When James Jones was in college, he had three to four DJ gigs booked each weekend, and often found himself turning down additional events. Leaning on his engineering background to find a solution, Jones, along with co-founder John Boss, launched an AI-powered DJ app a year ago designed to simulate a live DJ by using AI to curate and mix music for parties. Now they’re shifting gears to develop similar software for bars, restaurants, and clubs.
Founded in early 2016, Rochester-based Spark DJ was selected in February to participate in Techstars’ three-month music startup accelerator in Los Angeles. After talking with a group of mentors, Jones and Boss discovered that there was an even better use for their technology. “We were building features to sound like a live DJ without understanding the value that DJs bring, which is getting people to show up, stay longer, and spend more money,” says Jones, who is also company CEO. “We realized that we could bring more value to businesses than to [individual] consumers.”
Building from its original platform, Spark DJ is developing an interactive curation system for businesses to engage with customers. The software still mixes music like a DJ does, but allows businesses to curate a selection of songs and project them on a screen. From those songs, customers can use their phone to vote on which song they want to hear next; the song with the most votes wins. On the back end, businesses can collect data about their guests, such as how often customers visit and how long they stay.
Spark DJ is testing the new software and gathering feedback through a beta program with 15 companies in Minnesota and Los Angeles. Jones expects a full launch by the end of the year. While bars, restaurants, clubs, and casinos are the startup’s main focus, Jones sees other kinds of companies, especially retailers and service providers, leveraging the technology to improve customers’ in-store experiences by providing interactive entertainment.
The tech company now has four full-time employees, including Jones and Boss, who left their corporate jobs last year. Although the company has yet to turn a profit, it has raised more than $250,000 in funding since last September.