A More Efficient Way to Source Diverse Talent in the Entertainment Industry

HussleUp Founder - H Schuster

Ulupreneur H Schuster’s (she/they) resume and life’s work reads like a who’s who of Hollywood celebrities and creators. Growing up in New York, creating content seemed to be in her DNA; she was the one putting on the neighborhood plays, managing the school newspaper, sitting on the board for the theater group, and so on. H worked for New York Theatre Workshop, helping to develop and produce plays—but she learned quickly that earning $24k a year in NYC was not going to work.

However, H didn’t take the direct route to Hollywood. Along the way, she attended Stanford Law School and earned a PhD at New York University in cultural studies. Although she realized she didn’t want to be a lawyer for the rest of her life, studying law honed her analytical and writing skills. She now uses those skills to evaluate entertainment deals and packages.

H worked in the entertainment industry on many well-known unscripted TV shows after becoming a producer with Mark Burnett productions (Survivor, The Contender, The Apprentice), and eventually founded her own production company with funding from All3Media. Later, she returned to her content-creating passion as chief content officer for a company called Detour, a location-aware audio app that took people on tours of historical locations using celebrity voices. Apple highlighted Detour as one of the top ten apps in 2016.

After years of working as a producer and executive, H, who has always been out as a gay woman, took up the mission to democratize access to the entertainment industry. At times, it has been challenging for her as a producer and executive to figure out ways for people to diversify their staff. Finding people for projects in Hollywood is woefully archaic and inefficient; it still relies primarily on who you know or whose list you are on. And this makes it challenging for diverse talent to break in.

She founded HUSSLUP in 2020 to address this problem. We caught up with H as she faces the challenges brought on by the WGA strike.

H Schuster

What is HUSSLUP?

HUSSLUP  is basically a network marketplace that connects creative talent behind the camera  with the media and entertainment companies that need to source that talent for open roles.

How did you get your first customers?

We launched as an invite-only beta. We wanted to be able to vet everybody who came in as creative talent, and make sure they were professionals of high value and that they were diverse. We also wanted to scale slowly and make sure we were building the right set of tools and get a lot of signal and feedback from our early users. So we went out to a group of channel partners—mostly nonprofit organizations working in the media industry, most of which had diverse membership, and most of which I either was on the board of or had affiliation with as a professional member. So we worked with Women in Film, OUTFEST, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, and a number of others; we offered invite codes to all of their members to bring them in. And then when you join, you get five referral invites, so they were able to invite their colleagues and collaborators to come join them and build a really robust network. And so I’m really, really proud to say that 65% of our members have opted in to share with us that they are diverse in at least one category, so we have a very diverse professional talent pool.

What tips would you give other founders who are fundraising?

So much of what investors are investing in is you, your vision and expertise for the business that you are building. I would make sure that you have that out in front of what you’re pitching. Obviously, the rest is important too, metrics and product and all of that, but make sure you really have your story of why you’re passionate about what you’re doing,

I wanted to raise our seed round from all-diverse venture funds, or venture funds that have at least one diverse GP. Some of my advisors told me that I was crazy—that it would not be an easy accomplishment—but we actually did that. We talked to everybody that we thought would be appropriate for our product and our mission. We spent a lot of time talking to funds like Ulu that had diversity on the team and in their portfolio, and that we believed would be really aligned with our mission.

What are your biggest challenges?

Our challenges are not unlike other startups. How do we grow? How do we grow more quickly, but keep the high value of our community? And then the writers’ strike provides a unique external bit of difficulty because obviously, the business has slowed down in ways that actually we were a little surprised by. I think that it’s a reset right now, where the studios and streamers are, frankly, using this as an opportunity to dial in costs and spend less money. That’s going to change in September, when they don’t have any content left on the shelves—when viewers are hungry to watch something new. So it’s a bit of a slow summer, but we are building the features to come out of the gate in the fall ready to help people source a lot of talent to make a lot of content.

Dreams for HUSSLUP?

It’s thrilling to see the growth that we’ve had and that people are starting to know who we are, what we do, and that they are excited about joining. We want to transform the business. If we’re making it more efficient, they can put more money into paying people to do the work and cut out a lot of the fat and the inefficiency. Along with more diverse talent pools, hopefully HUSSLUP can make a real change in the kind of content that’s getting made and get more diverse stories on the screen.

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Rusty Dornin
Rusty Dornin is the director of marketing and communications for Ulu Ventures. An award-winning radio and television journalist, she was a CNN correspondent for nearly 18 years covering domestic and world news ranging from war to natural disasters and tales of crime and politics.
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