On May 2, NotOK app founders Charlie and Hannah Lucas and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey collaborated to host the We Are Well virtual prom on Instagram Live. For two hours, students whose proms had been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic got a chance dance the night away, alone and together at the same.
NotOK and Dorsey gave away more than $45,000 in grants to students at the event, which was created to raise awareness for young person wellness during the pandemic. DJ Jazzy Jeff was on the turntables.
Darrel Frater took it all in. As vice president of growth and marketing for PromSocial, a year-old prom-planning app, Frater was more than an interested observer. He had also had the idea to host virtual proms as a marketing promotion for the app.
He saw it as a networking opportunity and reached out to the Lucases. PromSocial helped with promotion and marketing for We Are Well, bringing in TikTok influencer Curtis Roach as one of the celebrities who graced the virtual prom’s virtual red carpet.
The success of the event inspired Frater, a long-time Ewing resident, to start up a new business: an app that has just gone live on Google Play and Apple’s App Store. Called TheClub, it is a live-streaming app that will enable DJs to host public and private parties digitally.
“I’m friends with a lot of DJs, I know the pain points they’re going through with Covid,” Frater says. “All parties are shut down right now, and lots of them can’t even get unemployment. In terms of partying and DJing, they’re out of a job for who knows how long.”
Frater had other reasons to believe there was a market for a live-streaming app for DJs. D-Nice, a popular DJ, had found success early in the pandemic with his Club Quarantine, broadcasting tunes via Instagram Live from his apartment kitchen. One night, Club Quarantine attracted more than 100,000 simultaneous viewers, including Michelle Obama, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
And Verzuz TV has popularized Instagram Live battles between hip-hop celebrities and DJs (e.g.,Timbaland versus Swizz Beatz, Ludicris versus Nelly, Lil Jon versus T-Pain) since the start of the pandemic that have drawn thousands of viewers per livestream.
“That gave me the idea that this experience doesn’t just work for high school prom, but for parties of all kinds,” Frater says. “Those three examples told me there’s demand for this kind of content 24/7, that there needs to be a space specifically tailored to this kind of entertainment.”
Frater started bringing TheClub to life on June 4. By Sept. 27, the app was available on Google Play and the App Store. TheClub streamed a big launch event all that day with 15 well known DJs, including Hot 97’s DJ Wallah.
He says the app will give music lovers ways to hear their favorite DJs as well as provide up-and-coming artists a means to find new audiences.
Ultimately, Frater sees TheClub as an opportunity for people to make a living through virtual livestreams, both public and private.
“The goal is to be able to allow anyone with a passion to create a virtual party that others can enjoy as well,” Frater says. “People can share their passion online through a virtual party.”
Frater, 27, has passions of his own. When he is not starting up new businesses of his own, he’s helping others get their start as a venture fellow with Score 3 Ventures, a firm that seeks to help build businesses whose owners are members of underrepresented groups: women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community.
Frater was born in Trenton and moved with his family to Ewing when he was young. He made his way through the Ewing Schools, attending Antheil Elementary School, Fisher Middle School and Ewing High School. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He is now working on an M.B.A. at TCNJ.
His mother, Gloria, was a stay-at-home mom during his childhood, taking care of Frater and his siblings—sisters Amanda, 32, and Tamara, 25, and brother George, 30. His father, George, owns a construction company.
Frater says he was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug growing up and helping his father with his business. George Sr. moved to the U.S. from Jamaica, initially working in an apple orchard until he had enough money saved up to start his contracting business, GF Builders and Associates.
As an undergraduate student at TCNJ, Frater was a co-founder of a nonprofit organization called Urban Students Bridge to Success. The organization’s members mentored students at Trenton’s two high schools—mostly Black, Latino and Asian students—to help nurture the life and social skills those students needed to get into college, succeed, and return to the community to mentor the next generation of students.
Since graduating from TCNJ, Frater has been involved in a number of projects with the design of nurturing entrepreneurship in young people. He has served as an adviser for Hopewell Valley Central High School’s Shark Tank business project, in which students develop business ideas and pitch them to potential investors.
He has also been a judge for TCNJ’s Mayo Business Plan Competition, in which teams of TCNJ students go head to head to develop the best business concepts. The grand-prize winners in 2020 received a $30,000 award.
And In 2019, Frater was an entrepreneurship class instructor for the Boys and Girls Club of Mercer County.
“The students did their own startup business. They created and sold their merchandise and kept the money and everything,” Frater says. “To sell merchandise and keep the money—that alone can be enough to spark entrepreneurship in anyone.”
Frater kickstarted his own career as an entrepreneur by overcoming some early professional hurdles. In 2018 he was working for Cintas, the uniform company, and working his way up the corporate ladder. In a bid to boost his hopes of earning promotion, he decided to take a route as a Cintas truck driver, making deliveries to the company’s clients.
He was a week from getting promoted when he got into two accidents on his route. “Their policy is three strikes and you’re out, and I had already had one accident back when I started driving,” Frater says. “That was the moment in my life when I had to decide to go into the 9-to-5 life or go into entrepreneurship. I started my consulting company the same day I got fired.”
The job with PromSocial began as a consulting gig. “I was advising them on marketing synergy and it went so well, I became a partner and vice president of growth and development,” Frater says. “Prom season was going to be a big season for us, and with Covid pretty much shutting down all the proms, my role was to make sure we still provided value to users. I thought about how we could do that in the Covid environment and said let’s do a virtual prom using Instagram Live. Then my sister told me about (the We Are Well virtual prom) and we got involved in that, and that eventually led me to this new project.”
Yet apps aren’t Frater’s only entrepreneurial domain. He is also back working with his father, this time helping him to launch a new kitchen and bath business. “General contracting was the thing he did to make the money,” Frater says. “But woodwork and carpentry is what he loves to do. Now I’m helping him to bring his passion to life with this kitchen and bath company.”
Meanwhile he will continue to work with Score 3 and look to develop a reputation in the world of venture capital. “I am passionate about investing in early startups. I believe through entrepreneurship we can make a difference, by helping underrepresented founders get access to capital and mentorship,” he says. “We also try to create opportunities for people from underrepresented groups to get into VC.”
He says his long-term goal is to have his own fund and invest in new businesses with his own capital. “I believe that my business” — meaning TheClub — “is the first step on the path that will get me there,” he says.