Brandon Kashani of TRAKID
Want to know what it is really like to start a company? In our Founder Spotlight series we have candid conversations with real founders about the good, bad and ugly of getting your hands dirty and building a business.
Meet Brandon Kashani of TRAKID. With TRAKID, kids become heroic explorers on a family-friendly interactive expedition through zoos and amusement parks. We had the opportunity to speak with their founder, Brandon, to learn more about his journey growing up abroad, life as a professional skydiver, and his secret love of hot chocolate. Learn more about TRAKID and their important solution.
What’s your story? How did you get here?
I grew up living in Iran and the UAE by the UK, London, California and North Carolina. I come from a family of entrepreneurs – my parents started a number of companies, primarily in the Middle East, Far East, and Europe. I always thought I’d have my own company, but I never thought it would be this early on in my career. I graduated high school when I was 15 and went into college when I was 16 to get my degree in chemical engineering. In my very last semester, I decided it wasn’t really what I wanted to do so I started taking some entrepreneurship electives.
During these classes one of the ideas that I had was making wearable tracking devices for children in outdoor venues. For a daily fee, a parent could go somewhere crowded, rent the device for $3 or $4 and they could track the location of their child for the duration of their visit.
I found a potential park in Richmond,VA and I learned that they lose 100-150 kids a day. In 2018 the average reunite time was a little over 15 minutes. I knew that this was the problem I wanted to solve. I started looking for a technical co-founder that could build the product. I found my co-founder Steve, and he was incredible. He started building a product, and I started fundraising. After pitching over 50 investors over 11 months we raised $830K and hired a few people to build the product.
We were at our Airbnb in Richmond getting ready to launch in three days and were excited about having completed a successful pilot program. Then, the next day – two days before launch – the pandemic lockdown happened and it shut down our entire target market. The conversation quickly turned to how we could pivot in order to survive.
I found the zoo industry, which was primarily open, especially in red states and southern states, and I started going to a bunch of zoos. We went to 14 zoos in the middle of the pandemic. Every single one said no. We talked to their security team. They said “we lose a lot of kids.” We talked to operations, and they said “we don’t lose any kids.”
Finally, we got a meeting with the senior leadership at Zoo Tampa, who later became our launch partner. They explained, “Imagine that you bring your kids to our zoo and they’re selling you child abduction bracelets. We don’t want people to bring their child to our zoo and scare them with the thought that their child could be kidnapped at our venue.” This made sense to us, so we went back to think about this.
We started building relationships with all 14 zoos we met and looking into the common struggles they faced. We learned that almost every single one struggled with loss – cell phones, car keys, wallets and sunglasses, but this was a problem we didn’t necessarily want to solve. The second most common problem was a struggle educating visitors on conservation and sustainability, because, on impactful topics, people don’t read signage in the park, especially parents reading and sharing the information for children. We knew that this was it.
What problem are you trying to solve now?
This question has two answers, one for B2B and one for B2C. We have one product for our customers at their venue and there is a separate product for their customers.
The B2B problem that we solve is for the entertainment venues that we work with. Right now we are focused on zoos. We have also started working with museums. There are a couple of problems. One is the signage issue. They struggle educating their visitors on everything they have to offer. This can be history, it can be conservation, sustainability, or simply the animal at the zoo or the object at a museum. People don’t read signage, especially children, and they’re always looking for interactive, gamified solutions to convey that message.
ZooTampa is a great example. They really care about building empathy and educating their visitors on conservation. Our entire experience is designed in a way that any family that goes through that experience comes out of it knowing how they can help these animals outside of the zoo.
The other component of the B2B problem is that smaller entertainment venues are often overlooked by large technology companies. There are only 56 cities with zoos that have at least one million in attendance, but there is a large number of smaller zoos that have a number closer to 100,000 people. These smaller venues don’t get much attention, or their technology is so far behind that they can’t use the big solutions. This gives us a great opportunity to provide these smaller venues with meaningful technology to interact and build relationships with their visitors at a much deeper level. It brings them modern technology and bridges the gap in the market for solutions for companies like Disney that can spend $2 billion dollars on their magic bands versus the Philadelphia Zoo that uses our wearables to deliver great experiences at a fraction of the cost.
When you went out for initial funding, how many pitches did you have to give?
A lot! My full time job is pretty much networking and building relationships. Whether it’s building relationships to get money, future advisors, mentors, connections, you never know how someone can help you, or you can help them, down the road.
