A webstream business built on partnering

Artist-entrepreneur designs her own space in industry.

Wearing her trademark skinny jeans and low-cut chucks, 25-year-old Dejha Ti showed up at Wharton a few months ago to pitch the idea that her young Fishtown company should be hired to produce live webcasts for corporate executives and other would-be students of the big-shot business school.

"They asked what my degree was in, and I thought, 'Uh-oh, there goes the project,' " said Ti, a multimedia designer with a bachelor's in fine arts from the University of the Arts.

No power suit. No business degree. No corporate pedigree. And yet, with a sophisticated business plan and beyond-her-years savvy, the Moorestown High School graduate not only was hired to produce the first webcast for Wharton's Executive M.B.A. program, she is on board to produce yet another next month, for incoming Wharton undergrads.

Ti (whose name is pronounced DEE'-shuh TIE') only jokingly recalled the irony of that meeting. She is too busy to joke about much of anything these days as sole owner of web.illish.us L.L.C. (which sounds like webilicious).

The artist-entrepreneur is painstakingly building the multimedia business she launched about a year ago with a loan from her mother, a self-employed single parent who raised her on the income of a dog-grooming business and a Medford hair salon for children.

Although Ti is the only full-time employee of the new company, hers is anything but a one-woman shop. In the absence of huge investment capital, partnerships are key to every webstream she tackles, be it a Wharton broadcast, an in-studio music session, or a live-concert webstream like one she recently produced at a venue in Chicago.

A musician (drums, guitar, vocals) and designer by passion and trade (stylish eyeglasses, sharp handbags), she oozes as much entrepreneurial instinct as art ethos.

Many of the contacts she used to jump-start her business were developed as a performer in Philadelphia's music scene, and from putting together an arts-and-music festival in Northern Liberties when she was 20 years old, she said.

When not jet-setting to help produce live webstreams of music concerts - she recently returned from Austin, Texas, where she collaborated on a project at the South by Southwest Music Festival - she spends overstuffed days drafting detailed contracts, consulting with her intellectual-property lawyer, or designing Web interfaces for her next project.

The cofounder of one of her chief partner businesses, a Web-programming start-up called Jarv.us in Northern Liberties, said Ti was remarkable for her talent and "vision."

"I think she's doing amazing stuff," said Chris Alfano, 24, who dropped out of Drexel University and helped found Jarv.us with other Drexel dropouts keen on selling their Web-programming skills.

Alfano met Ti a year and a half ago, when he hired her - she agreed to do the work for free - to design a webstream for an event he was putting together.

"There's not a lot of people in this space," he said of webstream design and project management. "There's really no one else doing it yet."

The two companies recently worked together to produce the hour-long live webstream (http://wharton.webillishus.com/replay) that was used as a recruitment tool for Wharton's Executive M.B.A. program.

Jarv.us created the website and built its chat components - what Ti calls "the engine" - while Ti designed what would appear to viewers on a PC screen. She customized a design for iPad users, too, and worked directly with Wharton as project manager from start to finish.

A total of 450 people on a Wharton mailing list registered in advance to watch the webstream, Ti said. The day of, 200 actually logged in and watched it from beginning to end - a fact she said "floored" the folks at Wharton.

With another Wharton project just weeks away, Ti has hired a freelance project manager to help out - and maybe stay on as the company grows. The pair, who met in January through a joint Wharton contact, got together Thursday at a Northern Liberties coffee shop to review the particulars.

"When she described what she does and what her business is, I said, 'You are doing the job of six people,' " said incoming project manager Kay Nothstein, 45, a former in-house graphic designer for Apple Inc. in Northern California who now lives in South Philadelphia.

"I'm in awe of her because she's 25 years old, she's got great business savvy and great design sense," said Nothstein, who has two degrees and has held several corporate jobs.

The contracts Ti has drawn up by herself, Nothstein said, contain a level of sophistication normally seen "in a business that's been established 10, 15 years, where there's a business manager, and a creative director, and a new-business manager, where there's a team of people working together."

Ti bases her office and production gear out of a live-work space she shares with 1k Recordings Inc., which has a music studio there, too. Once a month, the two businesses jointly produce "1k Sessions," live webcasts of bands in performance.

Eventual licensing revenue from such performances are part of the web.illish.us business model, along with fees from corporate work. So is the idea that webstreaming software designed for corporate jobs can then be made available, at reduced cost, to other clients down the road.

"I talk to my entertainment lawyer as though I were a rock artist," Ti explained to Nothstein as the pair brainstormed over eggs and hot drinks. "I'll talk to her every three days."

Ti thinks she got her business bone through genetics: Her late grandfather, Simon Musser, founded Charles Chips, the potato-chip company then based in Lancaster.

"He couldn't read or write," she said. But he knew this much to build a business with national reach: "He assembled a team around himself."

You might call her a chip off the old block.

 


Contact staff writer Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2431 or mpanaritis@phillynews.com.