VNTANA empowers artists, celebrities, and businesses to reach and engage new fans and customers affordably through the use of holograms
Their slogan: Entertainment Without Boundaries
Erik: What was your journey to becoming an entrepreneur?
Ashley: My dad started his own company when I was in first grade and ever since then I have wanted my own company. So I went to USC, studied engineering, did a five-year program to get my master’s [degree] at the same time. I always liked engineering, building stuff, and I was always really into music. I worked for Gulf Stream and Northrop Grumman. I liked the technical part, but I was never really interested in any of that stuff — it didn’t wow me.
Erik: So tell me about VNTANA
Ashley: Well I liked music, and I would go to Coachella [an annual music and arts festival] every year because it’s on my birthday. Coachella started getting more popular and sold out, so not all my friends could go. One weekend, when half of my friends couldn’t go, they sat and watched the live stream on their laptops, which sounded like a horrible experience!
So I thought, what if I could live stream the audio to a warehouse in L.A., with the same light show and sound, would you guys pay a cheaper ticket to go? And they responded with, “Yeah, that sounds awesome!”
So it started by just having a friend DJ in my apartment and we live streamed it to a nightclub down the street. Which was really fun, and just cool to figure out. Then I met my now business partner, Ben [Conway], who had a background in starting a company in college that did well. So I asked him to kind of help me build this into a business. It started with just audio and lights, but the artists wanted it to be more authentic and real, so we were like, “OK would you do it if it was a hologram?” We pulled it off, and everyone loved it.
Erik: So what makes your company cool?
Ashley: There are two things. Everyone heard about the Tupac hologram at Coachella, but their system is extremely cumbersome and costly. We started out using their system and it takes 10 people an entire day to set up, 10 skilled people. We redesigned the projection system, so it’s almost like building a piece of IKEA furniture. It takes two people an hour to set up. And on top of that, to create a holographic image you have to film someone in front of a green screen or an all black background. I wanted to be able to do live concerts or live events anywhere, so we hacked the Xbox connect, and we wrote software that lets us cut a person out of the background, or an object, or guitar or whatever, based on depth not on color, so that is patent pending software that we own.
Erik: What advice can you give others who would like to be their own boss?
Ashley: Basically don’t take no for an answer and just keep asking people and going for it, and use LinkedIn [the business-oriented social networking service]. LinkedIn is amazing to help find contacts or even realize just what your network is.
Erik: How do you think your company will change the world?
Ashley: We will be able to bring concerts to places that previously were not getting this type of entertainment and bringing people who are restricted. China is very restrictive on who they allow to perform, but if we are streaming a live hologram it can be classified as something other than a live performance and they are much more lenient on that. So Snoop Dogg, Elton John, not allowed in China, but their holograms are. It’s a cool way to bring music into places were it is not allowed because of political or religious restrictions.
Erik: Why did you choose Santa Monica to open up shop?
Ashley: I love Santa Monica. The tech scene here is so great. This is where all the networking events are to meet venture capitalists, and to meet other engineers; it’s just the best place to network. I was driving up from Hermosa [Beach] three or four times a week and I was finally like, lets just move! This is just where everything is.
Erik: And one thing you would like to share with the locals of Santa Monica?
Ashley: We can do live hologram performances, including bringing celebrity talent to your birthday party or Bat Mitzvah.
Erik Huberman is CEO of Hawke Media, a Santa Monica-based digital marketing and e-commerce agency.