WaitTime Evolves to Give Stadiums Tools For a Better Fan Experience
Last year, as the orange, white, and blue-clad masses celebrated the Detroit Tigers home opener, Xconomy reported on a local startup called WaitTime that aimed to provide up-to-the-minute information on the length of beer and bathroom lines for attendees of concerts and sporting events.
We checked in with WaitTime’s founder, Zachary Klima, to find out what’s new with the company as March Madness kicks off. It turns out, there’s a lot: new partners and advisors, a pivot, patent-pending crowd science software, and a beta test at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions.
“We’re progressing very fast,” Klima said. “We’re working with four professional sports teams in the Midwest, we have 12 partners in the company now, and we have offices in Detroit, Auburn Hills, and Birmingham.”
In 2013, Klima had the opportunity to directly pitch his startup idea to Quicken Loans chair and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who liked it and sent Klima to his Bizdom incubator to develop the idea further. What Klima envisioned then was an app where users could find out in real-time how long the lines were to get a beer or hit the restroom, with information delivered to the app by a network of sensors around the venue. (He also thought WaitTime could be used to tell restaurant patrons how long the line was at their favorite spot, but that has since “fallen by the wayside,” Klima said.)
These days, WaitTime is concentrating on its proprietary imaging and artificial intelligence software that takes images from cameras and analyzes the movements of stadium patrons in real time—down to inches per second. Instead of appealing to fans in the stands, WaitTime is going after stadium operators and offering access to information on crowd movement, line length, and line attrition, which is intended to help venues run more efficiently and, hopefully, create a better fan experience.
Klima said the company pivoted because it saw a better opportunity in selling to businesses than it did in an app dependent on user adoption. “It enables us to scale faster,” he said. WaitTime’s customers will pay a monthly fee to access the company’s monitoring data.
Although WaitTime has spent an extensive amount of time developing its product at Ford Field, Klima said he’s changed the product’s marketing strategy. Rather than approaching each sports team and trying to sell it WaitTime’s software, Klima wants to strike partnerships with the businesses operating within sports venues. “We’re structuring licensing deals to funnel us in instead of going team by team,” he said.
The company’s partners—WaitTime calls them partners, but they’re also entrepreneurs who have invested in the startup and facilitated relationships with key potential customers—include Don Foss, founder and chair of Credit Acceptance Corporation, and Andrew Craig, a consultant who has worked extensively on Olympic bids. Klima said he’s been able to use capital invested by his partners to expand the business, though he declined to say how much money they’ve provided.
WaitTime’s technology leader, who Klima declined to mention by name but described as “one of the world’s foremost imaging experts,” was introduced to Klima by another WaitTime partner, Challenge Detroit co-founder Doyle Mosher. The subsequent work done by the technology team developing WaitTime’s software has been pivotal to the company’s progress.
“It was instrumental in making things go from 0 to 100 miles per hour overnight,” Klima added. “It changed our technology to be a 100 percent software solution.”
With the tech team perfecting WaitTime’s crowd-science technology and Craig offering Klima advice on what major sporting events and venue operators want, WaitTime is poised for more growth in 2015, he said. The company still has a lot to prove, including that its technology works and provides meaningful value to stadium operators and their vendors. But, if all goes according to Klima’s plan, WaitTime will be used in 30 to 40 stadiums by this time next year.