Ari Evans believes in the American Dream, but he also believes that dream is taking on a new form. With the ever-increasing popularity of streaming as a means of entertainment, the “creator economy” may just be one of the final frontiers where it is still possible to pull oneself up by their bootstraps and be reborn. Yet, with major platforms such as YouTube and Instagram exerting greater and greater control over their contributors, many small creators may be finding themselves struggling to keep up. “I’m curious who out there would raise their hand If I ask, ‘do you want your success to be subject to an algorithm?’” muses Evans, and the answer would almost certainly be “nobody”.
Evans’ dynamic new company, Maestro, seeks to solve this growing problem and give creators the tools they need to break away from the algorithm and take control of their brand. By changing the way content is monetized, with features like ticketing and subscription services, even the small creators can turn a profit from their fan base, whether it be a hundred thousand or a thousand strong. There are now roughly 50 million active content creators, yet only about 2 million of them are considered “professional” creators; the ones focused on making a living from this career path. Of those 2 million, where Maestro is concerned, Evans says, “certainly for those people, we’ve got a great opportunity to help them make even more money and start to take back more control because a lot of big platforms are kind of predatory.”
But it’s the other 48 million that Evans is really excited about. “Hey, maybe if you just focus on your thousand true fans or a hundred true fans,” he says, “you could have a business doing this.”
What is Maestro?
Maestro bills itself as an all-in-one video platform and live streaming solution. By giving its customers full freedom on how they want to customize their audience experience, it allows them to create their own platform and fully control their content. As a SaaS business, it provides tools to creators to engage with their audiences and monetize their content as they see fit. With access to built-in analytics, Maestro makes it simple to track and measure what keeps a creator’s audience engaged.
Under the current paradigm, the creator is very much dependent on the company that owns the platform. They find themselves fully at the mercy of the algorithm, with the added stress of the ever-present, difficult-to-understand risk of being shadowbanned. The entire experience of content creation and streaming has become so automated that creators can find their livelihood and hard work pulled out from under them at the whim of an automated filter.
Interactive videos, and even video conferencing, may be relatively new concepts, yet they are quickly becoming the standard in terms of communication and how media is consumed. Companies are beginning to rethink the idea of having entertainment simply delivered through the internet as a pipeline and instead viewing the format through an “internet first” lens. With his background in systems engineering, Evans and his team set out to create a system that was both customizable and structured, one that wasn’t prohibitive in terms of its learning curve for beginners: “There’s just so much opportunity to connect with your audience, own it on your own site, and make money.”
How did Maestro get its start?
“A bunch of trends had to come into play for this opportunity to be so ready,” says Evans. When Maestro began in 2016, the company worked with major music festivals and asked a vital question: “What should users be doing aside from just watching?” Maestro began by adding a chat feature to the stream, something that was a novel concept at the time, creating a level of interactivity for the audience that would eventually become the industry standard. Upon seeing the success of this in terms of engagement and adding even more features, the company continued to grow as Evans and his team approached more festivals and artists to pick them up as clients.
From there, Maestro expanded its focus to include the world of gaming and esports, a market that was on a meteoric rise then and continues its upward trend to this day. By the end of 2019, the list of clients using Maestro included prestigious names such as Pandora and Epic Games. With the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the number of users using streaming services skyrocketed, as did the acceleration of Maestro itself. With users stuck at home with nothing to do but watch and engage, the service began to truly hit its stride and mature into what it is today. “All of a sudden we picked up clients like Apple and big stars, like Billie Eilish and 21 Pilots and Lady Gaga,” says Evans about this period of explosive growth for their brand. Yet, even alongside those big names, plenty of care and attention is being given to the little guys.
How has Ari Evans scaled Maestro?
Maestro has scaled immensely over the course of the pandemic. Like many other companies, they were forced to shift entirely into remote work. However, with the increased relevance of their brand during that time Evans saw his small crew of 15 grow rapidly into a team of 75. “Pretty much overnight people expected us to be a 24/7 live company; you’ve got to build a pretty decent operation to make that happen,” he says. One of the more difficult challenges he believes Maestro excels at dealing with is “flash traffic scenarios”, or sudden and massive influxes of new users. When customers go from having a 100 people on their site to a 100,000 in a matter of minutes, it can present a significant technological challenge. This became a major focus for Evans, building a platform that customers can trust not to go down no matter how big they grow, or how quickly it happens.
In a way, Evans experienced this himself with the rapid growth of his own company. However, he maintains that it isn’t about himself, but rather the team as a whole and their ability to stay organized and execute their vision. The ability to build a focused company culture, to delegate and let his team members play their roles has been necessary for keeping things running smoothly. As he puts it, “That’s my sweet spot–the vision and the product strategy. And just kind of figuring out, how do we tell the story and get the word out about this vision?”
What are Maestro’s core values as a SaaS business?
From the outset, Evans has maintained that Maestro’s brand is the brand of the creator. “You’re going to put your brand on it. We’re going to be an invisible thing in the background,” he says. “I don’t know what could send a more creator-aligned statement than that”. In this way, Maestro sets itself apart from other platforms, ones where users might feel that they as an individual may get lost in the landscape of other creators. Maestro as a company puts a heavy focus on transparency and hard work, treating its employees as its most valuable asset. Evans believes firmly that this translates into how they treat their customers and partner agencies.