FunToad had launched officially at Masada, Israel in David Broza’s concert on Aug 26th, a concert that started at 3:00 am and finished with Sunrise at 6:30 am for 1300 attendees. This was an adventure, a story to tell, we did it against all odds. While the result is not fully satisfying, when taking into considerations what we went through we can say it’s our biggest triumph up till now.
It all began three months ago, when we decided we must set a date for our launch. It`s almost a random date because you can’t be really ready and prepared for a launch of a startup product, it’s always in a development process and the road is long. I’m not sure there is a point where we will be able to say our product is complete and we are ready to hit the market. So we decided we are doing it in August, we will stabilize the version for the launch and delay new features till after the launch. Now the next question was, where are we launching and with which artist. We had several possibilities. We could launch in London, Berlin or maybe Barcelona but we decided we are doing it at home, in Israel, with the people we know and an artist who is also a friend and has known FunToad for almost two years. We approached David Broza, an Israeli American singer, song writer, one of the most prestigious icons here in Israel. We told him of our plan and he loved our offer and with a lot of courage David said “Let’s do it”!
Now, where is it going to happen? Our team loves to live on the edge, we seek challenges, and so the place we picked was the toughest place we could think of, the worst place a technological startup could choose to launch a product. For more than twenty years David Broza holds a sunrise concert every year, beginning at 3 am till 6:30 in Masada, an ancient fortress in the middle of the desert in the south of Israel, near the Dead Sea. It’s a place with no network infrastructure, no internet, almost no available 3G network service, 47 degrees Celsius in the shade, strong winds and it’s the lowest place on earth. David’s audience is also not the obvious audience. FunToad at this phase, suits a younger audience better. They are more technological and it’s natural for them to use their smartphones during a concert. The average age in David Broza’s concerts is around 40, not the ideal audience for us. But as I said, we will do it the hard way, as we are a winning team that loves tough challenges. “Let’s do it, if we can make it there we can make anywhere”, this was our motto. So we started the process of producing our part of the concert.
A few words about Masada, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of the greatest archaeological sites in Israel and, perhaps, across the world. The fortress of Masada was built in the year 30 BCE by King Herod, whose architectural feats have left their mark throughout the country. At the beginning of the great revolt against Rome in the year 68 CE, the site was conquered by a group of Jewish zealots, and Masada became their last stronghold. In the year 72 the Romans besieged Masada and succeeded in reaching the steep fortress after constructing a huge earthen ramp on its western side. In the year 73, the 960 Jewish zealots living at the top of Masada chose to commit suicide rather than to fall into the hands of the Romans alive. Their deeds left behind a saga of courage, heroism, and martyrdom.
The production process was very complicated, the first thing was to obtain an internet line to the site. The nearest point is on the eastern side of the Masada Mountain, a few kilometers away, when going around the mountain. In order to this we needed to talk with "Bezeq”, the communications company that has the infrastructure on the other side, with the “Israel Antiquities Authority”. As this fortress is the most important and protected archaeological site in Israel, you can’t move a stone without a permit and with the “Nature and Parks Authority” which runs the Masada national park. As you can imagine, working between all these authorities is an art form for itself. So after 3 months of meetings, phone calls, emails, papers and stamps we finally got a permit to have an internet port in a spot which is 300 meters away, in a straight line, from the stage. We had to get it from there to the venue and it had to go around 800 meters so it wouldn’t cross the audience or car pathways, this can be done with an Optical cable, so we got a very long and very expensive optical cable to go from the internet spot, around the stage, through a canyon and up to the venue. We got the 100mb internet line only two days before the concert. Up till then we couldn’t say for sure that FunToad will be able to launch in this concert but we didn’t stop to believe, not even for a second.
One more thing we needed to take care of, was the Projection screen, David didn’t plan to have one for this show and we had to have a screen. We learned in the past year that the audience have to see themselves on the screen in order to understand the visual effect of FunToad and participate. So we hired a projector, a screen and we had to hire a full video crew, 4 cameras, a crane and a broadcast van for shooting the live video for the audience and documenting the concert for us.
We started working on the content two weeks before the concert. We had no time to do it before and the set list was still changing so we didn’t really know what songs were going to be performed in the concert. This process was done remotely with David traveling all around the world, so we couldn’t meet him physically till a week before the show. This process has to be done differently for the next time. We need much more involvement from the artist, before the show and during the show for FunToad to work at its best and for the content to be more interesting and connected to the music.
There were many more obstacles we had to overcome for getting prepared for the day of the concert. I will spare you the details, too many words already said.
