Job: Founder & CEO, Bandwagon; Entrepreneur & Speaker
Location: Austin, Texas
Caroline connected me with Harold after knowing him for a few years in the entrepreneur space, which Harold has taken by storm for several years now. Taking his passion for sporting events (specifically, the Clemson Tigers) and building strong communities, Harold saw a need in the market and figured out that people would pay for it. After a decade of working in corporate America, he moved his family to Austin, Texas, and began his entrepreneurial journey with Bandwagon, an analytics company that uses blockchain technology to help teams and event organizers create an ultimate fan experience. Read on for his full story and see how he continues to be a rising star in sports tech.
Give us a brief background on yourself.
My family just moved to Austin, Texas in June, but I was born in New York City and raised in Columbia, South Carolina. After graduating from Clemson University, I moved to Greenville for a little over a decade, and now Austin is our newest chapter. My wife and I have been married six years and she is currently getting her PhD at The University of Texas, and my three-year-old son is in daycare here.
How did you get from New York to South Carolina, then to Clemson for school?
I'm a first-generation American, and my family is Jamaican, so I was born in New York City to Jamaican parents to Jamaican grandparents and great grandparents. Growing up as one of five children in the house, education was always really emphasized. However, when it comes to first-generation Americans and children of immigrants, you're really taught to go to school, work hard, get good grades, and get a good job and so on. Entrepreneurship wasn't necessarily in the cards at all for me. Growing up I found time to work as much as possible early on. The first job I remember actually having where people paid me for my time was as a soccer referee over the weekends and I was probably 12 years old. I had an assortment of jobs from Rack Room Shoes to being a bartender, so I have always known it was important for me to have not only a good work ethic, but to really build relationships from the very beginning.
I knew that I was never going to be the smartest person in the class, but I knew I could make up the difference with relationships. As a result, I set out to build meaningful relationships that can be long-lasting and transformative. This has shown up in every facet of my life, from high school to college, and every career I have had. I went to Clemson and am actually the first person in my family to go to a four-year institution. I decided to study Economics and Political Science with the intention of going to law school, but I interned at a few law firms and quickly learned that was not the field for me. At least I figured it out.
Walk us through your resume. Where did you go after school?
My first job out of school was with a company called ScanSource in Greenville, South Carolina, where I had actually interned my senior year. I ended up spending about a decade there, moving from sales to product management and to business development. When I moved to the product management side, I decided to get my MBA in the evenings at Clemson.
Did you immediately move to Bandwagon after that job?
No, there was actually another job in between. It sort of came out of nowhere and I never mention the company anymore because I don't want them associated with my success. I was headhunted and they told me I’d be an inside sales representative and that I would be compensated very generously. I took the job and after six months they fired me. I was doing fine beating my numbers and I got canned randomly and from a timeline standpoint, which was pretty crazy. We even bought a new house before it happened because I was doing so well financially at the time. In October 2015, I found that we were expecting our son, and then on January 15th, four days after Clemson lost to Alabama in the desert in Phoenix, I came home and got fired. What I know now is that it just wasn't a good fit. It turned out that the role that I was fired from was filled by a guy who was previously in the position for 12 years and they brought him back on.
That was a big change from being at your previous company for almost ten years. What was your next move?
While I was getting my MBA at Clemson in 2014, the very last course I took was called Strategic Management, and as I was finishing my MBA, I had this idea to do a startup. I thought to myself “If I do this, what would I want to base it on?”. I knew that community was something I cared deeply about and it was important to me to help people because of their background or socioeconomic status, race, or religion. I loved how that worked at Clemson games and other life events when you're surrounded by your community. Try to imagine being at a game and everyone’s screaming because we just got a touchdown, and you’re hugging and high fiving each other. However, at the time with the secondary ticket market, which included Stubhub and Vivid Seats, there was really only one platform to buy tickets.
