This Startup Led By Ex-Googlers Just Got Millions From Major League Baseball and the LA Dodgers
It’s not everyday that a group of investors like Major League Baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, and Google’s cloud chief ban together to back a new startup.
Xperiel, a startup led by former Google (GOOG) engineers, said Thursday that it received $7 million from the high-profile investor group as it attempts to build a sort-of all-in-one mobile app development tool that works with Internet-connected equipment in sports stadiums and other facilities.
The idea is that if sports teams and stadium owners build apps that can connect to different equipment in their facilities, like point-of-sales systems and scoreboards, they can create more compelling apps for their fans.
Among the pack of investors backing the company are Sun Microsystems’ co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, Google’s head of cloud computing Diane Greene, outgoing Stanford University president John Henness, Uber and StumbleUpon co-founder Garrett Camp, and co-founder of accounting software company Intuit (INTU) Scott Cook.
The startup’s founders are CEO Alex Hertel and CTO Philipp Hertel, brothers who sold their prior company, Zetawire, to Google in 2010. The brothers said Google incorporated the payment technology they created at Zetawire into its own Google Wallet payment service.
For Xperiel’s software to properly work, various equipment throughout a stadium needs to be connected to the internet. However, the company doesn’t actually do the infrastructure legwork required to tether the machinery together.
For example, at Dodger Stadium where the L.A. Dodgers are testing the software, Xperiel hooks into an IT management tool built by UK company FortressGB that helps stadium operators keep track of ticketing transactions, vendor sales, and parking services, explained Philipp Hertel.
Once the Xperiel development tool is plugged into the IT system, customers can then build apps using a specialized graphical programming language developed by the brothers.
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The graphical language is supposedly easy enough for non-coders to build apps with, and includes a so-called interpreter that converts the graphics into the more common C++ coding language, which lets the apps run on multiple different smartphones like Android or iOS devices.
Xperiel’s app-development tool also lets stadium owners and sports teams create mobile apps that use a smartphone’s sensors in conjunction with so-called beacons that stadium operators can place throughout the facility. These beacons transmit wireless signals that can be picked up by a fan’s smartphone and can trigger certain events within a mobile app to make a more compelling experience for fans. For example, a sports team could create a mobile app in which each time familiar fans enter the stadium and walk by a certain big screen, a nearby beacon would sense that they are near and trigger the fans’ faces to come on screen.
“It welcomes you,” said Alex Hertel. “It provides that level of personalization.”
Many of the possible apps the two co-founder brothers described during a press briefing seemed to focus on interactive mobile games like scavenger hunts, in which fans can get rewards for performing certain actions during a sporting event, like buying some food or tickets.
Bechtolsheim said he became interested in the startup because the development tool lets people “modify things very quickly” without having to futz with the underlying software that can slow things down.
Creators of the high-profile augmented reality game Pokémon Go “have done a fantastic job tapping into millennial energy,” he added, saying that he believes the tool can perhaps lead to more people creating similar popular apps.
The L.A. Dodgers are currently testing Xperiel’s software at their stadium for some season ticket holders, said the team’s CFO, Tucker Kain.
Xperiel CTO Philipp Hertel said that these season ticket holders can use their phones to check in at certain kiosks in Dodger Stadium for the chance to win prizes.
Kain explained that he wants the technology to create apps leaving Dodgers fans happier and more likely to keep attending games.
“I have to iterate with fans and get feedback from them,” he said.
Still, the startup and its technology are so new, Xperiel is “not promising the first thing we launch is going to be awesome,” cautioned CEO Alex Hertel.
That’s why the company’s co-founders are working with sports organizations and stadium operators to hone the technology and learn what its partners want out of the development tool.
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If it catches on with sports teams, Alex Hertel hopes to eventually start targeting other industries, like the retail sector.
The brothers insist that they don’t want Xperiel to be a marketing company that builds custom apps for its clientele. It just wants to make the underlying technology so others can build the apps on their own, they said.