BY ERIN GORDON
Come Labor Day weekend, you’ll find Jay Manickam at Burning Man, riding across the Nevada desert in cars that look straight out of a Mad Max movie and watching a 69-foot wooden statue ignite in flames with 70,000 other festivalgoers. But until then, you can find him in his Austin offices, substituting a polo shirt for his more eccentric festival attire but still channeling that festival spirit through his latest business endeavor: Everfest.
As a consumer tech entrepreneur, travel lover and ardent “burner,” as Burning Man attendees are known, Manickam channels his passions through Everfest.
“I’ve always continued to have that motivation to see the world while I still can,” Manickam said. “I also love consumer internet, and that’s been what I’ve been involved with for 15 years, so it’s exciting to find something that hits my heart professionally and personally.”
Everfest is an online marketplace that connects users to festivals across the world through a database of over 15,000 local and international festivals. Think TripAdvisor of the festival scene. It also connects organizers to various vendors, artists and sponsors and provides a new means of promotion. It’s where you can find the latest information on an international EDM festival and a local food and wine show in the same place.
Everfest’s combination of two distinct industries — consumer internet services and festival production — seems to be working. The company has received over $1.5 million in funding since it was founded in 2014 by Manickam and Ticketbud founder Paul Cross.
“We think there might be a quarter million [festivals] in the world, and we have 15,000 on our site, so we aren’t even 10 percent there,” Manickam said. “There’s a lot of room to grow.”
Manickam started Everfest after leaving his first startup, uShip, which began as a class project with fellow students at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business. He left after deciding that uShip had reached a point where it no longer needed his entrepreneurial talents.
Despite establishing multiple successful startups, entrepreneurship wasn’t always Manickam’s intended career path. After he graduated with a degree in chemistry from UNC-Chapel Hill, most assumed he would follow his doctor father’s footsteps into medicine. But instead of going to medical school, he moved to Austin to earn an MBA at McCombs School of Business.
“[My parents] had a little bit of shock at first, but they are very supportive,” Manickam said. “I was just more passionate about [business], to be honest. So, once they saw that passion, they were very supportive.”
Manickam has been knocking at the music industry’s door for years — from putting on neighborhood festivals as a kid in Annapolis, Maryland, to working as a ticket broker in college. Together with partners, he opened The Vulcan Gas Company, one of Austin’s largest electronic music venues, which they sold last year.
“I wanted to get involved, and I saw an opportunity there,” he said. “The bar/restaurant business is a very cutthroat business and is not necessarily what you do to make a lot of money but what you do if you want to give back and get involved in the scene.”
Everfest has been Manickam’s golden ticket into that scene.
“I’m a lifelong festivalgoer,” he said. “I don’t come from industry, but I’m certainly a well-travelled fan in the festival scene. You get to know a lot of the owners. It’s interesting hearing about the blood, sweat and tears. It’s a lot of work to grow a successful festival, so we want to be supportive of them.”
As with any startup, the hours at Everfest are long, but Manickam doesn’t seem to mind.
“I don’t really consider it work really,” he said. “From a typical standpoint, you would call me a workaholic, but it’s what I love.”
“The great part of entrepreneurialism is hopefully you are doing it out of some sense of passion as well,” he said. “If you’re not, you are definitely in the wrong industry or you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur.”
Manickam takes his festivals very seriously. Not just anything can be considered a festival. Everfest even has developed its own “Fest Test,” which includes a list of criteria that festivals must meet, including being “multi-dimensional,” having “an ethos of discovery” being “about having fun.”
Manickam believes the benefits of festivals extend beyond attendees’ time there. Festivals allow for “cultural curiosity and people’s willingness to get out of their comfort zone,” he said. “Some of the best and most authentic experiences you can have when you travel are at festivals.”
“Work hard, play hard” is Manickam’s motto, but when you work in the festival scene, the boundary between work and play can sometimes get blurred. For someone who has combined his passions into a job, creating a strong work culture that maintains a sense of enthusiasm is key — whether that is taking the entire Everfest team to Austin’s Euphoria festival or having Friday afternoon cookouts outside the offices.
Things have worked well for Manickam when fun and business mix. While still at uShip, Manickam and his business partner filmed a spoof of the movie “The Social Network” for the office Christmas party, which led to the creation of the A&E reality show “Shipping Wars,” a series that ran for seven seasons.
“We had some friends who were in the video production business that had done some reality TV shows, so they volunteered to help us film this spoof video and in the course of that we got talking about how our business would make a great reality TV show,” Manickam said. “Now there are versions of it in South America and in Europe as well.”
It might be a while before we see a “Festival Wars” reality show, but for now Manickam is excited about the future of Everfest and spreading the festival bug.
“Our long-term goal would be for Everfest to bring people together in ways they wouldn’t otherwise,” he said. It could be anything from “finding new friends at festivals to creating new relationships. It’s about getting people to go to one more festival this year than they did last year.”