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20 in their 20s: Allen Vartazarian & Anthony Zanontian

Pair’s Web Site Sets Stage for Aspiring Stars

Los Angeles Business Journal Staff

There’s an old Hollywood saw that it takes as much luck as talent for an entertainer to get a big break in show business. Allen Vartazarian and Anthony Zanontian have launched a networking online site that aims to improve the odds on the talent side.

Taltopia.com is part MySpace, part “American Idol.” Members can upload video images or audio of their talent on advertiser-supported Taltopia.com for free, in the hopes of becoming the next “Web-celeb.”

“Taltopia is going to modernize the way artists get the recognition they deserve by providing the tools they need to promote themselves,” said Zanontian, noting that the site has grown to 16,000 members since it officially launched in June.

Vartazarian and Zanontian met three years ago through their girlfriends, who are cousins. Aside from a common Armenian heritage, they shared a love of entertainment – and a distaste for being a cog in a corporate wheel.

While enlisting friends and family to test the site before it launched, they decided against also going to them for funding and relied instead on their savings.

They saved money by moving in with relatives, and held business development meetings at Starbucks or their respective homes. They assembled the site’s first Internet server in the living room of Vartazarian’s parents, so they could afford to hire a Web programmer to build the site they designed.

Being taken seriously at angel investor events was a big challenge. Just as their savings were about to run out, the two discovered the Go4Funding.com business investment site. They connected with a wealthy Baltimore doctor who saw potential in Taltopia’s business plan.

Last month, the angel investor, who runs three online sites of his own and did not want to be identified, provided $800,000 in Series “A” funding. Vartazarian and Zanontian expect the money, which they’ll use to expand and promote the site, will last 12 to 18 months.

The funding also enabled them to move their business from coffee shops and bedrooms to a suite in the City National Bank building in western Toluca Lake.

Advertiser-based revenue is small at this point, but Vartazarian is seeing interest from potential corporate sponsors to support parts of the site. They hope eventually to sell the company to a talent agency or studio that would use the site to prospect for new talent.

A challenge for both entrepreneurs is reminding themselves to occasionally kick back and relax.

“Our girlfriends think we work too much, but when you’re building your own business you don’t get tired,” Vartazarian said. “For dates, we’ll do things like go to the movies, where we can’t talk business – and even there they’ll sit between us.”

– Deborah Crowe

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