‘We Had An Acquisition Offer. We Turned It Down’: Bandwagon Founder Harold Hughes On Mogul Watch
Harold Hughes is proof that great sports-tech companies can be built outside Silicon Valley.
Hailing from New York City and raised in Columbia, South Carolina, Hughes earned undergraduate and MBA degrees from Clemson University in Greenville, SC, putting down roots for his tech startup in the city not traditionally known for tech companies.
Since January 2016, Hughes and his team have been creating and developing Bandwagon, a blockchain-based sports fan analytics company built to help teams identify and engage with fans that show up on game day. The Bandwagon software service uses blockchain to confirm ticket authenticity regardless of where fans buy their tickets.
Sports fan analytics
In June, Bandwagon won fourth place out of 200-plus applicants in the Global Smart Dubai Office Blockchain Challenge. An IBM Global Entrepreneurship Program member, the company is supported by well-known capital sources including Blue Vista Ventures, Backstage Capital, Black Angel Tech Fund, the Founder Institute Incubator and the Capital Factory Accelerator.
“We’re trying to change the way ticketing is being done today. It’s a clunky process for fans. It’s not a great experience. We force them to use apps they don’t want to use. We make it hard for them to transfer tickets … We want to make it easy for fans to go to events they want to — and be able to buy tickets without getting ripped off by scalpers.” — Harold Hughes, Bandwagon
The company’s advisors include Mellie Price, founder of Front Gate Tickets which sold to Live Nation; Greg Smith, who exited his company to Xerox; Kwame Anku, an early team member of #YesWeCode; Dr. Carri Allen Jones, a data analytics expert; entertainment veteran and tech enthusiast Orlando Jones; and Harry Bell, a WVU alumni.
Bandwagon claims to have processed more than 1.1 million tickets on its blockchain platform since inception.
The company has raised $1 million-plus and is looking to raise more funding through a crowdsourcing campaign on Republic under the slogan, “Never buy fake tickets ever again”.
“More than $2.3 billion is spent on fake tickets every year by fans … We want to be as ubiquitous as that little black sharpie marker you use to validate if a $100 bill is real or not.” — Harold Hughes, Bandwagon
Hughes said he is scheduled to appear on the crowdfunding reality TV series, “Meet the Drapers,” where he’ll pitch to the legendary Silicon Valley Draper family in “Shark Tank”-style. The show will be another opportunity for investors to join Bandwagon’s financial supporters.
The Bandwagon founder spoke to Moguldom about why he turned down an acquisition offer earlier this year, and more.
Moguldom: Why did you start Bandwagon?
Harold Hughes: I wanted to use sports as a platform to help connect people. I believe sports allows folks regardless of their background, ethnicity, or religion to connect with each other, especially when they’re pulling for the same team. As a first generation American, my family’s Jamaican. I remember growing up not having all the things my classmates had in their lives. However, I knew sports allowed us to feel like you’re in the same place in life. Sports gave us all that common factor. Watching and cheering for the same team is why we started Bandwagon. When I finished my MBA, I knew I wanted to help fans to have a better experience with each other on the day of the event.
“Greenville is not the traditional tech capital of the world. I think that’s one thing we’re proud about is the ability to create this company outside of Silicon Valley.” — Harold Hughes, Bandwagon
Moguldom: What have been some of the notable wins that you’ve had with Bandwagon?
Harold Hughes: I’m excited to be able to build this company in Greenville. Greenville is not the traditional tech capital of the world. I think that’s one thing we’re proud about is the ability to create this company outside of Silicon Valley. Personally, as someone who grew up with every level of government aid there was despite my parents both working, one of the proudest moments for me is every job we create. Our team of five people has paying jobs at our small startup. Our company is providing for their families. We’re really excited about that. Since we started the company, we have raised over a million dollars to date. We’re in that small number of Black founder-led companies to have participated in the Google for Entrepreneurs program in Durham, North Carolina. We love being a part of the Google family. Most recently I had the opportunity to go to Dubai to pitch our company at a global blockchain competition. They flew over 20 of us out of the 200-plus companies from around the world. We were selected to participate, and we came in fourth place in that competition. It was awesome to see our technology recognized on such a global stage.
