Chris Rock didn’t want all his best jokes blasted out online before he told them at the Oscars. Alicia Keys was hoping to keep her new songs under wraps until her upcoming album was released. And Guns N’ Roses wanted to keep their reunion concert a secret until they were ready to go public.
So all these performers turned to the same person: Graham Dugoni, founder of Yondr.
Dugoni’s company makes neoprene pouches that resemble tiny sleeping bags. As you head into a concert venue, drop your phone into one of these pouches and it locks tight. When you leave, tap your pouch on a device near the exit that opens it again.
Yondr creates a “no phone zone” where nobody’s taking video of a performance. That means comedians can try out new material, and singers can give the audience a preview of their upcoming single without worrying that it will be uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo.
And Dugoni points out that nobody’s texting, taking selfies, or just absentmindedly checking for new messages. Everybody is paying attention to what’s happening onstage.
“If you haven’t been to a concert where people aren’t on their phones, you don’t know what you’re missing,” says Dugoni. “What we’re doing is creating an environment where people can be swept up in the moment.”
Dugoni, a member at San Francisco’s WeWork Civic Center, wasn’t always an entrepreneur. He played soccer for all four years that he attended Duke University, and after graduating, he moved on to professional teams in Norway and the United States.
After retiring from the field, he went to work in finance, taking a job at an independent investment firm in Atlanta.
“That was my first time to jump into the job market,” Dugoni says. “I knew right away that it wasn’t for me.”
His next job was at a San Francisco-based startup. He only stayed there for six months or so, but it was long enough to convince him that an idea he had for his own startup was a good one.
Dugoni launched Yondr a little over two years ago, cashing out his retirement fund, selling his car, and doing anything else he could to fund the business. He started building out prototypes, taking them to his local hardware store for advice on the electronic locking mechanism. If they didn’t open and close easily, then audiences would never stand for them.
Dugoni’s big break came when an Oakland music venue called the Stork Club let him try it out during a burlesque show.
“The manager there was really cool,” Dugoni says. “She got what we were trying to do instantly.”
A lot of performers noticed as well. Bands like the Lumineers started using the device at their concerts, as did comedians Dave Chappelle, Hannibal Buress, and Louis C.K.
The reviews from audiences have been almost all positive, he says. And club owners are happy too. Turns out when customers aren’t on their phones, sales at the bar go up seven or eight percent.
“So it kind of flows both ways,” says Dugoni. “Everybody seems happy.”