February 20, 2012
Smartix: Dancing with the Elephants
1. How would you evaluate Vivek Khuller's initial development of Smartix in terms of developing the product/concept and testing/proving it out at the Harvard Ball?
I believe Vivek’s use of the Harvard Ball as a testing venue was an effective, intelligent choice. He was able to illustrate many of the system’s features including its ability to capture demographic information, and the arrival and departure times of attendees. Site traffic dramatically increased before the event, and students were able to buy and sell tickets amongst one another, ultimately providing a greater overall turnout rate.
2. Subsequent to the Harvard Ball, what do you think of Vivek's efforts to further prove out the concept with additional trial venues/customers? What effect did this have on mitigating risks, moving the company forward and obtaining venture capital funding?
Subsequent to the Harvard Ball, Vivek chose not to test the prototype in any other venues. Instead, he began focusing on further developing the business plan. He met with the operations manager at Robert Keebler’s stadium who bombarded him with questions about how the system would work specifically at a sports arena. Vivek admitted that because he had extremely limited exposure to sporting events—he attended the FleetCenter just once—he hadn’t really thought through much of the logistics that would be involved in setting up the system at a sporting event. Of the conversation, Vivek admitted, “This guy was much more concerned about how much more operational risk he would have to undertake by adopting this new technology. We did not address that, at all. We had done very little research on that. We had very few answers to his questions.” Surprisingly, the conversation did not prompt Vivek to test out his concept at an actual sporting event/arena before seeking funding and strategic partnerships. This would prove a stumbling block later in conversations with Melrose, and more importantly, negotiations with MSG and Accel.
3. Did Vivek continue to incrementally develop and prove out the system or was he looking to jump several steps ahead with a strategic investor? Explain what happened.
Essentially, Vivek chose to surge ahead with his project and obtain a strategic partner and funding, instead of refining and further developing his system. I think from his perspective, Vivek believed that by first testing out his pitch on second tier firms, and only using his most strategic contacts (i.e. Sahlman) when he believed he had perfected his presentation, he was doing the necessary “development work.” He focused the majority of his energies on speaking to VCs and strategic partners, believing he had done sufficient development and had enough data to interest a partner and/or investor. He said of Melrose’s advice to test out the system in a smaller venue first, then to come back to the firm, “Let’s not do it incrementally...If we got Madison Square Garden Onboard, we could basically go to Kleiner Perkins and get this company funded.” His decision to forge ahead with his conversations with MSG before proving out his product 100% would ultimately prove fatal in his ability to negotiate with Accel and MSG.
4. What approach was taken with Krezwick at the Fleetcenter, Keebler at the stadium and with Checketts at MSG? Was it effective in your opinion? Why? or Why not? Vivek approached the FleetCenter as an early strategic partner and potential investor. He appealed to Krezwick’s operational genius and he proved incredibly supportive. He helped them think through their revenue model and signed a letter of intent before the company had secured any funding. Krezwick was willing to give the team a small sample of their season tickets to test the waters and then, move on from there. This negotiation would have likely provided enough credibility for the team to approach the VCs for funding. After securing...