Moguldom: How do you feel about the experience of being a Black founder and raising money?
Harold Hughes: As a Black founder, I understand very clearly what generational wealth is, and the gaps our culture has in it right now. I think that we’ve seen how the ability to invest in startups can change the trajectory of people’s lives over the last several decades. Unfortunately, there have been people left out of the process from a wealth class standpoint. And so, I think having the ability to invest in startups — whether its mine or someone else’s –allows folks to understand when presented with investment opportunities, they are a part of something significant. Being able to help take someone’s business or product to market and also have it end up being successful could change lives. It could change the generational wealth gap, and I’m excited to be participating in this movement. It is also essential for me, being a new dad, to have something that my son can potentially reap the rewards from because of my hard work.
Moguldom: What are your thoughts on building a good team, especially since your team is remote?
Harold Hughes: As a company that is not located in Silicon Valley and doesn’t have buckets and buckets of cash, we’ve had to work hard for all the money we raised. At the same time, it was more important for us to get the best talent we can regardless of geographical location. We don’t have the luxury of discriminating against where our talent lives. We want to find people who believe in what we’re trying to do and have the talent to help us take it to the next level. We are fortunate to attract great talent from across the country and in some cases, across the world. We had a couple of folks from Jamaica apply to one of our latest positions. It’s exciting to see people take hold of what we’re trying to build.
Moguldom: What does success look like for Bandwagon?
Harold Hughes: We’re trying to change the way ticketing is being done today. It’s a clunky process for fans. It’s not a great experience. We force them to use apps they don’t want to use. We make it hard for them to transfer tickets if there’s not an authorized market. We want to make it easy for fans to go to events they want to and be able to buy tickets without getting ripped off by scalpers. More than $2.3 billion is spent on fake tickets every year by fans. We want to we want to eliminate that number. We also want to get more people in the seats. We care about people being at the venue, having a great time and the events being successful. Success looks like Bandwagon being the validator and engine to allows teams to know exactly who is in their venue and be able to personalize that experience for their attendees. The visual I think of is we want to be as ubiquitous as that little black sharpie marker you use to validate if a $100 bill is real or not. We want to be that simple and everywhere behind the scenes, making sure the experience is great for fans. We want to help teams, artists and festivals to operate more efficiently.
Moguldom: How do you keep the creativity flowing so that you make the best product for your clients?
Harold Hughes: We continuously speak to college teams, artists and professional sports teams. We want to try and figure out what the pain point is from an operation standpoint. However, we also spend time talking to fans. We are continually seeing innovation happening in ticketing, but we are still using paper. People are still printing tickets to bring them to the box office or the gate. Despite all the changes we see in technology, a lot of the stuff in this industry is pretty archaic. We make it a habit of speaking to as many stakeholders as possible to make sure we know where to align our interests.
Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for Bandwagon?
Harold Hughes: I think we’re going to have a couple of different inflection points. We’ll either be purchased or have become this global entity that exists on several different continents operating in multiple countries. We’re going to be part of a major corporation that already has their hands all over the ticketing space, or we’re going to try and build something that can last and allows us to stay independent and pursue our vision. However, I think that will be figured out in the next three years.
Moguldom: You are open to being acquired by someone like Ticketmaster?
Harold Hughes: Yes. We had an acquisition offer earlier this year. We turned it down as it was a little too early for us and I think we’re just getting started. We’re open to all options. I think it’s probably going to be acquired by a non-ticket company. Amazon could be someone that could acquire us as they have expressed interest in getting into the ticket space domestically and internationally. They haven’t had much success domestically due to the current contracts Ticketmaster has with venues. I think we would be a good fit in the Amazon ecosystem for them to be able to help with ticket fraud and authenticity as well elevate the fan experience. So, yes, we’re open to any of the potential acquirers.
Moguldom: What do you think that your team would say about your leadership style five or 10 years from now?
Harold Hughes: I think my team will say I’m a hard worker. Our team is spread out across the country, so I’m working early and late to ensure I am available to them. They would also say I’m passionate about solving problems and focused on wanting to make a mark on the industry and leave a legacy.