MC Hammer hasn't topped the music charts since the early 1990s, but the former rap star says he has another hit in him — only this...
SAN FRANCISCO — MC Hammer hasn’t topped the music charts since the early 1990s, but the former rap star says he has another hit in him — only this time he’ll produce it as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
Hammer, whose real name is Stanley Burrell, is choreographing a new career as co-founder and chief strategy officer of Menlo Park, Calif.-based DanceJam.com.
The Web site, to debut in mid-January, will try to upstage YouTube and become the Internet’s hub for sharing and watching dance videos.
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DanceJam then hopes to make money by grabbing a piece of the rapidly growing Internet advertising market, which is expected to rake in $27.5 billion in 2008, according to eMarketer.
If the business pans out, DanceJam could help Hammer compensate for losing his fortune when he went bankrupt in 1996 with nearly $14 million in debt.
The bankruptcy was a sobering comedown for Hammer, who parlayed the popularity of his song, “U Can’t Touch This,” to become a pop icon in the early 1990s. Besides becoming a fixture on MTV, Hammer appeared on kids’ lunch boxes and even had his own action figure.
Hammer’s involvement in DanceJam has more to do with his technological savvy than his celebrity, said Ron Conway, a longtime Silicon Valley investor who is part of a small group that provided DanceJam with $1 million in startup money.
“I expect him to integrate all his knowledge into this Web site,” said Conway, who befriended Hammer at a baseball game seven years ago and has been tutoring him in the ways of technology ever since. “He is the lightning rod for this whole thing.”
Hammer, 45, started poking around Silicon Valley while he was still selling millions of records. He hung out at computer makers such as Silicon Graphics and Apple, hoping to learn more about how technology might help his music career.
“There is no high-tech lingo or business strategy that you can talk that is above my head,” Hammer boasted during an interview. “I breathe this stuff.”
Hammer’s entrepreneurial roots date back to the 1980s when he began recording songs with financial help from a few Oakland Athletics, where he once worked as a ball boy. His nickname came from his resemblance to former home-run king Hammerin’ Hank Aaron.
Without the support of a major music label, Hammer built a loyal fan base by hitting the streets and selling his early recordings out of a car.
His success in grassroots marketing prompted Salesforce.com to call on Hammer for advice in its early days. The company wanted to raise awareness about its online software service without paying a lot for traditional advertising, said its CEO, Marc Benioff.
“We really learned a lot from Hammer. He is the most entrepreneurial individual I have ever met,” Benioff said.
Hammer and his DanceJam partners — Geoffrey Arone, chief executive, and Anthony Young, chief technology officer — are wading into a market saturated with dozens of Web sites with huge video libraries.
Drawing upon the popularity of reality shows such as “Dancing With The Stars,” DanceJam will stage head-to-head competitions where contestants submit videos that will be judged by viewers. The site also will provide demonstrations and information about a wide variety of dances, ranging from the Boogaloo to the Krump.
Arone, Hammer and Young have spent several months videotaping people around the country dancing. They say they have stockpiled about 100 gigabytes of video to help launch DanceJam.
James McQuivey, a media analyst with Forrester Research, doubts that will be enough to lure people away from YouTube, which listed 1.7 million dance videos in its index as of late December.
“When people are looking for any video, whether it be about skateboarding, dancing or a science project, they don’t stop to think about where’s the best place to find it. They just start off by going to YouTube,” McQuivey said.