April Fools prank turns into genius marketing by these two entrepreneurs

Yuni Morales
7 min readApr 30, 2024

April Fools’ jokes are meant to be a day when you pull a prank on your friend, but these two tech founders saw it as the perfect opportunity for a genius marketing stunt. The founders of Tapped Ai, Ilias Anwar and Johannes Naylor, had heard of each other in college but were working on separate sides of campus. Ilias was running a media company known as TCC Entertainment, organizing events for college kids and booking big celebrities for shows, while Johannes was running hackathons for software engineering students and working on a tech startup known as “In The Loop” — a Tik-Tok for producers. They eventually connected a couple of years after college when Johannes’ podcast co-host reached out to interview Ilias for his work with TCC Entertainment.

The two ended up clicking after the podcast and talked for a couple of hours. Despite hearing about each other throughout college, they didn’t officially meet until that podcast where they discussed more about how the music industry needed change desperately. Ilias saw many problems with the live booking industry, and Johannes knew there was a boom in the independent music scene. They had come up with a couple of ideas, and they decided to just stay connected. After he finished the call, he didn’t even think Johannes would want to work with him.

A few months later, Johannes called Ilias to express his interest in expanding on those ideas. Johannes had the option to keep working for Capital One but chose to join a startup. However, both had planned to move from their home states: Johannes to Barcelona and Ilias to Los Angeles. Despite the distance, they decided to work together even though they both knew they were leaving for opposite sides of the world in a couple of weeks.

During this time, they explored different ideas for their startup, initially focusing on a badge verification platform for events and then shifting to a LinkedIn-style platform for the music industry before settling on an Ai record label concept. This ended up going really well for them as they started seeing over hundreds of thousands of views online and had multiple publications write stories about them. However, they realized that their tools wouldn’t scale in time and that ChatGPT could basically do the same thing that their Ai record label tools could do. They kept pushing regardless and tried to stay optimistic. They knew they couldn’t beat ChatGPT, but for right now they had a lot of buzz, and they were solving problems for independent artists, and had paying customers. In the back of their minds, they knew the day was coming when they would have to make a massive change.

Regardless, this caught the attention of the Antler program. The Antler “Residency” helps entrepreneurs find co-founders and teams to help develop their business idea and invests in early startups. Keep in mind, Antler has more than 50,000 annual applicants, less than 5% are accepted to join their residencies. This was a big deal for the duo, and they knew they had to go. They wanted to make the move to the NYC residency program, but the only opening they had was for Austin, Texas. After leaving their jobs and coming from across the world, they threw out their plans of moving to NYC and pulled the trigger to move to Austin, Texas full time. They made this decision out of nowhere and it seemed a little too impulsive, but Johannes and Ilias knew that this was the right move.

So they went and moved to Austin, Texas to get accustomed to their new life for the next couple of months. Where they would go into the Antler office every day and were the last to leave the office every single day. Not because they were hustlers, but because the hotel they stayed at had terrible wifi, so they couldn’t even use their laptop or phones properly. So they would be at the office until midnight every day. Which they even admitted was ten times better than their living conditions at the hotel. Nonetheless, this kept them busy and they kept thinking of how to iterate.

Realizing they couldn’t compete with ChatGPT, they contemplated throughout the whole program and spoke with multiple mentors. They even went to New York Tech Week to speak at an Ai Furnace event where they spoke in front of 300+ investors and engineers. To which they then got approached by multiple VC’s, angel investors, and even a director to potentially film a documentary on the two. This made them realize, it was not only their product that was exciting but that people were initially sold on them. So, even if they were scared to experiment and shift the focus a little bit people would still believe in whatever direction they take. They also decided not to take any funding until they were fully sold on their idea.

