Madison serial entrepreneur Brian Wiegand has co-founded a handful of businesses, including one bought by Microsoft for $50 million.
So, you could say Wiegand has made his millions and the rest is gravy. Or rather, Gravy Live.
That’s the name of the latest business founded by Wiegand and his partners, Mark McGuire and Craig Andler. Their concept: live-streaming entertainment.
After trying various ideas, they’ve hit on their keeper: a live, interactive shopping game show called Gravy.
Launched in late May, Gravy runs six nights a week, Sunday through Friday, at 7:30 p.m. for 10 to 15 minutes on Apple mobile devices.
Each night, the program host hawks a single product but doesn’t say how many of the items are up for grabs. Almost like a reverse auction, as time clicks by, the price goes down. Shoppers who really want the item can snap it up quickly or they can wait to see how good a deal they’ll get — if the supply doesn’t run out.
Meanwhile, at the start of each product pitch — or “game,” as Wiegand calls it — players can enter a guess on what percentage below the starting price the item will sell for when the last of the stash is sold.
“We vary the quantity to make it difficult to guess,” he said. While one in 100 viewers may buy the product, “the other 99 are there to play a game.” The 15 or 20 who come closest share a pot of cash, currently at several hundred dollars.
Wiegand said the live-casts are drawing several thousand people each night, and many of them come back, night after night.
“Hundreds (of people) haven’t missed a show in a month,” Wiegand said. “It’s so addictive, it might even be unhealthy at some point.”
So far, the products sold on Gravy have included Vitamix blenders, Weber gas grills, Fujifilm underwater cameras, and DJI Spark drones.
“Gravy is QVC meets Price is Right with a twist,” Wiegand said.
Wiegand, 49, said the show is quick because it is aimed at millennial trendsetters, ages 22 to 38, “and they have really short attention spans.” Getting them to watch a program live-streamed on a computer didn’t work, but mobile phones and tablets drew them in.
“What’s remarkable to me: One of the most important things with a shopping and entertainment platform is retention. One month (after the shows started), 40 percent to 50 percent were still watching three to four shows a week,” Wiegand said.
Last week, new technology was added that will soon let viewers appear on a split-screen with the program’s host. As Gravy gains players and the cash prize grows, seeing the emotions of the winners will be “the real magic of connecting people together,” Wiegand said.
Playing for fun ... and for profit
Gravy is based in Madison, broadcast from a studio at 202 State St., above the Comedy Club. Its 18 employees include two in Minneapolis.
Available on Apple products only, it is expected to be shown on Android apps later this summer, Wiegand said.
“It’s probably the most exciting of the businesses that I’ve had. Every night, we give that stage to a brand who wants to get all of this millennial attention,” he said.
So how does Gravy make money? Not through commissions for products sold.
Manufacturers pay a fee for their products to be featured. Typically, they send one product. Gravy processes the credit card purchases and the manufacturer ships the products to the buyers and decides if it wants some of the proceeds to go to charity.
“We’re giving them an opportunity to get in front of thousands — hopefully, millions, eventually,” Wiegand said.
He said Gravy’s concept is the next generation of YouTube product testers.
“That’s the 1.0 of influence marketers. We bring the influencers as hosts. They are bringing their audience to Gravy,” Wiegand said.
Gravy has raised $2 million so far, from its founders and local angel investors.
“We’ve had an amazing amount of attention from institutional venture capitalists from the East and West coasts,” Wiegand said.
He said he plans to start working toward a $3 million to $5 million financing round “to drive this concept” — with new types of shopping game shows.
“Next is beauty and fashion, and then sports and outdoors ... all branded under the Gravy concept,” he said.
This is the sixth company Wiegand has co-founded, four of them with McGuire. Four of the businesses were purchased by bigger companies; only one of his startups has failed.