Going from idea to company, outside of Silicon Valley

November 20, 2019 Derrick Harris

We've all heard stories about Bay Area founders turning their ideas into successful companies with help from industry connections and, often, more than a little venture capital. Lesser told are the stories of companies based in other geographies, where capital, talent, and institutional memory might be in short supply.

In this episode of Cloud Native in 15 Minutes, Zachary Klima, CEO of Detroit-based WaitTime, tells just such a story—one that began at a Detroit Red Wings game and has resulted in a fast-growing business centered around quantifying human traffic inside sports venues. Among other things, Klima explains how he got started with just a small amount of incubator seed funding; took advantage of local connections to staff up; and plans to expand from telling sports fans how long the bathroom line is, to helping airports, convention centers, and similar facilities understand where the people are.

Here are a few excerpts from the discussion, in which Klima shares insights that might be valuable  for non-traditional founders, as well as larger companies expanding into new areas.

That lightbulb might be telling you something

"I was actually in line at a Detroit Red Wings game . . . [I]t was a playoff game and it was overtime, game seven. I went in line and to get a beer . . . [and] Pavel Datzyuk, one of my favorite players of all time, hit a game-winning shot. Everyone came running out and, obviously, it's sudden death, and I'm sitting there in line twiddling my thumbs, and I'm like, 'You know, son of a gun, I wish I would've known what the wait time was before I got up. I would've gone to a separate line and gotten served faster.'

"So that's where the the lightbulb went off and I was like, 'You know what? I think that this is a very common problem with everyone that goes to sporting arenas and stadiums. And then also ... who likes to wait in line? I'll give someone a ridiculous sum of money that I don't have if they told me and convinced me that they like waiting in line.'"

First sports, then the world

"Obviously [being in] every stadium, that's the goal. The feasible way to get there is to become a building standard. So we're now working with architects and designers, when it comes to speccing our system into these arenas and stadiums. ...

"So if you go to a stadium that doesn't have WaitTime, you're confused. Like, 'Hey, why doesn't this place have WaitTime?' . . . But not even just stadiums. Our AI is so complex and so captivating that there's so much other industry-crossover applicability. Whether it be from retail to convention centers to you name it— airports—there's a lot of applicability for our software.  . . .

"We see it where there'll be these pillars of the company. So you'll have the sports division, you'll have a retail division, and so on and so forth. That's kind the way that we see it going. . . . We're just scratching the surface on what we're doing with our technology."

Marketing matters, especially early on

"Sports is small, but it's great publicity. So the reason why we started in sports strategically was to get our name out there. Sports is not the end all, be all for WaitTime, it's just where you have a captive audience for a nice amount of time. . . . [I]t allows us to have basically marketing happen because we get a lot of press with our solution, to get our name out there, to get the attention of other people that can apply our technology differently in other industries."

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About the Author

Derrick Harris

Derrick Harris is a product marketing manager at VMware.

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