[Editor’s Note: This story is part of a “Where Are They Now” series on startups named to NC TECH’s annual Top 10 Startups To Watch list from 2014 to the present. You can find the main story here. There are also six other feature stories on startups from the NC TECH lists that are no longer active standalone companies: Organic Transit (2014 list); Tiger Eye Sensor (2015); EmployUs (2016); Forecast Health (2016); Cultivate (2017); and myBeeHyve (2018).]
In 2015, Emily Finkelstein was the Co-Founder of Triangle-based, live-music streaming service platform Tourpedo and also the COO of Raleigh-HQ’d NextLot, which provides software to conduct online auctions.
Entrepreneurial promise was in the air. NC TECH named Tourpedo as one of its Top 10 Startups To Watch in 2015, and Finkelstein saw the company growing at 120 percent in its user base with 90 percent of shows profitable at that time.
Finkelstein, who had started her career at Google as an online operations and sales specialist, had combined her knowledge of online media with her communication and analytical skills to serve in the C-suite of NextLot. This role ultimately led Finkelstein to create Tourpedo in 2013 to create new ways for music fans to watch and experience live shows across the country. She believed live streaming was the next step in the evolution of the music business.
Tourpedo’s website portal allowed fans to find artists, venues and festivals that were streaming, purchase tickets, chat with other fans and donate money to the artist’s choice of charity. In three years, Tourpedo had more than 15,000 users and streamed more than 125 artists, five music festivals and sold around $200,000 in music memorabilia to benefit charities.
“We hoped to change the way that people consume music,” Finkelstein said. “We wanted to give artists the ability to be seen by as many people as possible during any given night, and we also wanted to help venues and music festivals sell tickets to fans around the world that couldn’t attend their concerts in person.”
This way, a venue or festival could never really sell out of tickets, and fans could watch artists from anywhere.
But Tourpedo, like so many other startups, closed its doors when its market growth potential fell through. Finkelstein said even though Tourpedo entered the market before big players like Google and Facebook, these competitors had unlimited capital and could provide live streams for free using ad-based models.
That isn’t to say Tourpedo doesn’t live on to some extent. The charity online auction business aspect of Tourpedo has sustained itself to this day, Finkelstein said.
Post-NextLot and Tourpedo, Finkelstein founded VentureXpert Advisors, where she regularly advises other companies on how to find success with support from a team of other entrepreneurial experts.
Her general advice for founders runs the gamut from holding off on raising money for as long as possible and getting paying customers to use your product or service as quickly as you can.
Success comes to those who have worked for it, and it’s important to be prepared for pivots and not fear risks, Finkelstein said. The team you build is everything.
“From my past experiences of Tourpedo and NextLot—growing and scaling these multiple businesses—I realized what it takes to accomplish a task,” Finkelstein said. “And I also realized that I can’t be the sole person in charge of everything. In order to grow and effectively manage and scale a business, you really have to be able to hire team members that you trust to help guide, lead and manage all aspects of the business.”
Being a great leader is recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses, not micromanaging others, and leveraging the best and brightest minds possible, Finkelstein added.
“I know firsthand the rollercoaster of running a business,” Finkelstein said. “And now I’m here to provide other entrepreneurs with learnings, knowledge and advice based upon my experience on how to get them to the next level.”
As a woman founder, Finkelstein also knows what it’s like to work her way to the top while avoiding being seen as overly aggressive and working to find her own voice. She wants to give back, both to the Triangle tech ecosystem and the women working to shape their own careers.
“I really want to give back to North Carolina and help other tech founders in their journey,” Finkelstein said.
A key component of finding that success is fostering mental wellness, she added. VentureXpert Advisors is therefore helping founders and organizations with a facilitated process to drive greater mental wellbeing.
“At the end of the day, what I’ve realized is your business and your vision and everything that you’re doing on the company side to propel it forward can only be at its top peak when you’re at your top peak,” Finkelstein said.