Interview & Words By: Chris Panyiotou
Daniel Markland fell in love with hip-hop when he was eight years old. He was fascinated with the technical aspects of the music, from samples to the song structure, and when his family moved to San Ysidro, California when he was nine, he suddenly had access to bootlegs of New York mixtapes at the local swap meets. “I hustled up enough money to buy an Akai sampler and coupled it with an old family computer to start making simple beats. This was my intro to computers and technology,” he says.
He realized early on that the opportunities in San Ysidro were limited, and that he “didn’t want to be a statistic.” So at 15, he checked out a book from the local library and spent the summer teaching himself C++ on the same computer he had been using to make beats. The following year, he began a business creating web pages for local businesses. He was looking to pay his way through San Diego State University, but by the time he got there, he realized he knew enough about programming that he could have taught the class himself. Because of this, his college career was short-lived. “I dropped out after my first semester and never looked back,” he says. “Turns out, developing software is JUST like making music.”
Fast forward to 2015, after a long run in both music and tech, Daniel needed a solution to problems he encountered as he pursued a DJ/production career. Inspired by entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World,” he formed his digital marketing philosophy: “It’s simple,” he says, “Create dope content but put snippets out on social. Draw everyone back into your own world, your own app, where you can monetize the engagement.” This way he and other DJs or artists, and even brands, could fully monetize their work, by circumventing social platforms’ business models.
So Versl was born. The work he had put in, is now what the Versl platform is, a tool that makes having an app accessible to all. Versl is about creating a digital world for your brand while monetizing and controlling your content.
What did the first iterations of Versl look like and was the model ofcircumventing the socials from day one?
I started on what would become Versl about five years ago. Circumventing social and maintaining control was absolutely the plan from day one. At the time, I was thinking about relaunching my DJ career, but I needed an edge. My daughters were young and I didn’t have the time for traditional networking, but I was super nice at digital marketing. I figured, instead of building up my following on Facebook, why not create my own app and build my own world? Social algorithms were just starting to become a thing. Facebook and Twitter were starting to monetize their platforms and that meant paying for access to your own following.
I started to build my DJ app but realized that the problem I was solving was way bigger. I ended up building a simple prototype and showed it to some investors. A year later, I built an app for Major League Baseball on a super early version of the platform. True story.
You wear many hats at Versl, as the founder, acting as CEO and the developer, how has this dynamic been beneficial?
I wouldn’t recommend it in any other industry but tech or entertainment. It’s amazing to me how the two worlds converge; intellectual property is the heart of both. I’m a full-stack developer, expert level in 9-plus [computer] languages. It’s been incredibly beneficial because we’ve created value in the company for pennies on the dollar. I built our platform for a fraction of the cost had we outsourced or hired a team. We’re also able to pivot incredibly quickly. I’m able to execute the vision I see in my head and not waste time with the normal software development process.
Ironically, we tried to outsource initially and it was a disaster. It literally almost ended the company. It’s really hard to manage timelines and quality when you outsource and those are two things that are critical to get right. Outsourcing is convenient but getting the vision out of your head is really hard when you have to rely on other people. The vision for Versl isn’t fully executed yet, so the best thing right now for Versl is for me to continue managing all development.
I talk about it with Sosa (Versl COO Ray Salinas) all the time. Imagine if Dre tried to outsource the making of “The Chronic”? In a startup, you have to be the executive producer and the beat maker. You gotta be in the studio cooking up daily. It’s all about embracing the process.
What has been the biggest challenge in the Versl journey, and how have you overcome it?
The biggest challenge by far has been technical resources to build the platform out. Building an app is easy. Building a platform that can create n-number of apps is a completely different conversation; [an] insanely hard technical challenge. As I mentioned, we tried to outsource development early and it didn’t work out very well.
We overcame this by just doing everything ourselves. Our process is pretty simple. Elusive and I design the platform features. KG’s [Graham of COSIGN Magazine] feedback is always key as well. I code everything up. The team helps test and validate. We drop the new version. We’re in the software business so updates are easy.
How did Ray Salinas come into the fold and what has he meant to the progression of Versl?
My brother, Sosa. Ray is one of my best friends, and my circle is crazy small. We met through our pastor about four years ago and became close through our weekly men’s group; my brother for life.
Versl is a massive, massive opportunity. I’ve been in the startup game my entire career, but I’ve never been part of something with the growth potential of turn-key app platform. I just didn’t wanna blow the opportunity to inexperience. The margin for error at this level of entrepreneurship is very, very small. I knew that I had to build a dream team to pull this off. I told Ray exactly that when we first spoke about what would become Versl.
Ray is an expert at scaling companies and his super power is details. Having him serve as Versl’s Chief Operating Officer was a no brainer. He’s an engineer by nature but didn’t have very much experience in tech before Versl. I actually thought that was perfect. I’ve seen a lot of tech startups die because they get lost in the tech details instead of focusing on the product.
The only thing Ray cares about is the product. I don’t even try to to discuss much of the tech with him because he doesn’t care. It’s a beautiful thing because this forces me as CEO to execute and make tangible things happen that I can show him instead of talk about.
Two major radio DJs, DJ Kayotik and DJ Elusive, are a part of the Versl family, how does the relationship benefit both Versl and each of them?
Elusive is actually our Director of User Support and Kayotik is a very close partner. DJ’s are the center of culture and having them on the team creates a lot of synergy.
Versl is really a lifestyle marketing tool. What better case study than a DJ? For instance, Kayotik is on TV and radio every morning and in the biggest clubs at night. We give Kayotik the tool to better connect with his audience and Kayotik gives us valuable feedback about what he needs in his app to continue pushing boundaries and creating that experience for his fans. Elusive is not only on the radio but works with a lot of labels, artists and producers daily. His feedback is always super key.
Another member of our team BC, has been working with music labels for the past 25-plus years. BC helps make a lot of things happen behind the scenes as well. The other thing is reach. Our team is pretty powerful, very connected. There really isn’t anyone in the business world that we can’t get to. It’s just making sure we have the right thing to say.
What is the future of Versl and what do the next stages look like?
I’m really excited out our next steps. The company is in a great space. We’ve solidified our platform and process. Now, our focus is on growth and sales. We have some exciting partnerships in the works and we’ve built the company for scale.
Versl is a Latino and Black-owned tech company. I’m really proud of that. We’ve gotten this far completely on our own; independent startup grind at its finest. We’ve already had a bit of acquisition talk, which is pretty exciting. My job is to build value for our shareholders and line up that big exit. I’m expecting those conversations to get pretty serious by next year’s [COSIGN] awards.
The COSIGN Magazine App is powered by Versl, and that in itself is proof of our COSIGN. With the foundation set, a strong team in place, and Daniel’s vision and technical know-how, Versl is poised to become the next tech start-up success story.
Stay connected with Versl!!
Purchase Issue 26 of COSIGN Magazine which features Versl by clicking the link below!
COSIGN MAGAZINE: Issue 26 | Watch The Throne