They didn’t change anything until the last week of the program when they spoke with Tyler Norwood, a VC from the Antler program who they took a liking to. “Tyler is someone who leads with passion and his authenticity. He seemed genuine, and I don’t usually see that from the tech world. Everyone wears suits and talks about all their accolades. But, Tyler just pulls up with a vest and talks to you like a friend. Tyler is one of those guys that you can trust; he sees PEOPLE not users.” Is what Ilias had to say about Tyler after his time at the Antler program. Him and Johannes really looked up to him, and this was the final nail in the coffin for them to make the pivot as he also told them to focus on live music. Despite having hundreds of users and paid subscribers, they decided to shift away from being an Ai record label. They worked privately for a few months after the program before launching a matchmaking service for performers and venues, which later evolved into a live music data analytics company.

With April Fool’s coming up, Ilias knew he had a chance to capitalize on a great marketing campaign. To which they could finally leave the Ai record label in the past and focus on the new direction which is “create a world tour from your iPhone” as a live music data analytics company. Ilias brainstormed the idea of announcing the sale of their company as an April Fools’ joke, knowing it would generate buzz.

This is because there are two things that are talked about the most when it comes to tech founders’ journeys — if your company shuts down and fails, and if you sell your company. So Ilias decided to combine the two by getting an article written to pretend that they had just done that. Which was a play on headline culture because most people don’t even read full articles. Ilias did want to be honest about it so they got the article written and he made sure to put at the end of the article that it was just a joke. He wanted to be truthful, but if people wanted to be lazy and think otherwise he wasn’t going to stop them. All that preparation seemed like it was for no reason because Ilias ended up deciding that he was going to scrap the whole campaign and throw it out. He was scared it would get backlash or maybe even come off as unprofessional.

Despite initial hesitation, Ilias called Johannes and they both decided to do it. Ilias was sitting in a Panera Bread, and Johannes was telling him to just press enter. Which he did and the next 24 hours their phones were blowing up constantly. The joke garnered significant attention, leading to over 300 people reaching out, including investors and friends they hadn’t talked to in years. This unexpected success had them rekindling with people who then got them connected to other people they thought could help the two.

After a day, they decided to start telling people that it was a joke, but even the people who fell for the joke commended them. In a day where people get lost in the void of the internet, they were able to cut through and make noise, which had people talking about them again. This then led to speaking engagements at the #1 University in the state of Virginia. Alongside, also bringing attention towards their first-ever music tech mixer “Tapped Mixer,” which then sold out not once, not twice, but four times in a row. Not to mention also getting featured on the front page of Lu.ma, an event ticketing platform. They were able to bring multiple industry heavy-hitters to their event, including Alisha Outridge (former CTO of TuneCore), and execs from major labels and other affiliates of celebrity artists.

“Tapped Mixer” Founder Panel — Future of Ai, Exploiting artists, and Investors

They couldn’t even fully decompress from the weekend because a couple of days later they were headed over to the University of Virginia. Anwar and Naylor were invited to speak at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. They shared their journey with postgraduate students, providing valuable insights into entrepreneurship and innovation in the digital age. Their visit to UVA also included participating in a postgraduate entrepreneurship class, which enriched their understanding of current academic approaches to business challenges.

Ilias Anwar and Johannes Naylor speak at UVA Business discussing Tapped Ai

Fresh off the chaotic week they had with Tapped Mixer in NYC and speaking at the business hall in UVA. Tapped AI announced a partnership with NY Tech Week and venture firm a16z to host a summer soiree, an event which will be going on June 3rd at Tailor Public House with AI Furnace, the largest AI community in NYC. This event aims to bring together investors and startup founders, further establishing Tapped AI’s presence in the tech and music landscapes.

https://www.instagram.com/p/C6M1sRfux-H/

Right after this announcement, they got a call from a close friend of Ilias’ known as Adonis. Who got them connected to an executive from Warner Records, who asked the two to come back to NYC about investing in Tapped Ai.

From a simple April Fool’s joke, Ilias and Johannes have been able to take a simple marketing gimmick to the biggest building in the music industry — Warner Records.

And it cost them absolutely nothing.

--

--

Yuni Morales

Music Journalist/Publicist based in Miami, Florida — follow me on Twitter: @mindfulmami222 let’s connect!