fall, you’ll make good judgement calls and bad ones. You will learn more about yourself than you ever knew you needed to learn and your entire being will be challenged mentally, physically, and emotionally. It’s a wild ride, take care of yourself, work hard, and MOST IMPORTANTLY…take a minute, often, to lift your head up and remember, you’re building something important. It may not happen fast enough, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening just as it’s supposed to happen.