Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise with FounderLY.com. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share there story with the world enabling others to learn about building products and starting companies.
It is with great pleasure that I am here today with Vishwas Prabhakara, the founder and CEO of Fanvibe. Fanvibe is an interactive sports company with a software platform that allows fans to check into a game they are watching either on TV or in person, chat with friends and fans and win virtual rewards and real world prizes with their favorite teams. With that said, Vishwas I would love for you to give us a brief bio of yourself.
Vishwas: My background is in college I was a programmer. I went to Carnegie Mellon. I decided I didn’t necessarily want to do programming in the real world in a corporate environment. I didn’t know much about startups, so I went to invest in banking. I did that for a couple of years. I did IPOs for companies that you night have heard of like Netgear, they do wireless routers, and Jamdat, they used to make mobile games but got bought by EA. So, kind of stuff in the media/technology space.
After that I took a job at ESPN and spent two great years there. By the end of it was director of finance and strategy for their mobile group. I also worked on some dot.com and broadband stuff as well. I basically oversaw the launch of a huge mobile initiative there at ESPN.
I left there. Went to Harvard Business School and got my MBA. I came back out to the Bay area and worked at digg.com for about a year and a half in business development. When I was doing that Digg was growing up and up from about 25 million to 40 million uniques 01:35 during the time I was there. I left Digg to basically start Fanvibe, which I’m sure we will get into a little later.
Matthew: Excellent. So, what is Fanvibe, who is it for and why are you so passionate about it?
Vishwas: Sure. So, the real mission of Fanvibe really is to build effectively an ESPN 2.0. We all know that social media is revolutionizing the way people interact with each other. We want to do that for sports. So we want to help fans not only interact with each other, but also with their favorite teams and leagues, and potentially even brands and advertisers. I want to reach those fans.
So that is the broader vision of Fanvibe. With the concept being a very fan-centered, hence the fan in the name. It is not about who pays us the most money. It’s not about which rights we have or don’t have. We don’t care what channel or internet broadcast that the game is on. We just want to focus on interactions between fans and help them be rewarded for being a top fan of their team.
Matthew: Now that we have covered your background and kind of a high level overview of Fanvibe, as a domain expert can you give us your outlook on some of the technology and market trends that current exist? Where do you see things going for the future of sports and interactive software?
Vishwas: Yeah. It is a really interesting area because a lot of times what we have seen in the past is that there are sports guys that try to do technology plays and it falls in their face. It doesn’t work very well. Or the technology that large sports companies today implement came out three, four, five years ago because they can’t afford to mess up because they are paying billions of dollars for sports rights.
On the other end, you have a lot of people that start companies that are technology guys that know nothing about sports. Those guys probably build great products, great games, gaming consoles, all of those kind of things. But they don’t understand the sports fan so they can’t really build the right product to get the level of adoption that you want. I think more and more you are starting to see a convergence of those two things.
You talk to people in the space, like John Kosner who runs espn.com, and he says, “Things are maturing in the technology space where we don’t have to build our own stuff anymore. We don’t necessarily have to own our own video play. We don’t necessarily have to own social media. We don’t necessarily don’t have to own all of these different things and build them ourselves. We partner in the right places with the right people”.
So I think you are going to see a lot of innovation coming out of the space in the next couple of years as the existing established sports players, Fox, ESPN, CBS, etc., really start diving in and experimenting with really interesting things. I believe the NBA is doing some really exciting stuff, and the NFL, if they have a season next year, will probably be doing some cool stuff as well.
Matthew: Can you tell us what inspired you to start Fanvibe? Was it an ah-ha moment, or did you do market research that led you to this? What is the story behind this? How did you come up with it?
Vishwas: I should mention before we talk about how I started Fanvibe is, it’s not me. It’s me and my two co-founders Art Chang and Joe Pestro. Those guys, the three of us together, we have built Fanvibe from scratch. They are developers. I don’t touch any code anymore, so they are the ones that are building all of the magic that you see.
Really, the moment came for all of us kind of independently. I worked at ESPN where it is a very broadcast focused organization. They want to make communication. They worked at Yardbarker, which was a sports blogging network bought by Fox Sports. Again, very one way communication, although more new media than say ESPN was.
Then I had worked at Digg where I saw this huge interaction and being involved with stuff like Facebook, etc. and how those interactions were changing how people were interacting. We said sports is a space that is ripe for disruption. How do we build something in this space that is really going to change the way fans are able to consume sports and be rewarded for all of the passion that they put into sports?
When we met we talked about this idea and we were all just on the same page instantaneously. So, there was no really ah-ha moment, other than we had worked in the industry both in sports and technology and seeing this trend going forward. We said there has got to be something that we can do that is fun.
Matthew: What were you looking for in your co-founders in terms of talent and expertise?
Vishwas: First of all, I have been extremely lucky to work with Art and Joe. They are rockstars when it comes to cranking out amazing code and amazing product, not just code. But what I was really looking for were, I probably talked to a ton of people before I met Art and Joe.
First of all, it fit between us and our personalities. Before I had shoulder surgery we would play basketball together every few weeks. We like to hang out. We like to talk. We have the same sense of humor. The same interest in music, all that type of stuff. So we gelled on a friendship level very early on.
In addition, I was looking for guys that were not just developers but were also interested in sports and interested in product. Like, what is the product that we are putting in front of our fans. That is really what we want to do. I think on their end they were looking for someone that also had kind of a sports experience, but could help them in all of the business stuff that they hadn’t had a lot of experience with in the past.
I think what we try to do is be very open. They tell me a lot of the stuff that they are working on and other detail that I probably don’t understand, but I am able to ask questions and learn about it. And on the flip side I would hope that I do the same for them.
Matthew: So, when did you guys launch and how long did it take you from conceiving the idea to launching?
Vishwas: When we got together it was probably late November 2009. So, in two months we figured out the product, which evolved very quickly in those two months prior to launch even, and launched right before the Superbowl in February 2010. So, we have been out for a little over a year now.
That was our iPhone app launch got written up in TechCrunch, [inaudible 07:08] users kind of went from there. Launched our website in time for March Madness last year, so now we are about a year after that and have since launched a mobile site as well as an API.