Street Performers Go Virtual With Nashville Startup: Street Jelly INTERVIEW


Ok so here’s a concept we’ve never seen before and it’s quite interesting. A Nashville startup called Street Jelly has put street performers online for the world to enjoy. But not only that they’ve created a system of using virtual currency called “tokens” so that you can fill up that street performers jar, guitar case, hat or bucket. Yes, any kind of street performer be it a clown, a mime, a great saxophone player, guitar player or any other street performer, can go virtual with Street Jelly.

The street performers can take the “Rocker Pins” that viewers have purchased with tokens and cash them out for real money via PayPal. Now you can sit in the comfort of your own home and watch street performers until your hearts content.

Have you ever come back from a trip and told people about a great street performer you’ve seen? Now you can take them online to Street Jelly and show them first hand.

Street performers add to most cities culture. Most street performers are actually really good and some just prefer to be street performers rather than working late night in smoky dark clubs or trying their luck at studios and record deals. Street Jelly captures the essence of great street performers and puts them online to share with the rest of the world.

This idea was born in Nashville, a city that has no shortage of street performers. In fact Nashville, because it’s Music City USA, has some of the best street performers in the world.

Street performers was founded by serial entrepreneur Frank Podlaha, who’s history with music goes way back to his childhood and playing in the drum line. He’s had some other successful startups which he talks about in the interview below.

What is is online busking: video streaming LIVE musicians performing for tips.  Street musicians, singer / songwriters, vocalists, and all types perform via webcam and mic.  Viewers watch and chat with the artists, much like in a chat room.  Viewers can purchase virtual tokens which they use as currency to tip the musicians.  Viewers can also use their tokens towards awards, Rocker Pins, to give to the artists.  The musicians then cash out their tokens for real money, sent via PayPal.

Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?

Frank Podlaha is the founder of Street Jelly Media, Inc.  I, Frank, am the owner of a software consulting business, Carp Data Service, LLC and bring 20+ years experience in building software, e-commerce, and consumer driven applications.  I am also stricken with the entrepreneurial sickness of never leaving well enough alone.  Some of my past involvement with start-ups include,, and  As far as music goes, I am a bit rusty behind any instrument.  My biggest claim to music was my teenage years playing in Drum Corps (marching bands) in New England.  During the summers of the late 70s and early 80s, the drum corps would play in small town parades often for the local volunteer firemen carnivals.  Imagine being a kid and going to a different carnival three or four times a week, all summer long.  But when it comes to live music, my passion for the Grateful Dead really kicks in.  But I better stop there …no need to start telling stories from past Dead shows.

Where are you based?

We are based in Nashville, TN, also known as Music City USA.  Nashville is the center of the country music industry.  But don’t let the country music side of Nashville fool you.  All genres of music have a heart in Nashville.  Music is part of everything here, and the weary-eyed starlets still take a Greyhound to Nashville for dreams of making it big.  There are something like 40,000 people who claimed on their taxes to be singer / songwriters in this tiny area.  Don’t believe me?  Ask the next waitress or busboy you see here in town what they do for a living.

What is the startup culture like where you are based?

I think the startup culture is hit or miss here in Tennessee.  Basically, it’s a small community that seems to come and go.  Whoever were the movers and shakers six months ago are now replaced with a different crew.  Nashville has strong community with the EC (Entrepreneurial Center) and so does Knoxville with the EOK (Entrepreneurs of Knoxville).  But in Chattanooga, a relatively small city, they have a much more vibrant entrepreneurial crowd with a great share of local city and business support.

What problem does your startup solve?

Ooh, that’s a very startup-esque question.  I’ll spare you guys the marketing drivel and tell you about what magic we already discovered with StreetJelly.  If you haven’t realized it out by now, StreetJelly is very much like a chat room with a single musician on webcam, performing for viewers he or she cannot see.  The artist can, however, see and react to their chat messages.  It’s very interactive, but with the feeling that the musician is only there with you.  It’s a bit weird, maybe.  I think the idea of a Google hangout wouldn’t work in this scenario (multiple people on cams chatting with each other).  It’s not about the crowd, after all, it’s still all about the performer being in the spotlight.  I dare say that is a bit counter intuitive in this day of social-everything.

Then, there is the whole chat window thing.  I asked a musician what is it like playing for an online-crowd and not seeing their faces or reactions, all from his living room.  It was very odd, he replied.  But at the same time, he said he had a new perspective on reactions because he could now follow along, or catch up, through the chat text.  That’s something he could never do while playing because he can not hear conversations over his own instrument and singing.

So kind of by accident, we’ve created this very different experience when listening …and connecting …to music.  No problems were solved in the world, but maybe we’re making a few people a little happier.

What is one challenge that you’ve overcome in the startup process?

Just one challenge!?  The list of challenges is so long to pick one.  Ok, for me personally it has to be that “minimal viable product” concept as depicted recently in The Lean Startup.  As a software engineer, and a bit of a perfectionist (not debilitating perfectionism, but close), its hard to release a version of software without loading in all the features on the to-do list.  The businessman inside me knows how to evaluate the risk and return on each bit of a software product.  But I hate getting that “its good enough” feeling when releasing software without all the features you want.  I know its nothing bad, and certainly not sloppy lazy work; it’s just hard to accept sometimes it’s the best choice to move forward.

Who are your mentors and role models?

Some people may find this weird, but I don’t really think I have any single person that I can call a mentor or role model.  I don’t know, maybe a psychologist can pinpoint what that means about my personality, but I don’t idolize any one person or ideal.  I’m also very bad with names, so keeping track of industry titans, famous authors, and business gurus is bothersome.  And for what?  So you can throw around some douche’s name at a networking event?

But I will tell you the type of people that always impress me:  People with that unwavering sense of dedication in no matter what they do.  They are my role models.  I like to describe them with one word, “Driven.”  I know that sounds a bit corny, but you really don’t find too many types like that.  I can count on one hand the number of people I know personally that are truly driven.  I seek out and surround myself with these people, we feed off each others energy.

What’s one thing the world doesn’t know about you or your startup?

Ha, our existence.  ….Yet!

What’s next for

We have a number of initiatives we’re working one. First on the list is a mobile app, that’s an obvious one.  But more on the fun side, we are planning to sponsor street music festivals.  Call it a “Street Jelly Street Jam.”  We’re working with cell carriers to set up everyone with 4g wifi internet and all the musicians can be live on StreetJelly, and OMG …live in Real Life!


Check out StreetJelly here

Nibletz is the voice of startups in the Southeast and Everywhere Else


You Might Also Like