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30 Best Small Companies to Watch 2020

An Interview with Johannes Waldstein, FanAI, Inc. Founder and CEO: ‘We’re Aiming to be Leaders in Our Field, and We Know that Exciting New Technologies and Capabilities Will Require Long-Term Dedication’

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“We’ve implemented critical partnerships—transactional, data, audience, and matching—to build the kind of product our clients need and assist them in capturing value.”

FanAI, Inc.operates an audience monetization platform. The company sponsors the insight to understand the fans, the ability to tailor the right targeted relationship with the right fan at the right time, and to predict the fan’s response. FanAI serves esports of event organizers, game publishers, leagues, teams, sponsorship, and digital agencies in the United States.

The company was incorporated in 2016 and is headquartered in Santa Monica, California.

Johannes Waldstein, FanAI, Inc. Founder and CEO, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Q. Explain your services in brief.

FanAI is the first sponsorship data platform to connect audience data to real purchase outcomes through bottom-of-funnel sponsorship metrics. Through a combination of fan data and purchase, social, and streaming data, FanAI’s technology improves sponsorship and digital media effectiveness across the sports and entertainment industries.

Q. Why are you tackling sports sponsorship metrics, and why now?  

Sports sponsorship, as opposed to digital advertising, had previously been a bit like shooting in the dark, especially when it came to CMOs and CFOs assessing the sales impact. This predicament came about for a variety of reasons, but mainly because, when sports sponsorship started, there was limited access to data and we had nowhere near the computing technology or power that we do now. As technology advanced, there were ways to estimate some of the top of the funnel and middle of the funnel metrics, but no way to assess the bottom of the funnel/sales impact. There has always been a need to prove sales impact for any marketing spend, particularly for something as important as sponsorship (which accounted for nearly $65B of global spend in 2019.) With the technology, we at FanAI are building an unprecedented access` to data, we’re uniquely situated to crack the code on sports sponsorships, which has long asked and is long overdue for accountability metrics.

Q. A small business/company may or may not function as expected. It takes everything to stand out and compete in the business world…what was FanAI’s journey?

Most CEOs of startups will say that the journey is not going to go as planned. It’s almost guaranteed that there are going to be plenty of twists and turns along the way, even if there’s a thorough business plan, ground-breaking idea, or savvy investor (and we think there’ll probably be more twist and turns if you happen to strike gold and have all of the aforementioned qualifiers). With FanAI, we realized early on that we had the ability to help companies find their fans and assess the true value of their advertising and sponsorship campaigns. While our product looked markedly different three years ago, we’ve always kept that goal in the back of our minds and found creative ways to create better products that give more value to our customers. We’ve implemented critical partnerships—transactional, data, audience, and matching—to build the kind of product our clients need and assist them in capturing value. FanAI is first and foremost driven by meeting our clients’ goals. We have a clear market driver and always adapt to a rapidly-changing advertising landscape. We’re aiming to be leaders in our field, and we know that exciting new technologies and capabilities will require long-term dedication. In order to stand out, we started with a solid idea that was backed by a clear need from the market and kept tackling issues as they arose, all while realizing this would function as more of a marathon than a sprint.

Q. What are your plans for the future development of your company?

To keep going! To us, this means we’ll bring accountability to sponsorship investment with sales-impact metrics and becoming the currency for how brands and properties assess the performance of these investments. With brands and properties being able to compare and evaluate sponsorships alongside other marketing investments (because they previously had completely different KPIs), we hope to become integral to the sponsorship evaluation and optimization process.

Johannes Waldstein: A Bankable Leader

Johannes Waldstein is the founder and CEO of FanAI, Inc. FanAI is the first sponsorship data platform to connect audience data to real purchase outcomes through bottom-of-funnel sponsorship metrics. Through a combination of fan data and purchase, social, and streaming data, FanAI’s technology improves sponsorship and digital media effectiveness across the sports and entertainment industries through its sales-attribution technology. FanAI works with brands, agencies, and sports and entertainment rights-holders. Founded four years ago, FanAI has raised over $12.5 million in funding, with a recent ‘Series A’ round led by Japanese conglomerate Marubeni Corporation.

As a big data expert and a lifelong fan of competitive sports and esports, FanAI is the culmination of two of Johannes’ passions. A serial entrepreneur, he has founded four other startups that tackled marketplace issues surrounding data, mobile payments, and sports tech. As a Product Manager at dunnhumby, the world’s largest loyalty data sciences company, Johannes helped build data platforms that provided 360° customer insights for some of the world’s largest global agencies and brands, including retail chains such as Best Buy, Home Depot, Tesco, and Macy’s.

“In order to stand out, we started with a solid idea that was backed by a clear need from the market and kept tackling issues as they arose, all while realizing this would function as more of a marathon than a sprint.”