It’s the 25th of August, 20:00, 6 hours before gates are about to open, we are fully prepared, content is ready, internet is ready, Wi-Fi is steady and ready, projection in place, cameras ready to roll. Our only concern, as always, is the audience, will they understand what to do? Will they participate, will they enjoy? This is always our biggest concern because we have control over the technology but no control over the audience. Every evening at 22:00, there is a sound and light show, for tourists visiting Masada, featuring the whole mountain, everything becomes dark and dramatic and we all had to leave the venue for an hour. During this hour, my phone is connected to the FunToad WiFi and I’m just doing my regular stuff, some emails, Facebook, Whatsapp, the usual thing.
SUDDENLY, POOF, NO INTERNET!!!!
My phone is connected to the FunToad network, I get a strong signal but I lost the internet connectivity, my heart lost a few beats, but I was still waiting for it to come back, I hoped it’s something with the electricity and the show running on the mountain. Now this whole scene is unfolding while it’s all dark. Loud and dramatic sounds of the Romans breaking the fortress walls is being heard, fire on the fortress walls, it’s a scene I will never forget. Our team starts to communicate, but we are not together, as every one of us has found his spot for this hour break and we can’t really do anything till the tourist show is over, we are all stressed and have no idea what happened.
Half an hour later, when the lights came back on and we returned to the venue, the race for finding the problem began. All routers, switches and access points were tested and all looked good, we discovered we get no signal coming through the 800 meters optical cable, something happened to the cable. 2 people from our team started a hike, along the cable, through the canyon and the problem was spotted after 40 minutes, the cable was cut, it had been eaten by a wild animal with sharp teeth, an animal that found an optical cable to be an enemy or a meal. It’s the worst problem that could occur, a broken optical cable can’t be fixed on site and we are deep in the desert. It’s almost midnight, the closest place which can hold this kind of cable is two and a half hours drive and its way past the closing time for any of the service providers who could help us. It looked like our launch is not going to happen, after all the efforts and the buzz we created, the audience is about to arrive in two hours and nothing is going to happen with FunToad. Mother Nature didn’t cooperate with us this night, we were without hope, just standing holding our heads and thinking how to explain what happened, to David, the audience, our guests and our followers, it’s a nightmare… This is where I saw myself going on stage and using the phrase “The dog ate my homework” and it will be the truth for the first time ever.
After a while, we lifted ourselves up and found someone who could bring a 300 meters optical cable from Tel-Aviv but it should get to us an hour after the show has started. So the cable was on its way. One more solution that we decided to try, was connecting the internet line using normal 50 meters cat5 network cables chained through amplifiers transferring the internet for the 300 meters. This equipment came with the video crew by chance and this is what we did. 30 minutes before show time and 15 minutes before the test we planned to do with the audience, this weird setup was completed and the internet came alive, weak signal, narrow band, 20mb instead of 100mb, but we had something. Devices could connect and the system seemed to be working on our personal devices. We didn’t know how it will perform during the show but we had no other alternative, we had to do it. When I went on stage for the test, after explaining to the audience what is going to happen, I couldn’t breathe, I had no idea what will happen when I’ll click the button on the controller, it could be the worst scene ever, standing there, clicking and discovering nothing is happening. A scene where you really want to disappear into thin air. So, my finger went to the button, CLICK, and YES!!! The audience was colored with flashing lights!! The flashes started flashing through the venue, WOW!!! What a relief, it didn’t work at the capacity we planned, many devices couldn’t connect due to the problematic network so it didn’t look like we had fantasized, but it did look amazing. Around 600 devices did connect and the audience was so happy, so into it and so cooperative, a moment to remember. FunToad’s triumph against all odds, a team that never gives up and knows how to do magic in the most stressful moments, that’s our biggest quality as a team, we make magic.
The show started on time, we did everything as planned, FunToad did officially launch, not perfect but the concept was proved and the artist and the audience were thrilled. Of course we learned a lot from this concert too, as from any concert we do, so many things still need to be learned, understood and improved, especially concerning the content and the user experience, but this is the only way to do it. Learn from every show and improve the experience to get to a point where FunToad will feel as a natural thing in every live show.
We want to thank David Broza from the bottom of our hearts, for being so courageous, combining FunToad with his concert in this complicated wild site. We love you David! And a big thank you to Sharon Sade and the RR Media team who saved us with network cables and amplifiers when we were in deep crisis, without them it couldn’t happen.
By the way, just to finish this long blog, the second optical cable arrived around 4:00 am, after most of FunToad’s part was over, our team decided to set it up without connecting it, just in case. It was also eaten. So never use an optical cable in the desert without protecting it, a lesson for life.