Darshan Kaler, Founder, and CEO at Tradable Bits tells us how to deliver live experiences to fans safely and securely.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Darshan Kaler: I’m happy to say we are all healthy and doing well in these trying times. A bit cooped up and squirrely but surviving by focusing on the positives in our daily lives.
How did the idea for Tradable Bits come together, and what has the journey been like so far?
Darshan Kaler: In 2010, the world turned its collective focus to Canada, when Vancouver played host to more than 92 countries for the Olympic Winter Games. The seventeen-day event saw athletes, artists, musical acts, volunteers, and regular Canadians welcome millions of visitors to Vancouver to celebrate sport, diversity and to promote togetherness. The spirit of the games was in our city, and we wanted the world to share an experience like never before. However, what we didn’t quite realize when it all started, was just how profound this spectacle would be in changing how large events would be seen, heard, and experienced from that point on. My employer back then – tasked with broadcasting the Canadian Olympic story to the world – was unceremoniously usurped by an army of citizen journalists, photographers, and publishers working faster and more omnipresent than we’d ever seen before. The stories being broken by our newly-discovered competition competed head-to-head with traditional media outlets at a pace that couldn’t be matched. Social media had gone mainstream. Overnight, viewers weren’t relying on “The Big 3” media broadcasters to represent their experiences any longer; they were being fed a steady stream of peer-to-peer shared experiences in real-time. It was at that moment that digital fans became a reality.
And so, In 2010, I recruited my co-founder Dmitry Khrisanov and created the start of what’s now known as Tradable Bits. The idea was simple: fans can trade bits of information for more personalized products and experiences. Through our machine-learning powered Fan CRM, any fan can choose to link their interests with our partners, receiving relevant, real-time recommendations. Fans have awesome experiences with the brands they love, while our partners enjoy sold-out events, happy sponsors, and higher profits. Tradable Bits is currently a global leader in transforming entertainment into a fan-based industry rather than a broadcast industry. With our partners in North America, Europe, and Australia, we’re on the front lines of digital marketing, advocating and proving the value of fan data. We connect conversations across social media, streaming services, ticketing, and on-site, alongside platforms such as Spotify, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and other fan industry giants.
Working in the field of live events and sports, the pandemic must have had a huge impact on your organization. What has this last year been like for Tradable Bits? How have you continued to innovate during this time?
Darshan Kaler: With lockdown and social distancing, the term “live” today has a very different meaning. With events being limited to no fans or a fraction of regular attendance, the entire fan experience has been turned on its head. To bridge the gap between fans and the game or artists that they love during this challenging time, we released an interactive broadcast product called FanXP™. FanXP™ is a technology specifically built for event organizers to create unique, two-way digital interactions with fans during Livestream broadcasts. With people unable to and possibly apprehensive about attending games and concerts in person, there is an incredible opportunity for our partners to be innovative and leave a lasting impact on how live events are presented, consumed, and experienced by their fans.
FanXP allows partners to create gated digital extensions of the physical venue, where they control and own interactive experiences for fans that would traditionally be reserved for those attending events live in person. The technology is designed to help large sports and music brands acquire first-party fan data, monetize and enhance the second-screen fan experience, and will revolutionize the ability for broadcasters and sponsors to personalize the experience for fans while they watch live events. Unlike traditional social platforms and streaming services, FanXP will direct people to a brand’s owned digital properties – microsite, mobile app, or website – where they’ll be able to interact with a live multi-camera broadcast through graphic overlays, such as live trivia questions, cheer and donate buttons, as well as interactive feature placements to buy team or sponsor products and merchandise. The tool is built on top of the core Tradable Bits platform and allows our partners to further improve their understanding of their fanbase and, more importantly, create and own their own fan networks.
Thanks to the team’s hard work during the pandemic, we’ve managed to work hand-in-hand with some of the largest brands in sports & entertainment despite these difficult times. We hosted virtual shows organized by Live Nation Canada, Bonnaroo, and recently were chosen as one of Ticketmaster’s preferred streaming partners for their new platform, Ticketmaster Livestream. In the world of sports, we struck a partnership with MLSE to launch a second-screen experience called Digital Arena, which has already been adopted by The Portland Trail Blazers, The San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, and The Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2020-21 season.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Darshan Kaler: It’s been a challenging year, as I’m sure it has for everyone else. However, we have some incredible partners who have been willing to work with us to identify ways to get through this period together.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Darshan Kaler: Dmitry and I started Tradable Bits 10 years ago, and through the years, built up a team that we consider our family today. So our first concern was to make sure our entire ‘family’ survived the pandemic. Could we keep everyone’s payroll untouched despite the level of work declining by the day? Many of my peers had to furlough or downsize their companies. We did the opposite. We decided to build while keeping the team focused on driving new ways to engage fans while at home. And I think that decision has really paid off today. We’ve come out of one of the hardest years as an organization stronger and with greater opportunities ahead of us, and I could not be prouder of my’ family’.
How did your customer success objectives evolve during this time?
Darshan Kaler: Many of our partners had to furlough staff or downsize during this time, and we made sure to overextend for them to help them get through this time. It was incredibly important to constantly stay in touch with each of our partners, as the industry dynamics were shifting rapidly every day. But thanks to each of our partners’ willingness to innovate, they’ve all managed to do great things in 2020, and I’m sure their fans are all appreciative of their efforts.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Darshan Kaler: Absolutely. There has been a multitude of government programs that have been available to businesses like ours during this challenging time, and even during pre-pandemic times, the government has supported innovative tech companies like us with some great non-dilutive funding opportunities. I do want to take this opportunity to give a huge shout out to the federal government (for programs like CEWS and SR&ED), NRC-IRAP, BDC, InnovateBC, Global Affairs Canada, and CreativeBC, who have all supported us and made it possible for us to get out of such a challenging period with a great sense of optimism for the future.
Your final thoughts?
Darshan Kaler: A lot of people have always asked me how we have managed to run a tech company for a decade without raising any capital. It boils down to having a government that wants you to succeed, great partners willing to innovate, and of course, the smart, scrappy, and fearless team at Tradable Bits!