Sidestep launches after working with Fall Out Boy to save rock and roll (merchandise)

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on June 13, 2014

From The News Desk

Just when you think someone has invented an app for every possible niche — see threesomes meetup app 3nder — you discover a new one so stupidly obvious you can’t believe it didn’t already exist.

That’s the case with Sidestep, which just launched this week. It’s disrupting and revolutionizing nothing, except maybe the phrase “there’s an app for that,” since it entirely disproves it.

Continuing with this week’s Pando coverage of music tech, Sidestep is an app that lets concert goers order merchandise in advance — t-shirts, branded bongs, whatever other swag groupies are willing to spend exorbitant sums on. That way they make sure to snag the size and stuff they like in advance before it sells out, and when they reach the concert it’s there waiting for them at the merch table. All they have to do is show the app on their phone.

Of course, there are plenty of companies out there allowing people to order merchandise digitally -- see Ticketmaster, Merchluv -- so that's not a new thing. But Sidestep's value add is integrating it with the live concert experience. Users don't have to sit at home waiting for their merchandise to arrive -- they pick it up at the venue the same way they normally would, except they've already paid and they've reserved exactly what they want.

“I think users just want peace of mind at the show,” Sidestep’s CEO Eric Jones says. “Knowing their items are waiting for them, they can enjoy the entire show without worrying about getting their merchandise before sizes sell out.”

It’s obvious. So obvious that it’s ridiculous it hasn’t been invented yet. But Jones says it hasn’t — although there’s a few competitors now developing such an app — and a quick Web search seems to prove his point.

Apparently the music industry, at least when it comes to concerts, is so convoluted that it’s replete with low-hanging fruit for the vaguely entrepreneurial techie willing to give it a go.

Jones chalks it up to old-fashioned venue owners who don’t want to try something new because it could be a clusterfuck. “I think it would be very difficult to do this without connections in the music industry,” Jones says.

Rolling out an app to sell merchandise at concerts isn’t the sort of thing that can stand alone by itself in the cloud. The creators have to deal with logistics behind the scenes: Onboarding artists, convincing venues, putting merch table systems in place. But the payoff for Sidestep is that the app skims ten percent from purchasers and ten percent from the sellers, which means for every $30 t-shirt sold the company gets $6.

Jones believes his team are the right ones for the job. He used to be in a band himself, a small one called The Downtown Fiction signed to a branch of Atlantic Records, and from there became an artist’s manager for a band called From Indian Lakes. Once he moved into entrepreneurial efforts, his connections made it somewhat easy to hook a big name for the Sidestep beta testing: Fall Out Boy.

Fall Out Boy promoted the app to its concert attendees on its last tour and it did far better than anyone expected. “We threw them on the app and we were expecting maybe a couple thousand dollars in sales but we got 45,000 downloads and six figures in sales all from Fall Out Boy and Panic at the Disco,” Jones says. “We went into it blind and not sure what to expect and it ended up being pretty outrageous.” The success led Fall Out Boy to sign them on for this summer’s tour, which marks the official launch of the Sidestep app.

It’s a classic startup business model: build a marketplace connecting buyers and sellers and skim off the top. It's worked for Uber, eBay, Airbnb, Etsy, and a nearly unlimited number of others. But concert t-shirts aren’t exactly car rides or knick-knacks. Sidestep’s biggest problem might be the limited size of the concert merchandise marketplace. I couldn’t find any official annual revenue stats out there, although one company called Merchluv throws around the number $2.2 billion on a regular basis without sourcing it. It seems unlikely given that in 2011 the entire spending on live music and festivals was $8.7 billion, including ticket sales.

But a small merch market is a problem that can be solved by moving horizontally into other concert tech offerings after building out enough band and venue partnerships. After all, if an app this obvious and easy hadn’t been built yet, there’s bound to be a range of other miniature goldmines out there just waiting to be discovered.