Virtual classes and performances have become the norm after a year of social distancing and off-and-on lockdowns, but it can sometimes be hard to navigate the various streaming sites on the web.
A Missoula software company, GatherBoard, has spent that year figuring out a way to bring those events together on one easy-to-use website. And they’re finally ready to release it, with their live launch week starting on April 6.
“This whole thing is just a celebration of Missoula,” GatherBoard CEO Molly Bradford said. “We've been around for over 15 years, and ... we just really wanted to figure out how we could continue to thrive in a way that lets everybody thrive and we hope that's how it's received.”
CheddarBoard will work within like GatherBoard’s website MissoulaEvents.net in that it lists events happening around town similar to a calendar. But it’s unique in that it’s software is designed to stream virtual events directly from the website and has a function to allow viewers to “contribute,” donate or tip, to the host.
“We’re just having the contributions be optional and we want to see how the community interacts with them and you know what people think about it,” Bradford said. “Hopefully Missoula is a loving place, since we’ve been here for a while, to test it.”
The name ChedderBoard is inspired by the play on words with the company’s name and the word “cheddar” as slang for money.
“Which has turned out to be really fun, there have been so many cheesy puns,” Bradford said. “And it’s fun to spread the ‘ched,’ and talking about ‘hey I’ll give you some ‘chedda’ for your class or your concert or your show.’”
Bradford said what makes CheddarBoard unique is that it’s hyperlocal. All of the events will be posted by local artists or fitness studios or nonprofits. So, even though it’s all online, she said it still has the community feel one would get from going to the farmers market.
“Missoula thrives on ‘buy local,’ and I wanted to bring that vibe into the community events calendar and into the virtual events calendar,” Bradford said.
She said they’re also engaging with other local businesses that don’t put on events by offering discount codes to people who use CheddarBoard at those locations.
“We wanted to ‘spread the ched’ beyond the events to celebrate the ‘buy local’ vibe and the love, the soul that's in Missoula,” Bradford said.
The idea for CheddarBoard was born about a year ago at the Blackstone Launch Pad’s Founders’ Innovation Series. After the pandemic hit Montana and stay-at-home order ensued, all of the events that had once filled MissoulaEvents.net were canceled. GatherBoard took a financial blow, much like other small businesses, so they brainstormed creative ways to climb out of that rut.
“People were totally fractured and they were posting their events on Facebook and their websites, and going to Instagram Live, YouTube Live, there's a million places,” Bradford said. “It just got super fractured, so the site just was tanking.”
After the Founders’ Innovation Series, GatherBoard’s former programmer, co-owner of Astarna Inc. Hank Donovan, reached out to Bradford with the idea of streaming virtual events on their website with a donation space. Then GatherBoard’s business manager, Lori Chase, said it was becoming increasingly difficult for people in the gig economy to make money with virtual shows.
They wanted to fill a need in the community and with Donovan’s idea and the help of programmers they knew they could. So, after gathering as much money as they could, from national, local and state-wide grants for small business and innovation, they partnered with a Kalispell software company, ExcelliMatrix, to start programming.
The process took a lot of time and money — programming new software isn’t simple. But Bradford has loved partnering up with ExcelliMatrix.
“I was really hoping it was something that could’ve just got thrown together and put out in like three months and that was super naïve of me,” Bradford said. “I think that there will continue to be plenty of events that are virtual or are now hybrid events.”
Bradford is happy to see vaccinations roll out, as all Montanans now have access to the COVID-19 vaccine, but she wishes she could have finished development of CheddarBoard while we were in the worst of social distancing and lockdown.
“I also think streaming has changed, this year of COVID has changed the way that we interact with one another and made some of the virtual connections a way to realize that, whether you are injured or maybe you’re on maternity leave or there’s fire … or snowstorms, whatever the case may be, there are things that prevent people from coming.”
She believes the website will still play a role in Missoula’s event industry well into the future. Virtual shows have become a convenience. People can now watch recorded events even after they’re over, they can watch from home while they watch a sick kid or they can attend without having to commute.
The beta launch of CheddarBoard starts on Tuesday, April 6. The week is packed full of live events from Oula Fitness to a play through Missoula Children’s Theatre. The kick-off event is local musician Joan Zen on Tuesday and the wrap-up is a feminist comedy show at the ZACC with local comedian Sarah Aswell.
“This whole ‘spread the ched’ thing has gotten me so excited just to feel like I could give something to this place that has been a pretty amazing spot to weather the pandemic,” Bradford said.