As a college student, James Jones started DJ-ing to pay his way through school at Notre Dame.
He was fairly successful, booking around two to three jobs per weekend. He even opened for big names like Girl Talk, Big Sean and Bone Thugs n Harmony. But that was just the problem: too many offers for paid gigs.
“Someone wanted me to do a gig, but I couldn’t make it,” Jones said. “But I set them up with equipment and a pre-recorded mix. It was a good set up, but the only bad part was that people couldn’t get requests in.”
As he experimented with ways to meet the increasing demand, Jones, an engineering student, had an idea. What if he could use artificial intelligence to create a platform that would do his job for him? Over the next six years, this idea evolved into SparkDJ, a downloadable DJ that uses AI and user feedback to mix music and take requests.
Hosts can log into the app, create a party, then set parameters for the vibe of the event and type of music they wish to play. Using geolocation, guests locate the party, place requests, then up vote or down vote songs in the queue.
It’s a concept Jones toyed with for years. After moving to Minnesota to work as a data analyst for Target, he continued to work on the app as a side project. He also took some DJ gigs in his spare time, which is how he met his co-founder, John Boss. Prior to joining SparkDJ, Boss worked at full-time at IBM and part-time as a DJ staffer. The two became close friends, and eventually co-founders.
After SparkDJ reached the semifinalist round of the Minnesota Cup’s high tech division last year, things started to pick up for the company, Jones said. SparkDJ also won the Beta.MN Showcase. Through these opportunities, Jones said he and Boss found funding, mentors and realized they could do it full-time.
“There are so many people I know now, that I didn’t know this time last year,” Jones said. “Things started moving fast and I realized, ‘Wow, I have to quit my job.'”
Late last year, both Jones and Boss left their positions at Target and IBM to focus their efforts solely on SparkDJ. The team is now up to four people, all of whom work remotely. The company released the first version of the app on the Apple store in April, and uploaded its alpha version earlier this week.
Jones is also in the middle of a six-month fellowship at COCO, where he and other minority founders receive mentorship and support from the coworking community to build and pursue their business ideas.
As SparkDJ picks up the pace, Jones said he hopes the app will continue to push how it uses AI, but most importantly, he wants to help throw a good party.
“We want people to throw an awesome party, and for them to be really excited about it,” he said.