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Thursday, April 19, 2012

How We Launched a Major Music Festival By Joe Reynolds

Within 24 hours of Fireflyfestival.com launching, we had well over $1 million in ticket sales. Here's exactly how we broke into the music festival business.
Jack White performs with Patrick Keeler of the Raconteurs during Bonnaroo. White signed on as a headliner for Red Frog Events' new festival.
Jack White performs with Patrick Keeler of the Raconteurs during Bonnaroo. White signed on as a headliner for Red Frog Events' new festival.

Within 24 hours of Fireflyfestival.com going live we had well over $1 million in ticket sales. We also had press coverage in the New York Times and more than 100 other media outlets worldwide. At Camp Red Frog—what we call our headquarters—we broke out the champagne, gave hugs, and felt a palpable excitement in the air.

We knew it was the start of our next chapter, of something special.

This was the culmination of nearly five years of hard work, consistently building upon our competencies and taking calculated risks.

Red Frog Events start was in fitness. Specifically, we are the creators of the active entertainment industry, which takes fitness challenges (not unlike a marathon) and combines them with fun. The result: Our events like Warrior Dash (the world's largest running series) and Great Urban Race.

From our first event, Great Urban Race Chicago in 2007, which had 178 participants, up to today, Red Frog has been relentlessly focused on building upon our competencies. Through our steadfast dedication, our skills gained grew until we were delivering exceptional 20,000+ person events every weekend during our busy season.

I dream big. Resting on our early success wasn't an option. With an eye on healthy diversification of our competencies coupled with an irresistible opportunity in an industry with some glaring inefficiencies, Firefly was born.

The contacts and skills acquired over the five years we've been in business lended themselves nicely to allow for a safe foray into the notoriously rocky music-festival business. Our vertical integration and event staff infrastructure allowed us to dodge some risks others would have to assume.

For a variety of reasons, no major music festival ever took root on the East Coast. The opportunity was monstrous. The hurdles were endless. It sounded like the perfect challenge for Red Frog, the kind we love to embrace.  In what ended up being almost exactly a year from the start of our exploratory stage to Web launch, we faced challenges at every step of the way, the most noteworthy two being venues and talent.  

Finding a suitable venue that could hold up to 300,000 attendees over a long weekend presented a multitude of challenges. After a long search that included scouring 60-plus potential sites and visiting several, we found a beautiful match: Dover International Speedway. Not only was it a gorgeous site that was comfortable with hosting large-scale events, but the people were first-rate. Exactly the type of partners we needed.

With the venue safely in place, it was time to tackle the biggest challenge of all: our lineup. Talent sells tickets. We had little experience booking artists, much less some of the world's greatest. Artists are rightfully reluctant to sign on for a first year festival with no history of success with ticket sales or logistics.

After several months of strategizing, we signed three of the best rock acts of our time for headliners—Jack White, The Killers, and The Black Keys—along with an impressive supporting cast of nearly 40 other bands. First-year festivals don't get lineups like that. How'd we do it? A relentless focus on accepting nothing less.

Much of the music world will be watching what happens from July 20 through 22 in Dover, Delaware. I think they'll be blown away. I sure expect to be.

Joe Reynolds turned a $5,000 investment in an event production business called Red Frog into a thriving $45 million company in just four years. Red Frog Events was named the 2011 U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year. @RedFrogEvents

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