Tailgate Fest Creators, Former Mark Cuban Partners, Talk Entrepreneurship

Published on June 22, 2019

For Mark Cuban, visitors to Shark Tank are either entrepreneurs or ‘wantrepreneurs.’ When he invested two million dollars in Tailgate Fest Founders Melissa Carbone and Alyson Richards’s production company, it was clear which they were.

That was the biggest deal in the show’s history at the time.

The company, Ten Thirty One Productions, made its bread and butter from producing Haunted Hayride events in LA and NYC, as well as other largescale horror-themed experiences.

They successfully sold it last year to focus on their new passion: Tailgate Fest. The unique country music festival, entering its second year, combines the festival experience of Stage Coach with the social, energetic vibe of big game tailgates.

Imagine grilling burgers and playing beer pong with your friends, but instead of just listening to the likes of Brantley Gilbert, Brett Eldredge, Lee Brice, and Big Boi (see the full lineup) on your car stereo, they’re also playing live right there.

This year, their dream has grown bigger. Tailgate Fest has moved to a larger, grassy venue close to LA. They’re even adding a 24-hour pool party that’s also stageside. The two-day event happens on August 17th and 18th.

Carbone and Richards took the time to talk with Grit Daily about their journeys as entrepreneurs and share some of their keys to success. The conclusion is that they are so badass, it’s almost scary.

Their Story

Grit Daily: If you could tell us where you see your careers as entrepreneurs really starting off and one significant moment along the way when you thought to yourselves, “This is actually happening. This is actually working.”

Melissa Carbone: I think the entrepreneurial spirit has kind of always been there for me. It’s weird, but even as a kid I started a rock band and booked all the shows and managed it — I’ve always had that in me. I think when it really started to actually look like entrepreneurialism was when Alyson and I were at iHeart at the same time, which was Clear Channel Entertainment at the time.

Even there — and we’re in a giant, corporate, massive machine where it’s kind of hard to be entrepreneurial — but even there, I was always kind of considered this renegade, kind of like a rebel without a cause, defying the rules and getting my hand slapped.  

We would create giant promotions that were like throwing concerts with major recording artists on the roofs of BMW dealerships and at big houses for Mini Cooper. We would take our clients and create these giant things for them that you don’t really do in radio per se. So we’ve always had that weird entrepreneurial x-factor thing stirring.

Alyson Richards: Really specifically for me, it was the first year of the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. It was 2009. I was standing in the parking lot of the hayride. I was talking to my mom in the parking lot crying because we had maybe 500 people come through the LA Haunted Hayride at that point and we were halfway through the month. I was freaking out to my mom because all of our friends had invested in us, we have sponsors onboard, we had personally put in all of our savings that we have to this point to build this and no one is coming.

As I was talking to my mom, with tears streaming down my face, I looked out of the parking lot and there was just a huge line of cars waiting to come into the Hayride. It was like the last scene of “Field Of Dreams.” It was that moment where everything clicked.

From an entrepreneurial standpoint, we had always been in a really safe environment with a good corporate cushy job with iHeart. And then going out on our own like that and having everyone trust us with their investment was so scary, but then when it was a success it was the most unbelievable feeling ever.

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GD: Are there certain qualities and skills that each of you has developed over the years as entrepreneurs that have been key for you — that you can pinpoint as key in allowing you to execute successfully?

MC: I have this like freight train thing that happens to me and it’s just like, you know, I’m going to go after harder than anyone else, faster than anyone else, and give it my whole entire blood, sweat, and tears. So I think that is kind of the core of being an entrepreneur. I think that’s one of those x-factors that probably a lot of entrepreneurs have. For me, the volume on that is turned up so high. I think that’s it for me.

I have an insane amount of passion and belief in the things that I do or I wouldn’t do them.

If you look at my history, I started a Halloween attraction called LA Haunted Hayride and now I just started a country music festival built around tailgating. Both of those things were my hobbies long before I even thought about making them a career. So I always fall into the things that I love and I’m like: I love to tailgating so much man, how do I make a living off tailgating?  

AR: I’m kind of like the balancer and the equalizer and the relationship. Melissa, you probably do say this in your book, I think you do — just because someone has an idea that doesn’t make you special.

You can have the greatest idea in the world, but it’s whether you activate on that idea or not, that’s what makes you special.

Speaking to Melissa’s strengths, that’s definitely the thing. She’ll come up with some crazy ass idea and people will be like, “That’s crazy. You should not do that and here are 10 reasons why.” And she’s like, it’s crazy and that’s why I’m going to do it. One of my strengths is that I am a pretty good balance.

I love building really strong relationships. I think that especially in this business of building events, it’s really important to be very truthful, to be really honest, and build a relationship of trust with whether it’s sponsors or whether it’s artists or managers. That’s definitely one of my strengths is that I always am going to be super transparent.

I’m going to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly because that’s never steered me in the wrong direction and allows a lot of people to trust us with these crazy ideas because they know that we’re going to protect that relationship.  

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GD: How did Tailgate Fest come to be?

MC: [Tailgating] is just a dream little world that these people build around their vehicles and nobody wants to stop to go into the arena and sit in an uncomfortable chair. You just had euphoria created around your vehicle outside. So I was like, what if you didn’t have to stop? Let’s bring the trucks stageside. I knew that if that existed I would pay anything to do that. And so, that’s all it took. I was off to the races because I knew that for me, I would do anything to have an event like that. And that’s where that passion-belief thing triggers and my freight train mentality starts, then you can’t stop me.  

So from that day, 10 months later we opened the gates on the very first Tailgate Fest. That’s how fast that freight train rolled.

GD: Are you all in on Tailgate Fest? What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?

MC: It’s all Tailgate all the time. The focus there is to make the Southern California kind of like the mother ship festival — the biggest and best festival in the world. And then, bring Tailgate to some other cities in Connecticut, Tennessee, maybe Oregon. The idea is to, hopefully, in the next five years build somewhere like six to eight other Tailgate Fests.  

 

If their story inspires you, Carbone’s book “Ready, Aim, Fire” recounts how she built her businesses in depth. Tickets for Tailgate Fest are now available.

Check out Grit Daily for more entrepreneurial news.

 

Noah Staum is the West Coast Managing Editor at Grit Daily. He grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, and has lived in four different countries. Across that span he’s learned Mandarin, adopted an adorable Shiba Inu, and worked for several major dating apps. Noah is based in Los Angeles, California, focusing his coverage on entertainment and entrepreneurship.

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