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Kevin Jonas: "The Band Didn't Work Out ... [So] I Was Able to Double Down in Tech."

The pop star said he's been lurking on the fringes of the tech scene for years.

The Jonas Group

Last week I discovered that Kevin Jonas is my most valuable Twitter follower and that he tweets nonstop about startups.

The logical next step was to find out why.

So I got in touch with the the former boy-band star and learned a lot that surprised me. He said he’s been lurking on the fringes of the tech scene for years, ever since the height of his Jonas Brothers fame. He follows insider techies like Jeremy Stoppelman (Yelp), Ryan Hoover (Product Hunt) and David Tisch (Techstars) on Twitter and has even met with some of them in person to get advice.

And, for the past year, he’s been self-funding his own app-making studio.

Read on to find out whether he uses Periscope or Meerkat, why he’s not an angel investor and whether all the tech-loving Hollywood celebrities share a secret Slack channel.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Re/code: How did you get interested in tech? Did Ashton Kutcher reel you in?

Kevin Jonas: It was always my passion, even when me and my brothers were making music. We had an app that was really underutilized and I took it over. We did livestreams into the app prior to Meerkat and Periscope. The band didn’t work out, which is fine. I was able to double down in tech.

What are you doing?

I have a mobile studio. We’re building a bunch of different apps and different clients. It’s self-funded. We can talk again in the next coming weeks or so, because Yood [the first app out of the studio] is coming out then.

What was it like for you when the band ended?

My time was so consumed by being in the band. [When it ended] it led to me to ask, “what’s next?” I’m not one of these people that’s going to sit on his hands. I’m going to go reinvent and reimagine.

I started getting into Snapchat, building an influencer network and building Snapchat content for brands. I love doing that.

Snapchat makes sense, given your social media celebritydom. But I don’t understand why you want to run an app-making studio.

I’ve got a lot of ideas. The best way to [act on them is] to build out these ideas with great people. Dream big. I know it’s kind of a cliché for a musician to want to be an actor, or vice versa, and now everyone wants to be in tech, the hot spot. But I have an audience I can reach out to, who I can build cool products for, and they can help me grow [those projects into] something special.

From a personal, psychological perspective, what motivated you to do this?

A band is just like a startup.

Everyone says that.

I’m serious. They both start in a garage and create a minimum viable product, which is like your EP [in music]. You travel around and meet people to create a little buzz, which is like pitching. After awhile, you get signed to a label, which is like a venture firm investing in you. Building a band is exactly like a startup.

Now you have a lawyer and licensing and a product to get out and stakeholders you have to please. You have to change constantly or you die. I feel very at home doing this.

That’s a pretty good analogy, actually. Do you want to raise funding?

I would love to. I understand the power of great partnerships. I’ve been successful in my life to a certain point by making the right intros. Strategic partnerships along with capital is key — it’s not just about money.

Have you angel-invested in any companies?

No. Personally, I really was like, “I want to go in and build things.” I took multiple computer programming classes in school, but the people I have hired are way better. It’s four so far — a CTO, two back end engineers and a front-end iOS developer. Two more are coming on soon after.

What’s your favorite app?

I love 5by: It’s like a concierge for everything you might like. I like Product Hunt: it’s easy, it’s daily. I consume a lot of content.

Are you Team Meerkat or Team Periscope?

I love both. I tend to use Periscope more than Meerkat now, but that doesn’t mean I won’t switch tomorrow. I love that in Meerkat the conversation is traveling across all the channels in Twitter. I was part of the beta group on Periscope. In Periscope, the UI and UX is just exceptional and discovery is handled so well, top to bottom.

I imagine that all the celebrities who are into startups, like Nas and Ashton Kutcher, are in a giant Slack channel geeking out together. Is that how it goes?

Not really, I’m kinda doing it my way. I met Ashton like twice, very briefly. He’s a nice guy. Someone I spend much more time with is Jared Leto.

Truly, I haven’t spoken to that many people about the tech industry in the music world other than Jared. I’ve done it my way.

Your fans would hate me if I don’t ask: Will you ever be going back into music?

Maybe. It’s a part of my soul. Right now I’m focused on this.

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