Compared to right now, it was much easier to raise our first round. We initially raised $830K and it took 11 months. We then raised $1.5M right in the middle of the pandemic. It was really tough to raise money at that time. We just finished raising a $2.1M round that took about a year to raise and I pitched a little over 400 people.
What keeps you up at night?
A lot of things. It can be a super lonely place. It can be discouraging, especially when 50 people in a row say no, but you have to keep going to get that one yes. A lot of people ask how we have stayed motivated throughout the last few years as we’ve had this roller coaster of emotions, with some big downs. It’s like swimming in the ocean. You see a wave, you swim as much as you can and then another wave brings you all the way back. You just have to keep swimming.
The truth is, I haven’t been motivated all the time. There have been plenty of days where I wasn’t motivated at all. But I still showed up. And that’s what ultimately mattered. Everyone kept coming every single day.
Funding is always a big one. Always trying to make sure we have enough money to get to the next stage. The right team is another one, making sure you have the right people. You want the best people out there for the least amount of money.
I really believe in positive psychology. I hate figuring out what you’re not good at and then trying to figure that out. I’d rather see what you’re really good at and double down on that, while surrounding yourself with people who can do what you’re not good at. Lastly, technology, to make sure that we’re staying innovative.
What is your favorite beverage?
Okay, non-alcoholic is hot chocolate. I don’t drink coffee. I wake up with an insane amount of energy that just dives off at 4pm, but because of that I can’t drink coffee. So for every business meeting I have I drink hot chocolate. Pro tip – it’s amazing with a spoonful of Nutella swirled in. For an alcoholic drink I’d probably go with Red Bull vodka.
Would you consider yourself a risk taker or how did you learn to embrace risk taking?
I am a major risk taker, but I would word it as calculated risk. I’m a professional skydiver. I skydive almost every weekend. I also was on the US National Team. We won the national championship four times. I’m really into extreme sports. The reason I do it every week, and I stay within a lot of boundaries, is because I measure risk. When I want to do something new in the sport, or other places in my life, I calculate. Is it worth the .2% additional risk? If it is, great. If it’s not, then no.
It’s the same thing with business. I take risks every day, but it’s definitely calculated. I set the percentage, the chance that it may not work, it may turn out really bad and I keep track of that and stay within my limits. Because what’s the limit if you don’t use it right?
Have you had to pivot since your initial solution?
Yeah, a lot. Initially, we were making the safety wearables, and then we switched to the education gamification world. We moved from this purely tracking device into an explorer wearable where the bands navigate children around the park, talk and educate them along the way.
A couple of months ago, we were in a meeting and someone shared that they wanted to connect QR codes. We said no problem, we totally can and we built that product. Now we’ve got three museum contracts in the last four weeks for a QR code based education system with a really good content management software. So we’re constantly evolving. Pivot is a word we can use, but evolving and being innovative are others – listening to customers and seeing what they want.
That’s just as hard because if you come up with the idea, and you work on it for a significant amount of time and devote a lot of resources, it’s really hard to move away from it. Being flexible and listening to your customers and being able to actually move away from, change or pivot from that idea is crucial to the long term survival of the company.
Our name is another one. It’s been my identity since 2018, and we’re going through rebranding internally right now. In the next few months we’ll have a new name. That’s another component that was super tough.
What do you think is a misconception about being a founder?
Oh, that’s a good question. I think a misconception is that people see successful founders and think that everything is great. You don’t see everything that happens under the table. It can look like they started this company and now have a boat and a beach house overnight. You don’t see all the lonely days, the years of really, really hard work. Every founder has cried themselves to sleep at least once. They just wake up in the morning and start again. They are determined to just move forward and figure it out. I go through it all the time.
There is also a misconception that startups don’t pay. Everyone’s working insane hours and they don’t get paid well. Sure there are times where people go unpaid or underpaid, but they can pay just as well or better than other companies.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
Do it. The support comes as long as you network. Keep networking. Everyone has a million reasons why you shouldn’t do it, and what I’ll tell you is no matter what, you’ll figure it out. I remind myself of this on a weekly, if not daily, basis. We have times where we think, can things get worse? Is this actually going to be the end of the company? What are we? How are we going to solve it? Many times I felt like there’s nothing left that I could do, then the next day something happened. Keep reminding yourself of this and go for it. There is never a better time for you to take that risk, to take that jump, to start that journey than now.
Like to be in the know?
Sign up below and receive our weekly Lowdown filled with startup news, startup marketing tips and more.