Not Ready For Prime Time Dance Competition? There’s An App For That
Eliezer Kombe grew up in five African countries while his dad worked for the United Nations.
After attending high school in Kenya, Kombe moved to San Antonio, Texas, to study computer engineering. Now 25 and living in Houston, he’s the founder and CEO of BracketDash LLC, a video-based social media platform that allows users to challenge their peers while viewers vote for the best.
The app allows people to engage in friendly competition or battle with each other in the sport, art, or good, clean fun of their choice — and be judged by an audience of their peers.
Tech investors and mentors often caution startup founders to avoid trying to start a new social medium. It’s too crowded there.
But Kombe says he’s found a niche. People just naturally need to compete, he told Moguldom, and that need is not being addressed by the current social media landscape.
Thanks to his engineering education, Kombe was able to develop his app on a lean budget. He believes he can reach his goal despite the skepticism that is prevalent among investors.
“Nowadays, when it comes to social media, the burden of proof is on the creators,” Kombe told Moguldom. “One has just got to figure out a way (creatively) to go from conception to proven concept with little or no help from investors. Then you’ll be just fine.”
Kombe sees startup as an art. “It’s also about expressing what’s in your heart. So if the idea you have is in the form of a social platform, I believe you should stay true to yourself,” he said.
So does the world need an online stage for talented, skilled individuals around the world to interact, compete and promote themselves?
“I created this platform because I believe that BracketDash can be a good addition to the current social media landscape,” Kombe told Moguldom. “There’s been a lot of focus on sharing information. Human interactions are reserved for the comment section. This platform is centered around human interaction through competition.”
Here’s an example of how BracketDash works: two friends who love to dance — one in Miami and one in Seattle — can challenge each other to a dance battle on BracketDash. They can go on the app, create the battle and their friends who follow them on the platform will be able to see them compete and vote. If they battle in public, any users on the platform can vote too. There’s a countdown, and the person with the most votes wins. The victory is recorded on their profile. There are prizes.
Kombe talked to Moguldom about his approach to startup, and why he thinks startup is an art.
Moguldom: Tell me more about yourself and your journey in tech, as well as your journey to becoming an African American.
Eliezer Kombe: I’m originally from the Congo. I grew up in five different countries in Africa (Congo, Uganda, Guinée-Conakry, Burkina-Faso and Kenya). My dad was working for the United Nations there. After graduating from high school in Nairobi, Kenya, I moved to San Antonio, Texas, for college. I majored in computer engineering. As soon as I started getting comfortable enough with various programming languages, I thought I could actually get started and build my own thing. After parsing through a few potential projects, I decided to focus on BracketDash as a starter.
Moguldom: Have you made money from BracketDash, and how? If not, how do you plan to do so?
Eliezer Kombe: Currently, we have not made money from BracketDash yet. We have gotten a few offers for investors but have decided to hold out for now as the valuation was quite low, rightfully. We believed that once we launch we will have much more leverage to negotiate a better deal.
For now, we have thought of sponsored competitions (battle or challenges), sponsored profiles (flashing the brand image before a video starts rather than the annoying mini-commercial at the start of a video like on YouTube), selling sponsored content ads, and we have also thought of offering people to unlock promo codes with their victory points, which give users access to promo codes and also help local businesses in the area promote their products.
Moguldom: Have you sought and received any funding from investors for BracketDash?
Eliezer Kombe: I’m a programmer, so I was able to write most of the codes necessary to put together the website and both applications. So from conception to production, we haven’t really needed any outside money to sustain ourselves. I just sacrificed a lot of my time and some money to this. Now going forward, as we will be able to prove this concept with real data, it will be easier for us to make a more solid case and we will certainly have much more leverage negotiating a better deal.
Moguldom: Who is your competition?
Eliezer Kombe: As of now we haven’t really noticed any competition yet, but we’re confident that once we can prove that this concept is worthwhile, we will certainly encounter copycats soon enough. But we’ve thought about that. The remedy will be to continuously innovate the platform and add more features — hopefully at a pace that our competition won’t be able to keep up with.
Moguldom: Investors often caution tech founders against trying to do social media startups. Why did you go there?
Eliezer Kombe: I understand their concern. Social media startups don’t generate money off the bat so it’s hard for them to guarantee they will be able to recoup their money, especially on a seed level. It’s very likely that most investors out there have a story about a kid that persuaded them he was on track to create the next Facebook but then turned out not to be very lucrative. Such experiences leave a bad taste for certain products in the mouth of investors.
My response is the following: a platform that addresses an aspect that’s not being addressed by the current social media landscape is always worth shot. I also think that focusing too much on the money (short term) is not always the way to go because you can miss out on a great idea. I’m not implying money is not important, but we shouldn’t let that blind (us) from exploring great opportunities.
My personal approach is: 1) Come up with an idea that addresses a need or adds value to people’s lives. 2) Build it. 3) Prove the concept. 4) Start to think about how to monetarily sustain operations and monetize the platform.
You absolutely have to be inventive and creative at each of these phases. In my situation, luckily I was able to cover the first two steps without having to spend a lot of money as I took it upon myself to do the work. That is usually not the case for most startups as they usually need to hire an army of people to be able to get past the first two steps. So again going lean can help one reach their goals despite the skepticism that is prevalent among investors.
Nowadays, when it comes to social media, the burden of proof is on the creators. So one has just got to figure out a way (creatively) to go from conception to proven concept with little or no help from investors. Then you’ll be just fine.
Most importantly, I see starting up as an art. It’s also about expressing what’s in your heart. So if the idea you have is in the form of a social platform, I believe you should stay true to yourself.
For me personally, I created this platform because I believe that BracketDash can be a good addition to the current social media landscape. There’s been a lot of focus on sharing information (image, text, video) and human interaction are reserved for the comment section. This platform is centered around human interaction through competition.
I understand that competition beyond certain boundaries can be unhealthy and we are going to need to be watching that very closely, and insure that our platform does not become a place for unhealthy interactions.
I strongly believe that human expression is a big part of life. Expressing oneself can have a therapeutic effect (both for oneself and for an) audience. Therefore I think, it’s definitely not a waste of time trying to cater to this aspect of humanity.
Moguldom: How many subscribers does BracketDash have and what do you think it’s potential is?
Eliezer Kombe: We have barely launched our platform, so for now it’s mostly just our friends and family. Currently, we are recruiting a group of individuals — artists and performers mostly with a decent following — that will be creating battles and challenges on Bracketdash. In exchange we will offer them some form of compensation. In doing so we hope to introduce Bracketdash to people in a way they can understand best.
Moguldom: Why do you think this app will be successful?
Eliezer Kombe: I think this app will be successful because we’re creating a space for people to do something that is part of their DNA. People will compete anyways, whether they do in the in the park, on a stage, or on a playground they will do it. And this platform eliminates the distance between people and allows people to interact through competition regardless of distance. As long as you have a camera, you can enter the stage and challenge any of your friends.
Moguldom: Who is your target market?
Eliezer Kombe: Our target market is millennials, performers (from various disciplines) and avid consumers of artistic expressions/performances.