Wednesday, January 9, 2013

An Unusual Triangle Startup: NERDS

In September, I attended the CED Tech Venture Conference as an angel investor interested in finding one or two potential investments. I did not expect to hear a pitch describing the intersection of musical theater and technology.

Yet, in an on-stage pitch, Lisa Grele Barrie, President and CEO of the North Carolina Theatre, spoke about NERDS the Musical. It's an unusual startup, certainly, but as I listened to the story, I realized that the musical possessed all of the traditional elements of a startup: visionary entrepreneurs, a small and brilliant creative team, the need for early stage investors and mentors, a successful product development and marketing strategy, and above all the strong desire to make their dream a reality.

I once was a young engineer in Silicon Valley. I started my career at Intel in 1979, and lived in Cupertino not too far from Apple HQ. During my career at Intel, I had lots of interaction with both Apple and Microsoft, and was fortunate to meet both Jobs and Gates, along with Steve Wozniak.

Feeling a connection between Lisa's on-stage pitch at CED Tech Venture and my early career, I immediately approached her at the conference to learn more about the show and to offer help. That's when I became involved. Here's the story of the Triangle's unusual startup, NERDS the Musical. 

An Unusual Startup

NERDS the Musical is a musical comedy based on the lives of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the two most influential people in the development of the computer revolution of the last 40 years.

The writers, Jordan Allen-Dutton and Eric Weiner, and composer Hal Goldberg, developed the show to showcase the careers of and interactions between these two prominent tech icons. The musical seeks to tell the story of Gates and Jobs as competitors, thought-leaders, and visionaries for technology. 

Like any startup, the NERDS team is working hard to pull their vision together. Lisa and the non-profit North Carolina Theatre are acting as the incubator, providing facilities, talent, and resources to get the show off the ground. 

I've met the seed-stage investors and the producers of the show, Carl Levin and Vicki Halmos, both of whom are experienced in previous musical production startups. Levin is a successful tech entrepreneur in his own right, having founded a company early in his career. 

The pair had an aggressive plan: gather the best talent from the New York musical scene to complete their team, produce all the necessary collateral, staging and support for the product launch, complete and perform extensive testing on the live musical product, execute a sales and marketing strategy that includes the large tech community in the Triangle, and to develop some crucial partnerships.

They're doing all of this with an extremely aggressive timeline: the team announced the show publicly at the CED Tech Venture Conference on September 11, 2012, and Opening Night is on January 18, 2013.  The show will run through February 3, 2013. 

How's It Going?

So far the team has executed very well. Auditions were held in New York and a terrific cast and team have been assembled. NERDS will star American Idol finalist Diana DeGarmo alongside Broadway favorites Darren Ritchie and Leslie Kritzer, and will be directed by Marc Bruni with choreography by Denis Jones. They and the rest of the team are rehearsing the show in Raleigh and getting ready for the launch date.

And like any good startup, the team will be looking for feedback to improve their product once they go live, and this will give the NERDS team the opportunity to test assumptions and pivot towards the most successful ideas. Investors and Raleigh audiences have the unique opportunity to take part in the making of a Broadway-bound musical as the show will be fine-tuned and reworked throughout this special pre-Broadway engagement.

Get Involved (& Get Your Discount)

To engage the tech community, NERDS is offering a special low priced “Startup Night” on Thursday January 31, 2013. As we all know in the startup community, there is not always a lot of extra cash for entertainment, so NERDS is working with local Triangle Startup Factory graduate Offline Media to provide special discounts for those registering for the event here. It will be a fun night for all, with lots of NERD humor and music.

Durham’s American Underground will host a free pre-show pizza party, giving the tech community the opportunity to meet the creative team and cast on Tuesday January 15, 2013. You can sign up here.

As an angel investor and member of the tech community in the Triangle, I strongly encourage you to share this event info (the hashtag is #nerdsmusical) and support this very unique startup opportunity in Raleigh. It’s about time us NERDS have our own Broadway show!

Today's guest post comes from CED Member Mark Easley Sr. had a successful 25 year engineering, marketing, and executive management career in Silicon Valley in the semiconductor business. For the last 12 years he has been an angel investor and advisor in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina. He is also a popular guitar teacher on YouTube.

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