Vishwas Prabhakara – Fanvibe 2 of 2

“My mind is an impenetrable fortress of happiness.” Fanvibe enables sports fans to check-in to games, chat and trash-talk with friends who are also watching.

Matthew: We know that founders face unique challenges when they start companies. What was the hardest part of about starting Fanvibe and how did you overcome this obstacle?

Vishwas: There are a lot of challenges. I’d say that the number one challenge in starting a company on going on an ongoing basis is just acquiring customers. I mean, it’s not nearly as easy as you think. You look at large companies like Facebook and go, oh, yeah, a bunch of users. We can get a bunch of users. You look at companies that are mainstream media companies that advertise on television for 30 seconds and get 10,000 users. That’s great, but if you think about it, millions of users saw those advertisements. You’re still looking at really low conversion rates.

So just building the right product that fans love and will tell their friends online and off line about, that’s the biggest challenge in starting a startup I think. And it’s going to be the case no matter what it is layered, an enterprise sales, whether consumer product, or even a non-profit product, building the right product and getting people to use it is always the biggest challenge.

Matthew: And I know this is probably an ongoing challenge, but has there been anything that you’ve done specifically that’s helped you to overcome this?

Vishwas: I think there has been a lot to done for that, right? I mean, a lot of stuff we learned when we were in the Y Combinator program last summer is really, you know, how do you listen to your users? How do you give them what they want? How do you maniacally focus, because you’re a consumer service, on what it is that they want? And they’re not going to tell you exactly what they want, but they’re going to hint at it. They’re going to give you the directions to go in and you have to experiment to figure out what it is that they mean, and deliver that to them. So it’s a good mix between listening to feedback, but also figuring out what your vision is and how those two mesh.

Matthew: Since you’re been in operation, what have you learned about your business and your users that you didn’t realize before you launched?

Vishwas: I think tons, but I think the number one thing is when I was coming into Fanvibe we thought, all right, we’re going to find users that aren’t going to be that exciting to try a new thing. Sports fans are, as we say, the core consumer. It’s the guy driving the Ranger Pickup truck in the East Bay with the decal on the back of his bumper, right? It turns out that sports fans are actually pretty technologically savvy, and are always willing to give something new a try.

If you give them an alternative to something they’re already using they’ll try it if a trust person recommends it to them. And so, that’s something we didn’t know before. We didn’t really know where we were going to get our users. We thought they wouldn’t be connected. We thought they wouldn’t be on Facebook, but really, they are. So they’re pretty savvy as a large demographic.

Matthew: Lots of people who want to start companies, and admire entrepreneurs, because they make starting companies look easy. You want to dispel myths like these. So, can you share with our audience what you make look easy? What skills and talents you possess come easy and what comes hard and how do you manage that?

Vishwas: Yeah, it’s funny, from the inside I don’t think anything is easy, but I can definitely see that perception. I think one example is still the stuff I do on the business development side and finding partners for us. And I only know that because people have told me that I do such an amazing job. I don’t really think that I did. So we have partnership with the NBA, and it’s a pretty big deal for a company that’s less than a year old, effectively, right?

And so we partnered with them in August of last year to launch some great interactive stuff using our API inside their applications. And that’s the kind of deal that they should either pay someone a ton of money, outsourcing and build it, or a big player should come in and say we’ll build this for you. So I’m able to do a number of deals, whether it’s with Comcast Turner Sports, the NBA, the Gold Strip Warriors, Florida Panthers, etc., where we’re able to come in and say, “This is our expertise. We’re good at this. Let us help you engage your fans and make money off them.”

Matthew: What’s the most important lesson that you’re learned since launching Fanvibe?

Vishwas: Just to always stay positive. There’s a saying in Y Combinator that, “My mind is an impenetrable fortress of happiness.” And you really need to keep driving down that path. Every day is a rollercoaster you can wake up one day and think the world’s going to end and the next day wake up and be like, living on top of the world. And just to keep an even keel, and plugging away every day, because it’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint.

Matthew: What bit of advice or piece of information do you wish you would have known before you started Fanvibe?

Vishwas: I think at the very beginning I wish I would have known more about acquiring customers that I’ve had to learn on the job. That definitely would have helped our growth structure initially. That being said, I’m glad I had to learn it some way, and this is the way I learned it. And I think for the next venture we go on to I think we’ll all have that expertise going forward. That will really help us launch our next business down the road.

Matthew: What individual or mentor has made a significant impact on your professional development, question one. And question two is, has there been a mentor who has made a significant impact in launching Fanvibe?

Vishwas: Yeah, there are probably two people that come to mind. One is one of our investors. His name is [Stalil Meta]. He’s president at NBC. He used to work at Disney and I guess, ESPN, and is a good friend of mine, as well as one of our investors and advisors. He gives us a lot of strategic information and helps us also with on various partnerships, like the NBA, helps review our proposal, tells areas that we can improve, things like that.

So, from a very high-level business perspective. A super useful guy. And the other obviously is Paul Graham at Y Combinator. Because to have a really insightful product you get back really quickly helps you direct your business, gets you to focus on things that matter. Because he’s seen so many, hundred of these startups now, that he really has this mental catalog of things to tell you what’s good and what’s bad. So I think that probably get to both those questions.

Matthew: What advice would you like to share with the audience about launching a startup? What do you think are the most important elements?

Vishwas: I can speak when you’re coming to consumer business is really focusing on what the product is for the fans that you’re trying to target. Don’t worry so much about press. Don’t worry so much about your ten friends that are using this because they like you. Figure out what the broad mass is going to use, and work hard to get there as fast as you can. I think that’s probably the best advice I would have to give.

Matthew: Before we close I would like you to give our audience your big vision of Fanvibe and how you hope it will change the world?

Vishwas: Yeah, I mean, if you look at the combination of technology and sports, there hasn’t really been a home-run company yet. There are some good companies [inaudible 06:34] but no individual sports company has really started, gone public, and launched. Even ESPN was acquired in less then ten years into its existence. And so, what we’re looking at is we want to build a company that for the sports fan of tomorrow, the one that’s using their mobile phone all the time, the one that’s also on networks all the time, one that doesn’t care what channel they’re watching, but just wants to follow their team, wants to attend the game, and wants to be rewarded for being a big fan. We want them to be our customer. And we want to figure out a way where they get rewarded for being good fans and we find ways to make money that are new and innovative, and aren’t necessarily just advertising based.

Matthew: Vishwas, it’s been a pleasure having you as guest on FounderLY. We hope you’ll come back and continue to share stories and continue success. For those in our audience who would like to learn more about Fanvibe and become a user, you can visit them at www.fanvibe.com. This is Matthew Wise at FounderLY again. Thank you so much for being here, Vishwas.

Vishwas: My pleasure, thanks. And dial our iPhone App, too.

Matthew: Excellent. Thank you.

 
 

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