This allowed fans from both teams to be sprinkled in, which didn’t give the full experience of being surrounded by your own community. Basically, I decided I was going to create my own company that was going to help communities enjoy live events even when they did not have a home-field advantage. I worked on that project on nights and weekends until January of 2016, even when I started my new job in 2015. When I was fired, I had several people offering me positions, but at that time I decided I'm never going to put myself in a position where someone dictates whether I can provide for my family again. I turned down those offers and told my wife how much we had in savings and that I’d Uber if I had to. With that being said, in January 2016, I started working full-time at Bandwagon.
What did the first few years of your startup look like?
One of the most difficult things I think that comes with starting a business, especially after you've had experience in corporate America, is really understanding what processes and habits you need to be successful. That probably sounds more complicated than it is, but in essence, when I was in corporate America I had a routine. I'd show up to the office first thing in the morning and have my plan of what I needed to do each day. When you're starting your own company there are no routines and there are no rules or playbooks. In the early stages I tried to figure out how to create those processes in those habits that would allow us to not only be structured and have some level of consistency, but also to streamline so we can have some success. I spent about two years doing a lot of research to understand the market and make sure that I was building something the market needed and whether or not people would pay us for it.
We've been generating revenue since the beginning as a ticket marketplace, but in order to ramp this up, we had to figure out how to get to the next level. That's when I knew we were going to have to do fundraising. They tell you your first rounds of fundraising should be friends and family. Unfortunately, my family didn't have any money and my friends were still trying to work on their initial nest eggs, so we really leveraged it by turning to friends of friends, and friends of those friends. So that's what we ended up leveraging.
You say "we", so who makes up your team?
I have always said “we” because I think it sounds like we're bigger than we are even in the beginning, but now we do have a team. There are five of us now. Two of my earliest team members who are still with us today in part-time capacities reached out to me back then and said they wanted to do this after I told them about it in a bar. I didn’t want to ask people to join; I wanted them to ask me so I knew they were serious. I have spent a lot of time working on trying to be the entrepreneur that folks want to work with, give money to, and quit their nice jobs to work for. That's what has been interesting to me about the journey.
What strengths have made you the most successful?
I think that having a really strong community mindset has made me successful. Another thing is that I care deeply about the generational gap that exists in this country and I am constantly thinking through how we can end up closing it. I think that the best way to do it is if people who do have the ability, the talent, and the opportunity, can help position future generations in a better place to start out.
Who are some of your clients?
First, Bandwagon started as a ticket company, and long story short, we realized that wasn't the future. The future was being a data company that helped event organizers know which fans were showing up on the day of the event. If you think about when a person resells their ticket, oftentimes the event organizer doesn’t know the person who's showing up on the secondary market. We realized that created a big gap and the ability to create curated experiences made sense. As a result of this, we decided to pivot in 2017 to be a data company, so now, Bandwagon is a fan identity and attendee analytics company that helps event organizers, sports teams, festivals concerts, etc..
We help them know which fans are showing up on the day of the event, regardless of where those fans bought their tickets, to help them increase revenue so they can improve their marketing efficacy. Additionally, it can help them offer more sponsorships by getting the right brands and from the right audience at the right time. Our first customer was Sacramento State University with their athletic department. We've also worked with Kweku Mandela Graham, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, for the Africa Rising International film festival, Kelvin Beachum, NFL star and notable SMU athlete, so we have found all these different types of pockets.
Any last-minute words of advice?
I think that the number one thing to focus on is collaboration because it's so hard to do anything in this world alone. When I think about entrepreneurs who won’t share an idea with you before signing an NDA, I don’t think they should be doing that. It's like starting the first date with a prenup, right? I think that when we are more transparent about what we're working on, we're more open to helping others. I think that that's where collaboration allows us to gain access to really smart people and can help us move faster. I think of all the times I have been transparent about my ideas with Bandwagon, and how successful that has made me, but I can’t help but think of all of the things that I could have missed out on if I hadn’t. I think that we go farther and faster together.
The YoPro Know's Takeaways:
- Build relationships right from the beginning
- How to move on when a job is not the right fit
- You have to fill a need as an entrepreneur
- Entrepreneur tips and tricks
- Know your values and create an idea with them