One of the newest faces to the LA startup community is one many people are accustomed to seeing behind a face mask on Sunday afternoons.
Thomas Q. Jones played in the NFL for 12 seasons, rushing for over 10,000 yards in his career, but now the athlete-turned-actor is focused on a new endeavor: running a startup.
Jones and his co-founders are the minds behind Castar, an app designed to help creatives showcase their abilities and seek casting and hiring opportunities, regardless of their location. Users have the ability to upload images and video of themselves, creating an interactive portfolio that can be viewed by other creatives, or those in search of talent.
"As a creator, seeing what goes on behind the scenes at a tech company is something that really intrigues me," said Jones. "It's not just software. It's a way for creatives to connect, and as creatives ourselves, we have to continue to think outside the box. We are the type of people that our app is trying to reach, so we're not standing on the sidelines trying to do something we don't really know about."
Jones, along with President Joel Robinson and Chief Operating Officer Sky Powell, came up with a concept for Castar while Jones prepared to move from Miami, where he had settled following his NFL career, to LA for more acting opportunities.
"When I realized that I had to move to LA if I was really serious about being an actor, we started talking about how there should be a way for talented people to find work even if they weren't in LA, New York or Chicago," said Jones.
The trio took a unique approach to creating their app. Instead of cherrypicking the stronger components from existing social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, Jones and his team tried to identify missing aspects of those platforms — and where they could improve. This approach lead them to the realization that Castar's interface needed to be markedly different than more traditional social media apps, so they decided to use mobile gaming developer to build the app, instead.
"Our development team in Miami makes video games, and has for about 20 years or so," said Jones. "When we approached them with our idea, they had never made anything like a social media platform. That's why the app functions like a video game, which I think is really unique for a social media and it engages the user more."
Castar spent eight months in beta following its launch in March 2015 before the team felt comfortable moving forward. Jones likened the approach to recovering from injury, something he dealt with often as a professional football player.
"Our biggest fear was not being ready. We didn't want to do anything until we were absolutely sure that the functionalities of the app were perfect," said Jones. "It's like an athlete coming back from an injury without being fully healed: the likelihood of getting injured again is really high."
The rest of the Castar team joined Jones in Hollywood this January, and the app officially launched in March. Since then, two independent films have used it to find its cast, and Jones and his co-founders are seeking additional funding to expand the app's functionalities.
"We feel that our design is ahead of everyone else, and with the right amount of funding and support, we feel this can really be a groundbreaking app," said Jones. "We're really excited about what the app can do and what it can be."
Now closing in on two years in the tech community, Jones credits his upbringing and his experience as an athlete-turned-actor fueling his dedication to creating a successful product.
“I've always been addicted to doing things that people don't expect me to do. I'm from a very small town in Virginia — 5,000 people maybe — and my graduating class was 120 people,” said Jones. “For me to even get a Division I football scholarship, get drafted, play in the NFL for 12 years are all things that people wouldn't expect from a kid coming from where I came from. I think if you have that mentality, there’s nothing you can’t do."